The Poet in the Pane

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Inspiration may strike a poet at any time and Burns was well prepared for this. On his highland tour in 1787 he left a trail of graffiti by etching lines of his poetry into window panes. He probably used a wooden stylus with a diamond point to cut the glass. The object below is believed to be the tool he used and is held in South Ayrshire Council’s Burns collection.

Diamon Cutter
Robert Burn’s Diamond Cutter, South Ayrshire Council, available at: [Accessed 17 December 15]

Many verses written on window panes were found in inns across Scotland and an example can be seen on display in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum today. This example comes from the first night of his highland tour when he stayed at the Cross Key’s in Falkirk. In the short verse Burns asks for men who treat women well to be rewarded:

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.
pane of glass inscribed poem by Robert Burns, Taken from Cross Keys Inn, Falkirk.

‘Sound be his sleep and blythe his morn,
That never did a lassie wrang;
Who poverty ne’er held in scorn,
For misery ever tholed a pang.’

The museum’s collection also has three window panes that were originally from the Globe Inn in Dumfries. Burns is said to have written these during the 1790’s when he was having an affair with a barmaid at the Inn, Ann Park. True to his words in the poem Burns did, “make one more” as Burns and Park’s daughter Elizabeth was born in 1791. The engravings are spread across 3 panes and say:

‘I MURDER hate by field or flood,
Tho’ glory’s name may screen us;
In wars at home I’ll spend my blood,
Life-giving wars of Venus:/
The deities that I adore
Are social Peace and Plenty;
I’m better pleased to make one more,
Than be the death of twenty.’

Canny visitors may also notice another example of window poetry in the Burns Cottage itself. Burns’ etchings left such an impression that they inspired future Burns enthusiasts to emulate his example. On the window pane in the Spence a few lines have been written that are dated 1883 and are clearly a homage to Burns’ memory. Next time you are in the cottage, try to see if you can find it!

A tribute to Robert Burn’s glass engravings at the Burns Cottage

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