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Music to eat Haggis by

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Portrait of Robert Burns, Ayr, Scotland, ca. 1890-1900. Photochrom. Prints and Photographs Division.
Portrait of Robert Burns, Ayr, Scotland, ca. 1890-1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Fulford  Miller, Library Services, with an h/t to Stephen Winick of the American Folklife Center.

Scotland’s national “bard” was born on January 25, 1759, and all around the world “Burns suppers” – complete with bagpipes, a special Scottish dish called “haggis,” poetry and song – will be held in his honor. This great poet, collector of folk song in his beloved Scotland, and writer of over 350 of his own songs,  is now considered a pioneer in the Romantic movement. The Manuscript Division has an unusual letter that contains a copy of  “Auld Lang Syne,” Burns’s most famous song, in his own hand.

Burns’ poetry was also set by many other composers. The Performing Arts Encyclopedia contains an example of a choral work set to the words of Robert Burns – Far Awa’ – by the American composer Amy Beach. Far Awa’ is part of a larger cycle – Five Burns Poems, op. 43 – written for women’s chorus. The piece was so popular that Beach also wrote a version for two solo voices as well as an arrangement for solo organ.

Woman, with wings on back, holding box of Robert Burns cigars and offering one to pipe-smoking owl. Prints and Photographs Division.
Woman, with wings on back, holding box of Robert Burns cigars and offering one to a pipe-smoking owl. Prints and Photographs Division.

Last year, the Library’s American Folklife Center (which can now be found on Facebook)  helped the Scottish Government celebrate Burns’s 250th anniversary (his semiquincentennial or bicenquinquagenary, depending whom you ask) with a symposium held here at the Library. The two-day symposium, entitled Robert Burns at 250: Poetry, Politics & Performance, addressed his life and work, as well as his impact on America and American culture.   Read more about the Burns symposium, and find out what star of stage and screen attended the events,  on the Wise Guide.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

— “Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns


  1. I attended your wonderful symposium last year and Dr. Bold’s visit a few months prior to that. Absolutely wonderful! I just attended the CSSM Burns Supper on the 16th in Solomons. I sang about 14 Burns tunes during the evening among the other festivities, poems, speches, music and haggis. I thank the AFC for hosting these events as I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of Scotland’s national bard. He was a man of the people and is still one of us to this day. “A Man’s A Man for A That!”

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