In February 1788, Burns resumed his relationship with Jean Armour (she bore him nine children) and took a lease on a farm in Dumfriesshire. He also trained as a local tax collector in case farming proved unsuccessful, which was the case, just as it had when he lived and worked on his father’s farm in Ayrshire. He gave up the farm and moved to Dumfries. During this period, Burns confirmed his reputation as a lyricist, writing over 100 songs.
In addition to the Address to the Haggis, Burns wrote very many poems and songs, including poems of love and loss such as Thou Gloomy December. He is regarded as having a great influence on the English Romantic poets of the late 18th century.
Some of Burns’s poems reflect his undoubted socialist principles. It is significant that he wrote a poem titled The Rights of Woman in 1793, in which he castigates the drunken and loud behaviour of men towards women. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was written in 1792. History does not record that Burns met Wollstonecraft, but he might have read her book. It was probably highly unfashionable to have written a poem about the rights of women over two hundred years ago.
Burns’s poem A Man’s A Man for A’ That is about the dignity of the working man. Another poem is titled The Slave’s Lament, in which a slave from Senegal laments being torn from that lovely shore and taken to America.
These poems give us a flavour of Burns’s political leanings. He expressed sympathy with the French Revolution and advocated reform at home. Burns’s legacy is substantial and is significant to Scottish literature. In short, Burns matters all the year round and not just on one night of the year in Scotland.
Burns mattered to Bob Dylan. Dylan and Burns bear close comparison. It is, perhaps, not surprising that both of these great lyricists have written songs about the great universal themes of love and loss, as well as songs about the social and political issues of their respective times. That Burns mattered to Dylan is probably best exemplified by Dylan’s song Highlands written in 1997 for the album Time Out Of Mind.
Burns’s song, My Heart is in the Highlands, written in 1789 has a chorus:
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Dylan’s song echoes Burns’s words in the first verse, with its enigmatic last line:
Well my heart’s in the Highlands, gentle and fair
Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air
Bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
I’m gonna get there when I feel good enough to go.
Other lines that follow the line Well my heart’s in the Highlands in later verses are:
I can only get there one step at a time
Only place left to go
Can’t see any other way to go
The final verse is:
Well, my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day
Over the hills and far away
There’s a way to get there and I’ll figure it out somehow
But I’m already there in my mind
And that’s good enough for now.