Object Focus

Takeover Day 2019 – Poetry from P6CM

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Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

By Laila and Rebecca

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

Alloway Primary are masters of Acrostic Poems! Read some of the poetic musings of P6CM below. And stay tuned for further instalments – next up: Poetry from P6W!


  1. Book – Zayne Mailk
  2. Brilliant Burns – Ben
  3. Burns Acrostic Poem – David Matemba
  4. Burns – Ross McMorland
  5. Rabbie B – Evan Smillie
  6. Robert Burns – Josh Fraser
  7. Burns – Harrison Rooke
  8. Robert – Robyn Cowe
  9. Tammie – Cara Wilmer
  10. The Birthplace of Burns – Jamie Hislop
  11. The Story of Burns – Cameron Cowan
  12. Burns – Madeline McMorland
  13. Witches and their Fiddle – Laila Buchanan
by Zayne

Book – by Zayne Mailk

B– Bible sitting in a cupboard

O– Original bible store

O– Objects big and small

K– Konsoles were not a thing or phones

By Ben

Brilliant Burns – by Ben

B– Bannock toasted from his wife Jean,

U– Used his skull to see what he was good at,

R- Robert Burns would dance to a fiddle,

N– Never without a girlfriend,

S– Small book went around the world.

Burns Acrostic Poem – by David Matemba

R– Robert had guns to protect him,

O– Oven hot toaster to see,

B– Brides too many to count,

E– Every poem he wrote got more famous each year,

R– Red roses cover a green field,

T– Tube socks to cover his big legs.

By Ross

Burns – by Ross McMorland

B– Bibles were used in his family.

U– Using pistols to protect himself.

R– Red, red, roses on the field.

N– Nancy was Agnes’ nickname.

S– Skull buried away in his grave since 1796.

Rabbie B – by Evan Smillie

R– Roaring bullets shot out his pistols.

A– At the nappy with Tam o Shanter.

B– Bibles were used in his family.

B– Behind his poems he loved to dance.

I– In 1796 he died.

E– Excise man was his other job.

B– Burns was his second name.

Robert Burns – by Josh Fraser

By Josh and Stewart

R– Robert Burns,

O– On Wee Johnie,

B– Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie

E– Esteem for Chloris,

R– Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie,

T– Tam O’Shanter,

B– Bonie Jean,

U– Up and warn a’ Willie,

R– Robin shure in Hairst,

N– Nature’s Law,

S– Scots Wha Hae.

By Harrison

Burns – by Harrison Rooke

B– Better famous for poetry,

U– Underground resting in pieces.

R– Rhymes and other styles of wrote he wrote –

N– Now he is world famous.

S– Sometimes he wouldn’t just write poetry and he would do other things.

Robert – by Robyn Cowe

R– Robert Burns learned to dance with a dance instructor with a fiddle.

O– Out of the cottage and in to the street,

B– Boozing at the nappie, Tam must ride, witches and warlocks, Maggie’s mettle.

E– Eating the haggis and drinking the beer,

R– Robert Burns got wine glasses to give to Agnes for a present.

T– They used to believe the bump on your head meant something…

Tammie – by Cara Wilmer

T– Tam is a drunk man on a horse.

A– And he dances with all the lassies.

M– Maggie flies and soars through the gorse.

O– Oh my gosh the witches pulled masses.

S– Sorry poor Maggie lost her tail.

H– Her body is mingin and manky.

A– All the time auld Tammie had to fail.

N– Nasty witches make the tail into a hanky.

T– Terrified Tam shouts in the air

E– Everyone is watching.

R– Rain and thunder starts as Tam is scared.

The Birthplace of Burns – by Jamie Hislop

B– Born in 1759 and died in 1796.

U– Used pistols to protect himself because he was a tax/excise man.

R– Robert Burns had a wife called Jean.

N– Nicolas J.M. Patrick brought a tiny book of Burns to space.

S– Size 8 feet and blue and white socks with his initials on them.

The Story of Burns – by Cameron Cowan

B– Bannock toaster for his wife Jean.

U– Used his skull to make a fake one.

R– Run run said Tam to Meg.

N– Never did he shoot a person with his gun only animals.

S– Small book went round the world hundreds of times.

Burns – by Madeline McMorland

B– Burns Museum, where we go to learn about Robert.

U– Up the road we came this morning.

Laila and Madeline

R– Rabbie! ←Who we learned about and now I’m here writing a poem.

N– Niches and artefacts are a pleasure.

