Scottish mark 250th year of poet Burns's birth

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Devotees of Scottish bard Robert Burns will mark the 250th anniversary of his birth the world over on Sunday, celebrating a genius, philanderer, carouser and lover of life.

The poet’s birth is already celebrated annually with suppers of the traditional haggis -- Great Chieftain o” the Puddin-race -- and drams of whisky, together with a toast to the Immortal Memory, a toast to the lassies and a response to the men.

His poems encompass the breadth and depth of humanity: love, drink, sadness, gaiety, death, the devil and robust defence of the rights of the common man.

Scotland is combining the anniversary with a Homecoming Year to connect with an estimated 100 million people in the Scottish diaspora worldwide.

Burns himself penned perhaps the world’s best known song of fellowship and remembrance to unite people, Auld Lange Syne.

The homecoming will be launched this weekend at the humble cottage in Alloway in southwest Scotland where he was born in 1759, the first of nine children to a poor tenant farmer. The cottage is now an atmospheric museum.

Visitors can also walk to the nearby Auld Kirk, setting for the devilish poem Tam O’ Shanter, and the bridge where the witch Cutty Sark grabbed the grey tail of Tam’s horse Meg as they fled to safety across the Doon river.

The true love of the amorous Burns was Jean Armour, who bore four of their nine children before the couple were wed in 1788. Three other women had illegitimate children by him. The church did not take kindly to his transgressions.

The first-ever image of “Bonnie Jean” showing her at the time of her marriage was recently created through a computer technique used by the American FBI to regress her features from two portraits and a silhouette in her advancing years.

Burns himself died early at the age of only 37.

He was a radical in an age of turmoil and war, when bucking the establishment could be risky -- particularly when poverty forced him into taking a job with the government excise.

“He sought to become, and became, the archetypal national bard.

“Though it was dangerous to be so in his age and place, he also made himself through tone and temperament the master poet of democracy,” Robert Crawford, professor of modern Scottish literature at St. Andrews University, said in the introduction to his new biography of Burns, “The Bard.”

“He was able to speak to people in an immediately accessible, straightforward voice,” Crawford told Reuters.

He was “also quite layered and complicated and you see this in the poetry. The poetry is put together with great finesse.”

What made him so international, celebrated across Europe, to China, Russia, through Africa and the Americas?

“I think he is perceived as, and was, a poet of the people and that’s read in different ways in different countries ... We see him rightly as a great poet of democracy, it’s there in the tone and tenor of his poetry, the way he speaks to a mouse, to a louse, to a king, to a friend, even to an enemy,” said Crawford.

“But I think he’s heard in perhaps a slightly different way, say in China. A friend from Beijing said to me once that Burns appealed to quite a lot of Chinese people because they felt he was somehow done down and some of them felt like that, too.”

Edting by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato