This page has been created in commemoration to the ‘Home Coming’ celebrating the 250th anniversary of one of our most famous bards,
Born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland 25TH of January 1759
Died in Dumfries, Scotland 21st July 1796,
Burns was a poet and a lyricist who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and is celebrated worldwide. He has become one of the best known poets who has written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is now also in English and a 'light' Scots dialect, accessible to an audience worldwide. Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. Burns was a Poet, lyricist, farmer, excise man, but read more about him in our history pages.
Literature this is a term used to describe written or spoken material. Broadly speaking, "literature" is used to describe anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to works of the creative imagination, including works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.
What is Scots literature? Scottish Literature is literature written in Scotland or written by Scottish writers.
It includes literature written in Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Celtic, Brythonic, French, Latin, English and any other language which can be considered to have ever been written within the boundaries of Scotland.
Medieval Scottish Literature
The early ethnic language of Alba was Gaelic. The Gaelic elite of both Scotland and Ireland shared a literary form of Gaelic. It is possible that more Middle Irish literature was written in medieval Scotland than is often thought, but has not survived because the Gaelic literary establishment of eastern Scotland died out before the 14th century. Some Gaelic texts written in Scotland has survived in Irish sources. Gaelic literature written in Scotland before the 14th century includes the Lebor Bretnach, the product of a flourishing Gaelic literary establishment at the monastery of Abernethy. The first known text to be composed in the form of northern Middle English spoken in the Lowlands (now called Early Scots) didn't appear until the fourteenth century. It is clear from John Barbour, and a plethora of other evidence, that the Fenian Cycle flourished in Scotland. There are allusions to Gaelic legendary characters in later Anglo-Scottish literature (oral and written). Read more on the Gaelic language in our history page.
Romance literature In the 13th century
French flourished as a literary language, and produced the Roman de Fergus, the earliest piece of non-Celtic vernacular literature to come from Scotland. Moreover, many other stories in the Arthurian Cycle, written in French and preserved only outside Scotland, are thought by some scholars (D.D.R. Owen for instance) to have been written in Scotland. In addition to French, Latin too was a literary language. Famous examples would be the Inchcolm Antiphoner and the Carmen de morte Sumerledi, a poem which exults triumphantly the victory of the citizens of Glasgow over Somailre mac Gilla Brigte. And of course, the most important medieval work written in Scotland, the Vita Columbae, was also written in Latin.
Late medieval Anglo-Scottish literature
Among the earliest Middle English or Early Scots literature is John Barbour's Brus (14th century), Wyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace (15th century). From the 15th century much Middle Scots literature was produced by writers based around the royal court in Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews. Alexander Montgomerie, the 16th century poet, for example, was in the service of King James VI. James I of Scotland himself wrote The Kingis Quair. Versions of popular continental romances were also produced, for example: Launcelot o the Laik and The Buik o Alexander. In the early 16th century, Gavin Douglas produced a Scots translation of the Aeneid. Chaucerian, classical and French literary language continued to influence Scots literature up until the Reformation. Writers such as Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and David Lyndsay led a golden age of Scottish literature in the 15th and early 16th centuries. George Bannatyne collected many poems of the Middle Scots period. The Scottish ballad tradition can be traced back to the early 17th century. Francis James Child's compilation, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898) contains many examples, such as The Elphin Knight (first printed around 1610) and Lord Randal. In Scotland, after the 17th century, anglicisation increased, though Lowland Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population of the Lowlands. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period include Robert Sempill (c.1595-1665), Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie. The Scottish novel developed in the 18th century, with such writers as Tobias Smollett.
As the 16 th and 17 th centuries approached, not only in regional and in economic terms, but now in terms of domain of use, Gaelic was receding. As a token of this, take the printing press - the maker of early modernity. A few religious books were printed in Gaelic in the 16th and 17th centuries, but it would not be until the end of the 18th century before Gaelic culture as a whole embraced the Gaelic printed word.
Gaelic society and culture in Scotland during its high point, was a period of learning new skills, whether it was learning to be a poet, doctor, musician, judge, or historian. This was a time when changes were inevitable if Clans were to survive. Fortunately, their society and culture are recorded through the medium of poetry, so that present day Gaels can understand what life really was like for the 'Mediaeval Gael. A good reputation meant that the ruler could stay in his position of power, and a bad reputation could inevitably create his downfall. The telling of a bad reputation was known as 'Satire', there was a very real fear of 'satire' during this time, because the Gaelic word for satire means 'cutting'. The Gaels believed that satire could bring you out in blisters, and could even cause you to die. The poet was the most important of the professions; an established poet would normally train a poet for seven years. This would consist of training in 'Classical Gaelic', and also the use of a variety of very strict meters. There were to be a specific number of syllables in every line of a poem. A third element of their training was in the various apologues that they accord. The various stories could be incorporated into a poem from Gaelic Mythology, or history, to show how the present ruler should act.
