Peasant life in the poetry of Robert Burns
Shull, Virginia Irwin
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Tn the foregoing pages I have endeavored to give you a picture of the economic, domestic, social, religious life, and the superstitions of the Scottish peasants as depicted in the poetry of Robert Burns. In his poems, Burns shows us that the laboring class were brave and optimistic, and found a degree or happiness and contentent with the bare necessities of life. He impresses us with the thought that the Scottish peasant wrestled all his life with poverty and misfortune, but that he endured his troubles witn patience and died in peace, because he had learned the secret of victory over self. The general view of the land cape served as an explanation of many drawbacks that Burns' peasants had to face in their struggle for a living. Scottish landscape presented a bleak and deplorable condition, except where the natural woods survived in the sheltered valleys. The Twa Dogs gives us a picture of the two sides of Scottish country life. It rests on the distinction between a privileged gentry and an unprivileged peasantry. Burns has shown us that the homely relations that had existed in former days between the richer and the poorer classes were growing less because of the prosperity of the gentry. In the Cotter's Saturday Night and Hallowe'en we have pictures of the same rural life, into which the disturbing influences of class distribution does not enter. There the peasant forgets there is such a thing as social unequality and describes the peasantry in the quiet dignity and devotion of their homes, and in the innocent mirth of their rustic festivals. The first important aspect of domestic life of the peasants is found, undoubtedly, in the strength of their domestic attachments. This striking characteristic of family relations is revealed by Burns in his intimate scenes pictures in the Cotter's Saturday Night. Here we find scenes that are typical of the home life of the majority of the peasants of his day. From this poem we can conclude that the peasants were naturally grave, hospitable, friendly, and had a peculiar attachment for their own country and families. The attitude of the peasant was one of contentment with the simple necessities of life and independence which caused him the sacrifice himself to any extent for the welfare of his family. "Contented wi' little, but cantie wi' mair" is a typical attitude of the peasant toward his simple existence. The subject of religion enters to a vital extent into the body of Burns' writings. He pictures the simple faith and practices of the Scottish peasantry, the official religion of the kirk, and his own personal expressions of religious thoughts and feelings. The Scottish peasant realized the value of simple faith in the upbuilding of character. The Cotter's Saturday Night gives a faithful and loving portrayal of the devout side of rustic life. The other side of Scottish religion was that represented in the kirk theology. Burns' sympathies were aroused against the intolerance, hypocrisy and uncharitableness fostered by the old orthodoxy. His sense of humor and power of sarcasm are revealed in The Twa Herds, and Holy Willies Prayer. The peasants living in the rural country of Scotland were of a superstitious nature, believing in witches, ghosts, fairies, and devils. The poems Hallowe'en and Tam O' Shanter reveal to us many of their superstitious beliefs. From Burns' poems we have a glimpse of Scotch peasant life that makes us almost reverence these heroic men and women, who kept their faith and their self-respect in the face of poverty, and whose hearts, under their rough exteriors, were tender and true as steel.
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