January 25, 2011 / 11:54 AM / 7 years ago

Scots cheer Burns with letter, laureate and museum

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Scots around the world celebrate the birthday of their national bard on Tuesday with the discovery of an unpublished letter from the poet Robert Burns, a new museum dedicated to him and a new poet laureate.

Ahead of the festivities marking Burns’ birth on January 25, 1795, Scotland honored one of its 21st century literary stars by appointing Liz Lochhead as its new Makar, or poet laureate.

Lochhead, 63, a distinguished poet and playwright, succeeds the nation’s first Makar, Edwin Morgan, who died last year.

“I accept it on behalf of poetry itself, which is, and always has been, the core of our culture, and in grateful recognition of the truth that poetry...matters deeply to ordinary Scottish people everywhere,” Lochhead said.

Her first official duty was to open a Burns museum at his hometown of Alloway in southwest Scotland this month.

Burns was born in his family’s humble farming cottage at Alloway, now part of a new 21 million pound ($33.59 million) museum dedicated to the bard, who died aged only 37 in 1796.

But he became an integral part of the intellectual swelling of the Scottish Enlightenment, and his wit and humor, melancholy, love of life and the lassies along with his radical views in support of common folk caught the imagination of readers around the world.

Those hosting the traditional Burns Night dinner with haggis, bagpipes, whisky and speeches will have some new material to add to the annual toast to the “Immortal Memory” (of Robert Burns) with the discovery of a 200-year-old letter from the bard to one of his supporters.

The rare unpublished letter by Burns was discovered by a staff member at Floors Castle, home of Guy Innes-Ker, 10th Duke of Roxburghe, in the Scottish borders, in an album that had come into the possession of the 6th Duke in the 19th century.

The letter, dated May 13, 1789, was addressed to James Gregory, then head of Edinburgh University’s medical school, and contained the first draft of a poem “On Seeing a Wounded Hare.”

Burns thanked Gregory for his support and invited his comments and criticism of the poem and to “mark faulty lines with your pencil.” The poem was first printed in 1793.

Burns produced a copious amount of verse, including some of the most beautiful love poetry in the language. He also penned one of the world’s best-known songs of fellowship and remembrance in “Auld Lang Syne.”

The Alloway museum includes 5,000 historic artifacts, manuscripts and memorabilia. Walkways connect the Alloway sites, including the Auld Brig o’ Doon, made famous in the Burns poem “Tam O‘Shanter.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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