EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Scotland's national poet Robert Burns is probably unique in world literature in having his birthday on January 25 marked annually by thousands of festive dinners and recitations of his works around the world.
Glasses of whisky are raised to toast the "Immortal Memory" of the poor farmer's son born in Ayrshire in southwest Scotland in 1759 whose poetry is read and loved over 250 years later.
Burns, who died aged only 37, is renowned not only for some of the most beautiful love poems in the English language, but also for folk songs, political satire and ribaldry, his sense of fellowship and his devotion to democracy and the common man.
There was also good news at the weekend for American fans of Burns -- and for Scottish farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to lift restrictions on the import of one of the key ingredients for a Burns feast: haggis.
Scottish haggis, made from the internal organs of sheep mixed with oatmeal and boiled in the lining of a sheep's stomach, fell foul of a U.S. ban on the importation of animal products during a 1989 cattle disease crisis in Britain.
Why is Burns so internationally popular?
Robert Crawford, professor of modern Scottish literature at St. Andrew's University, said in the introduction to his award-winning biography of Burns that the bard had achieved his successes "not with transcendental illumination but with daftness, deftness, warmth and humor, and a sometimes painful sense of his own vulnerability."
"I think he really was able to connect with different traditions...cultures," Crawford, himself a poet, also told Reuters.
He noted the bard has a diverse range of admirers: the Chinese are said to compare his folk songs with their traditional poetry, he has long been popular in Russia, while his "ideals of liberty and independence connect with something in the American psyche."
Crawford also pointed out that Scots had spread around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries.
"The British Empire has gone, but Burns is still there."
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said in a Burns Day message: "Robert Burns has captured the imagination of generations of people throughout the world...
"On this Burns Day I would encourage people "the worl o'er' to join Scotland in these unique celebrations of our greatest national cultural icon and our greatest international cultural contribution."
Editing by Paul Casciato