S– Surprise we got to see the skull.

Witches and their Fiddle – Laila Buchanan

F– Foggy night at the Brig O’ Doon.

I– In the dark Robbie sees the witches.

D– Dancing and

D– Drinking round the fire.

L– Logs burning and a glazing sight.

E– End of Meg’s tail’s life.


Takeover Day 2019 – Romantic Musings

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Maybe you already heard, but in the last week of June 2019 RBBM was Taken Over by Primary 6 pupils (now Primary 7) from Alloway Primary! Takeover Day is a nation-wide initiative established by Kids in Museums, which encourages young people to take over jobs normally done by adults in the museum sector.

Before they became Learning Assistants, Visitor Services Assistants and Social Media Managers; Primary 6 accompanied our Learning Team on a tour of the Museum space and familiarised themselves with the collection. Then they wrote stories and poems inspired by what they saw and learned on their visit. They also made posters advertising the Takeover!

These stories and poems are all the tales they came up with within the romance genre. Stay tuned for further instalments – next up: more Poetry!


  1. When Robert Went Out With Too Many Lassies!! – Ellie K
  2. Robert Burns and the Hair – Lucy
  3. Robert’s Lassies – Astrid
  4. The Girls – Amelia
An engraving of Jean Armour, Robert Burns’ widow. Dating from 1826. Part of the Museum collection.

When Robert Went Out With Too Many Lassies!! – by Ellie K (P6W)

When Robert Burns was young he went out with a lot of lassies, when this was happening Robert was cheating on his wife. When a girl asked Robert Burns out he would always say yes. He would say yes because he liked all the girls and thought that they were pretty. One of his girlfriends called Highland Mary gave Robert a piece of her hair and put it in the family bible.

Robert Burns and the Hair – by Lucy (P6W)

H- Hair was given to Robert as a present from Highland Mary to remember her.

A- A strange present to give your boyfriend.

I- It was highland Mary’s hair that she cut of and gave to Robert Burns.

R- Remembering her by the gift.

The Holy Bible belonging to ‘Highland’ Mary Campbell. Contains a lock of her hair. On display in the Museum.
‘The Betrothal of Burns and Highland Mary’ by W. H. Midwood, 1860. On display in the Museum.

Robert’s Lassies – by Astrid (P6W)

L- Loved by many ladies.

A- All around the globe.

S- So many lovely poems.

S- Some written for his many lovers.

I- International acclaim followed by his death.

E- Enjoyable poems he wrote.

S- Sadly died very young.

The Girls – by Amelia (P6W)

Robert Burns had a very romantic love life with so many girls he was with. He never said no to a girl in total he had 9 girlfriends and had 12 children by four women. What a life he had!

Monuments to Mice and Men

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Screenshot (3)
Ayrshire Police Division Burns Night Facebook Post, 25 January 2016.

How well do you know one of Alloway’s most famous residents? If you’re local you may pass it regularly, maybe you’ve seen it posing for selfies, or with school groups. It’s even been on the run from Ayrshire Police!

Clearly then, Monument to a Mouse has become part of the community consciousness in Alloway – I’m yet to meet anyone without a fondness for the beastie. Why? Well, it’s BIG!  Monumentally big in fact. Not only does this monumentality draw us to Monument to a Mouse, but it is also of central concern to the artist – Kenny Hunter.

Installation of Monument to a Mouse in 2010.  Image ©️ National Trust for Scotland.

kenny hunter
Kenny Hunter with Monument to a Mouse, during its installation. Image ©️ National Trust for Scotland.

Hunter is a Scottish sculptor whose work often explores established ideas about monuments: ideas about what monuments are; who they’re for; and what they look like. He does this by alluding to sculptural traditions of the past. We as viewers are familiar with these past traditions – because we see them in the sculptures of our town and city centres.

Take the statue of Robert Burns in Ayr’s Burns Statue Square as an example. Unveiled in 1891, this monument to Burns follows many of the tropes typical of 19th Century figurative sculpture. The Ayr Burns is roughly life-size (maybe slightly larger); realistic (not abstract or overly stylised), cast in bronze; and standing atop a pedestal. These four stylistic conventions are all characteristic of traditional monuments, and are all of interest when discussing Monument to a Mouse.

Left: G.A Lawson, Robert Burns, 1891. Burns Statue Square, Ayr. Right: Kenny Hunter, Monument to a Mouse, 2010. Poet’s Path, Alloway. Both photos by the author.

