Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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 Robert Burns (1759-96)


Scottish poet, born as the eldest son of a farmer in Alloway, Ayrshire, on 25 January 1759. In spite of spending his life in rural poverty, his father, William Burns, was eager to educate his sons. Their education started at a school in Alloway, and was continued by a young tutor, John Murdoch, who gave a thorough education in English literature to his pupils. On the other hand, the future poet was much influenced by the popular tales, ballads, and songs of Betty Davidson, an old woman living with the poet’s family. In 1784 his father died, and he tried to farm for himself.

Out of his poverty, passion, despair, and rural mirth, he produced many famous pieces: ‘Epistle to Davie, a Brother Poet’, ‘Halloween’, ‘To a Mouse’, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, ‘The Twa Dogs’, ‘To a Haggis’, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, ‘A Red, Red Rose’, etc. In order to gain money to emigrate to Jamaica, Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect in 1786. He gained the reputation of being a ‘Heaven taught ploughman’ by the success of the Kilmarnock version. He himself was not averse to promoting the reputation. Heavy drinking, radical political opinions, and infamous sexual affairs, as well as his poetic reputation, solidified his image as a natural and uncivilized poet.

However, he was undoubtedly a poet of genius and learning, which is reflected in his skillful imitation of the Scottish literary tradition of ballads, including the styles of John Barbour (?1320-95), William Dunbar (?1460-?1513), Allan Ramsay (1684-1758), and Robert Fergusson (1750-74). He died of rheumatic heart disease in 1796. (H. N.)

1.The Battle of Sheriff-Muir
2.The Carle of Kellyburn Braes
3.The Five Carlins
4.John Barleycorn
5.Lady Mary Ann
6.The Lass that made the Bed to me
7.Last May a Braw Wooer
8.The poor and honest Sodger
9.A Red, Red Rose
10.A Waukrife Minnie
11.The Whistle