Robert Burns may not be well known outside of Scotland, but he certainly deserves to be. Sadly, Burns too often gets shoved aside to make room for the English Romantic heavywieghts like Bryon, Blake, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth, and if he does get mentioned in an anthology or classroom, it's usually as some curious footnote about the "renewed appreciation for the common man" that many Romantics extolled. This is a great disservice, and not just to Burns, who, as any good Scot would tell you, was enough of an influence on those English Romantics that the movement would have looked very difference without him. It is a disservice also readers and students of poetry who are entitled to more honest history about the evolution of the poetic art form in English.
The irony here is that Burns was Scottish, and, to correct what another reviewer said, he did not write in English - especially "old English." For starters, Burns lived in the second half of the 18th century - that makes him a modern. Furthermore, he wrote very intentionally (and with great passion) in *Scots.* The Scots language is a bit of a linguistic conundrum concerning what makes a dialect a dialect versus a completely different language. Suffice to say, it's not English, or at least not any English most English speakers would recognize. It does possess Germanic qualities that are parallel to English, but it also has many holdovers from Norse and Gealic languages both in vocabulary and syntax which are unique to it. This distinction needs to be understood, for the reader's sake as well as for Burns, whose usage of Scots as opposed to English or a more Anglicized form Scots was a point of national and ethnic pride. Indeed, Burns was quite the Romantic.
The glossary of Scots words in this volume is rather limited, but even a more thorough Scots dictionary may not always help you. Burns, who is called sometimes "the Bard" in his native Scotland, is liken to that other Bard - he was never shy about using poetic license and would gladly bend the rules of his own tongue if it served his creative goals. Of course, that's part of Burns' genius, even if it can be infuriating for a novice reader, just as with Shakespeare. But with some patience and effort, you will find that Burns' poetry is not only readable but quite accessible and enchanting, even if you don't always know what every line's suppose to mean.
Despite the language issue, one thing is readily understood about Burns' poetry - it is some of the most spirited and passionate poetry you are likely to find anywhere. Some of his poetry may strike you, the post-modern reader, as a bit naive - especially some of his political poetry - but you cannot deny that Burns, who sadly died too young, was in life a hearty, virile lad eager to experience all the intellectual and sensual pursuits to their fullest. You know this because that's how he wrote. Poetry for Burns was an exaltation of life itself, from the grand idealism of revolutionaries to the most commonplace things such as field mice, to the loveliness of sex and the company of women (of which Burns was quite fond) and the sensual wonder of whisky and food (again, much fondness) to inspiring richness of all things Scottish.
It would seem that if Burns saw it, thought it or felt it, it was worthy to be immortalized in poetry. Moreover, he earnestly endeavored to do just that. Thankfully, he also had the poetic talents to pull it off in a stunningly graceful manner that will right your dry, academic impressions of all those overly lauded English Romantics that came after him as well as infuse you a fair bit of that Romantic wonder and awe.
Hopefully I have piqued your curiosity, and if so, get this book. As with all the volumes in the Pocket Poets series, it's inexpensive, well-bound, concise without being too narrow, and of a small, unimposing size that makes it ideal for either casual reading or for some quick yet stimulating diversion while traveling or communting. Or if you really want to be a Romantic about it, take with you to your local cafe or pub and read through some poems while you partake in the delights of food, drink and the world around you.