On first glance, these two sculptures look very different. But as contemporary sculpture, Monument to a Mouse references many of these same conventions seen in the Ayr Burns, while also deviating from them in a number of meaningful ways. Similar to the Ayr Burns, Monument to a Mouse is largely naturalistic in the depiction of its subject – the mouse. Hunter reportedly had some help with depicting a realistic looking mouse, after his pet cat brought in a dead one as a present.[1]  

Furthermore, both are cast in bronze – a material which is traditionally associated with monumental sculpture. Bronze has been used for some of the most recognisable monuments in Scotland, including the Duke of Wellington in Glasgow; Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn; Greyfriars Bobby and David Hume in Edinburgh; and many, many more.  You can see that the conventions observed in the Burns Square Statue are also adhered to in these examples. By rendering a realistic subject in bronze, Hunter aligns the mouse with the great men and women we are used to seeing in this sort of sculpture: the heroic individuals, exceptional thinkers or distinguished dignitaries who are immortalised in this way. 

bronze statues
L to R: 1) Carlo Marochetti, Equestion Statue of the Duke of Wellington, Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, 1844. 2) Pilkington Jackson, Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn, 1964. 3) William Brodie, Greyfriars Bobby, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, 1873. 4) Alexander Stoddart, David Hume, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, 1995.

Comparable in size to a grown adult, but not a wee moosie.

Although both Monument to a Mouse and the Ayr Burns are similarly sized, the scale of their subject matter differs greatly. While the Burns statue depicts its subject roughly life-sized, Hunter renders Monument to a Mouse much larger than the a wee tim’rous beasties we’re used to seeing. Comparable to a grown adult in size, the scale of the sculpture encourages us to reflect on Burns’ comparison between mouse and man. Hunter wants the viewer to stand “nose to nose” with the work, saying “Burns’ poem To a Mouse measures a man to a mouse and this artwork is a direct and physical manifestation of that comparison“. [2]

This sentiment is also reinforced by the absence of pedestal –  another significant deviation from conventional monumental sculpture. In Burns Statue Square, Burns is situated on a stone plinth above the viewing public, looking down. Monument to a Mouse sits humbly on a small paved circle on the Poet’s Path – directly within our own viewing space. In this way, the mouse is celebrated without elevation or deification – we’re physically on the same level. Hunter grounds the meaning of Monument to a Mouse within our experience: the experience of the many people who pass it (and photograph it) everyday.

Even in name, Monument to a Mouse pays reverence to its source material; To a Mouse is certainly one of the most well known Burns works, especially with children. In the poem, Burns describes the mouse as an “earth-born companion, An’ fellow-mortal!”. Upon reflection then, through its reference to – and manipulation of – monumental tradition, Monument to a Mouse couldn’t embody this sentiment more.

Lizzie Gow, Learning Trainee


[1] Poet’s Corner: Meet Some of the People behind the New £21m Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. The Scotsman. November 29, 2010. Accessed July 25, 2019. https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/poet-s-corner-meet-some-of-the-people-behind-the-new-163-21m-robert-burns-birthplace-museum-1-836204

[2] Ibid.

An Awfie Symbolic Seat

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Date: 1858

Object Number: 3.4521

On display: in the museum exhibition space


This remarkable chair is made of wood sourced from the Kilmarnock printing press which produced the first edition of Robert Burns’s work Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect known as ‘The Kilmarnock Edition’. It was published on the 31st July 1786 at the cost of three shillings per copy. 612 copies were printed and the edition was sold out in just over a month after publication. The printing press no longer exists but in its stead there are two statues: one of Burns and one of John Wilson (the owner of the press) to commemorate the publication of Burns’s first works.

Statues in Kilmarnock.

This chair was constructed in 1858, just before the Burns Centenary Festival in Ayr in 1859. The one hundredth year anniversary of the bard’s birth was celebrated far and wide by many. One contemporary counted 676 local festivals in Scotland alone, thus, showing the widespread popularity of Burns.

This photograph shows Annie Burns (Robert Burns’s granddaughter) and Martha Burns Everitt (his great granddaughter) outside the Burns Cottage which is the bards birthplace in Alloway. It is florally decorated for the centenary of Burns’s death.

The chair has plush red velvet on the cushion and is elaborately carved with symbolism and references to some of Burns’s most loved works. Each arm rest ends with a carving of a dog, Luath and Caesar, from the poem ‘The Twa Dogs’.

