Robert Burns was a Scottish poet, bard, and national icon who lived only a short 37 years. His character may not stand up to close scrutiny by some, but the works he left behind are incomparable.
One of the reasons he was and is so revered is that he wrote the way the Scots spoke, whether his own work or a song he’d heard. Before the days of dictionaries, there were no hard and fast rules about spelling. People wrote what they heard and Burns was no different, despite (or in spite of) what their powerful, southern neighbors thought of the Scots dialect.
One such song with several variations, tells of a sweet seduction by a “shepherd lad” that “row’d me sweetly in his plaid” with promises of “gowns and ribbons” and “cauf-leather shoon upon your feet.” How could any lass resist? The story takes place a mile above Dumfries at the Lincluden (Cluden) Abbey ruins. Burns wrote “This beautiful song is in the true old Scotch taste, yet I do not know that either the air or words were in print before.”
Fair and lovely as thou art, you have stolen my very heart.
I can die but cannot part from my bonnie dearie.
Here is my special Valentine’s Day gift to you. Sung by another well-loved Scot, Dougie MacLean, is Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes.”