In the penultimate stanza, Burns’s orthography highlights the Englishness of the diction:The stanza yokes a Masonic interest in the lexis of friendship and fellow-feeling to the poem’s wider concern about the sense of fellow-feeling experienced when considering a literary inheritance. Burns’s literary forebears and peers are invited to the table of communal literary endeavour as the poem invokes Masonic ritual and masculine sociability.
Both traditions required delicate revision and delicate employment within the poem, and it is one of the poem’s strengths that these two traditions are so subtly brought together.
This paper has, then, considered the paradox that the Wordsworths and John Keats had to face when considering Robert Burns’s life and work: the ‘immortality’ of a reputation is dependant on mortality: ineluctably, death precedes life.
This, the first poem Burns wrote about Thomson, delivered pretty precisely what the Earl of Buchan wanted: a polite and commemorative verse ‘after Collins’.
In his use of the poetic epistle he employed decasyllabic couplets with direct reference to ‘Harmonious Pope, wha made th’Inspired Greek/ in British phrase his winsome Iliad speak’. This is particularly true of a form of Horatian Ode he addressed to the Duke of Argyle, and the decasyllabic couplets he famously employed in (1725). Nevertheless, Burns re-animates a distinction between Scots and English in his poem to Lapraik.
As the writers we think of as ‘Romantic’ came to engage with Burns, then, they encountered a hugely successful volume of poems and songs, a remarkably large corpus of song, and – following Burns’s death – the opening moves in a remarkable cult of literary personality.
In 1778, Robert was fortunate enough to have a summer term of schooling at Kirkoswald.
" It is said he ate his meals with Fergusson's poems in one hand and his in the other."
(Essay on Burns, 24)
Returning to the farm, he composed Poor Mailie's Elegy, Winter, and other early pieces, under a blooming interest to become a poet of the people, or as he put it, "a Scottish bard." In 1784 his father died, and Robert, with his brother Gilbert, moved to Mossgiel, in Mauchline.
More significantly, as we shall see, Burns’s work not only weighed heavily upon those who followed, but itself offers a paradigm for the self-conscious reflection on poetic predecessors which characterizes many ‘Romantic’ poems.