The Twa Dogs – a poem written by Robert Burns in 1786 – about Luath and Caesar.

A carving of Robert Burns himself, after the artist Alexander Nasmyth’s famous portrait – whereby he is shown fashionably dressed in a waistcoat, tailcoat and stalk – is placed in the centre at the highest point of the back of the chair with the infamous characters Tam and Souter Johnnie from the narrative poem ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ on either side. Thistles, commonly regarded as the floral national emblem of Scotland, decorate the gaps between the figures.

Thistle – Scotland’s floral emblem.

The central carving is of the climactic scene of Tam crossing the Brig o’ Doon atop of his trusty cuddie (horse in Scots) Meg with Nannie the witch at their heels. The Brig o’ Doon is actually a real bridge and is located in Alloway where Burns was born and lived for seven years.

Brig o’ Doon, Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland.


Brig o’ Doon scene from Burns’s narrative poem Tam o’ Shanter.

A small plaque above this quotes a verse from Burns’s poem ‘The Vision’ which was written in 1785 and published in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. It takes the form of a poetic ‘dream vision’, a form used in medieval Scottish verse and revived by Allan Ramsay in his own poem ‘The Vision’, from which Burns takes his title and was influenced and inspired by immensely. In the long narrative poem, Burns as speaker returns from a hard day in the fields and, after resting by the fireside, falls into a dream state in which he is visited by Coila, a regional muse. Coila (whom the speaker is clearly attracted to) addresses Burns, describing how she watched his development from a young age – thereby offering an imaginative reworking of Burns’s emergence as a poetic talent. She ends with a confirmation of his poetic mission and crowns him as bard. The striking thing here is the self-consciousness Burns displays about his position even this early in his career.


The inclusion of these particular carvings could be symbolism of the themes in which Burns explored most through his works: nature with the dogs representing this; the supernatural via the Brig o’ Doon scene; comradery through Tam and Souter Johnnie the “drouthy cronie” and the nature of the self and humankind through the quote from ‘The Vision’ and Robert Burns himself.


Interestingly, during a visit to Burns Cottage in 1965, the boxing legend Muhammad Ali was pictured sitting in this chair. Following this visit he was made an honorary member of Alloway Burns Club. If you are intrigued by this then please read a previous blog by volunteer Alison Wilson about an extraordinary meeting to do with this celebrity visit to Alloway here: https://burnsmuseum.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/memories-of-muhammad-ali/.


Muhammed Ali



By Parris Joyce, Learning Trainee.

The Early Courtship of Robert and Jean

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The romance and marriage of Robert Burns and Jean Armour is well known and discussed; but how much do we really know about their early courtship? There are certain moments in the couple’s story that are set in stone, such as the year they met; the year of their wedding; their children’s births and deaths. These dates however only tell us the bare bones of their lives together; they do not give us an insight into their feelings, their thoughts, and their bond as a married couple. Catherine Czerkawska has written a novel around the couple’s lives, starting with their early courtship, through the heightened emotions of their separation and finishing with their married lives together. We all know how the relationship ended, but how did it begin in the first place? When and how did Robert Burns fall in love with his Jewel, Jean Armour?

Jean Armour’s parents were far from impressed with the new inhabitant near Mauchline, Robert Burns, otherwise known as Rab Mossgiel at the time. His reputation as a womaniser had preceded him, and James Armour deemed him an unsuitable match for his respectable young daughter, Jean. The news of Elizabeth Paton’s pregnancy only proved the rumours of his behaviour to be true. The rumours had been given life; there was no way of assuaging parents with young daughters of his virtues now. He accepted paternity of the child without complaint and endured three penitential sessions in the Kirk for his fornication. So how did respectable Jean Armour fall for his charms? In public Jean and Robert could only admire each other from a distance; her parents after all would never allow their daughter to become associated with such a man. Somehow admiration from a distance does not scream of a passionate and enduring romance, a love that could endure whatever comes. So how did this young couple’s love begin?

An open courtship was out of the question, the young couple needed a helping hand. Catherine Czerkawska in her novel mentions a woman called Catherine Govan, an elderly lady living in Mauchline who could perform the role of a ‘black-fit’. A black-fit was in essence a matchmaker; a person who could be a go-between for the young couple. This person was usually an older woman who wished them well and would keep their secret. Robert wanted to know Jean better, so he organised the services of a black-fit to assist them. The plan was for Jean to spend several afternoons with Catherine Govan, since she could teach Jean fine embroidery and needlework. In truth Jean only spent a short while at her lessons before sneaking off to meet her Robert somewhere more private. When the time came to return home to her parents, she would collect her needlework that Catherine had further embellished before heading home to her unsuspecting parents. In addition to this, Robert and Jean both asked a friend to act as a chaperone; therefore their public meetings in the Whitefoord Arms Inn were simply among friends, nothing noteworthy for gossip.