Most poems, praising the Chiefs during this period have shown them as warriors and hunters. In other poetry, we see him as Chief of the Patron of the Arts, and as a host we see him surrounded by his warriors in the great drinking halls, gambling and drinking, with the noises of his musicians and poets about him. At times like this, the Chiefs were able to confirm the allegiance of their people. He would give them wine and food, and they would return this with their loyalty in battle. Often at the end of a poem, there would be a verse about the Chiefs wife, praising her beauty.
The seventeenth to early nineteenth Century
Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) laid the foundations of a reawakening of interest in older Scottish literature, as well as leading the trend for pastoral poetry. The Habbie stanza was developed as a poetic form. Among the best known Scottish writers are two who are strongly associated with the Romantic Era, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Scott's work is not exclusively concerned with Scotland, but his popularity in England and further abroad did much to form the modern stereotype of Scottish culture. Burns is considered Scotland's national bard; his works have only recently been edited to reflect the full breadth of their subject matter, as during the Victorian era he was censored. Scott collected Scottish ballads and published The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border before launching into a novel-writing career in 1814 with Waverley, often called the first historical novel. Other novels by Scott which contributed to the image of him as a patriot include Rob Roy. He also wrote a History of Scotland. He was the highest earning and most popular author up to that time. In 1760, James Macpherson claimed to have found poetry written by Ossian. He published translations which acquired international popularity, being proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Many writers were influenced by the works, including the young Walter Scott, before it eventually became clear that the poems were not direct translations from the Gaelic but flowery adaptations made to suit the aesthetic expectations of his audience (as has been demonstrated in Derick S. Thomson, The Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's "Ossian", 1952). The most famous of these poems was Fingal written in 1762. James Hogg, a writer encouraged by Walter Scott, made creative use of the Scottish religious background in producing his distinctive The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which can be seen as introducing the "doppelganger" theme which would be taken up later in the century in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Hogg may have borrowed his literary motif from the concept of the "co-choisiche" in Gaelic folk tradition.
The nineteenth and early twentieth century
In the latter half of the nineteenth century the population of Scotland had become increasingly urban and industrialised. However, the appetite amongst readers, first whetted by Walter Scott, for novels about heroic exploits in a mythical untamed Scottish landscape, encouraged yet more novels that did not reflect the realities of life in that period. A Scottish intellectual tradition, going back at least to the philosopher David Hume can be seen reflected in the Sherlock Holmes books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: although Holmes is now seen as part of quintessential London, the spirit of deduction in these books is arguably more Scottish than English. The introduction of the movement known as the "kailyard tradition" at the end of the 19th century, brought elements of fantasy and folklore back into fashion. Both J. M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson are examples of this mix of modernity and nostalgia. This tradition has been viewed as a major stumbling block for Scottish literature, focusing, as it did, on an idealised, pastoral picture of Scottish culture, becoming increasingly removed from reality of life in Scotland during that period. This tradition was satirised by the author George Douglas Brown in his novel The House with the Green Shutters. It could be argued that Scottish literature as a whole still suffers from the echoes of this tradition today. In the early 20th century in Scotland, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. However, the revival was largely limited to verse and other literature. Sorley MacLean's work in Scottish Gaelic in the 1930s gave new value to modern literature in that language. Edwin Muir advocated, by contrast, concentration on English as a literary language. The novelists Neil M. Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon emphasised the real linguistic conflict occurring in Scottish life during this period in their novels in particular, The Silver Darlings and A Scots Quair respectively, where we can see the language of the protagonists grows more anglicised progressively as they move to a more industrial lifestyle.
The sub pages contain the works of the various authors from the well known to the less well known from the earliest years to modern day Scotland. Literature covers a wide range of writings from poetry, ballads, manuscripts and personal letters to songs, books, journals and chronicles and more. Hopefully after reading their works you will get inspirations of your own. If you are an author of literature and would like to see your work publicised on the Crann Tara site, please contact the secretary whose details can be found on the FAQ page. This will then be forwarded to the committee for deliberation then you will be contacted in due course to whether your work will be publicised or not.