In the book Jean admires Robert’s love of reading, he was always in possession of a book and no moment was spent in idleness. In truth, Robert was like no other man she had met before, and despite all of her parents’ misgivings she could not resist him. Jean is portrayed as a spirited, lively and attractive young woman, not the passive woman she is often depicted as. Jean’s position in the relationship was far more dangerous, as a dependent upon her father, her relationship with Robert Burns could and ultimately did cost her dearly. She willingly chose to defy social and religious conventions placed upon a woman, as well as the possible risk of pregnancy, so she could be with him. For Robert Burns, Jean’s beautiful singing voice was the sweetest ‘wood-notes wild,’ and even when they were married it was something he still remarked upon. In his eyes, she was the epitome of a proper young lady; she was his Jewel before all others. The other ladies of Mauchline had their desirable qualities too, but none could rival Jean for his affections:

Miss Millar is fine, Miss Markland’s divine,

Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw,

There’s beauty and fortune to get wi’ Miss Morton,

But Armour’s the jewel for me o’ them a’.

Unfortunately the couple’s secret relationship had to come to an end when Jean fell pregnant. Robert was seemingly delighted with the prospect; he wrote a document outlining the marriage between Jean and himself. The young couple both agreed and signed the document, as far as they were concerned they were married with their first child on the way. Jean could not hide her growing condition forever though, and she had to tell her parents of her relationship and marriage to Robert Mossgiel. James Armour would not condone any of it; surely another man would still be willing to marry her, despite her condition. James sent Jean away from the prying eyes and gossip of Mauchline to stay with relatives in Paisley.

The Kirk Session Book
On this page Robert Burns acknowledges himself the father of Jean Armour’s children.

The marriage between Jean and Robert had not been officiated by the Kirk, so in James’ eyes the whole marriage was a falsehood. He destroyed the document by cutting out the couple’s names; the proof of the marriage was gone. James informed Robert that Jean had shunned him and had allowed her father to destroy their marriage document. Robert felt slighted and wronged; his Jean had proven to be fickle and undeserving. Jean was eventually allowed to return home after several months away, by which point Robert’s attention had wandered to Margaret Campbell, otherwise known as Highland Mary. The once promising early courtship and relationship had ended disastrously; it took two more years before they were fully reconciled and married.

The Session Book attesting Robert Burns and Jean Armour’s wedding in 1788. The only document where both of their signatures can be seen together.

The early courtship of Jean and her Robert was far from desirable; yet despite everything, they fell in love with each other. The secrecy, the pregnancy, the separation were only some of the trials they went through before they were officially married. The couple’s hardships had not torn them apart forever, their love had endured. Robert Burns had first met his Jean in 1785 and they were officially married three years later. By this time Jean had already given birth to four of the couple’s nine children. In September 1788 Burns wrote a letter to Margaret Chalmers about his Jean, he proudly declared ‘…I have got the handsomest figure, the sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and the kindest heart in the county.’ The marriage was far from perfect; his infidelity is legendary after all, yet no one can doubt that they loved each other. The life and story of Robert Burns would seem somewhat lacking without his Jean; she was his friend, his lover and his wife. Thankfully the couple’s early courtship invoked true and deep feelings of love in them both; perhaps an impossible feat if it hadn’t been for the helping hand of a black fit as described by Catherine Czerkawska.

By Learning Trainee Kirstie Bingham

Graffiti Artist?

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Have you ever had the urge to graffiti? To loudly declare to the world I was here? Well Robert Burns certainly did, and he chose a way with great style and panache too. His was no illegible scrawls or splashes of indescribable colour that we often see now. Instead he scratched his immortal thoughts onto panes of glass. Burns’s creativity was definitely not restricted to certain times of the day or even when he had a handy piece of parchment available. This is evident during his highland tour, when Robert decided to leave a distinctive trail of graffiti in the places he visited. He left behind a series of poems and lines inscribed on chimney pieces and on the window panes of several inns he stayed in.

On the first night of his tour, Burns and his companion William Nicol stayed overnight at the Cross Keys Inn in Falkirk in 1787. This was the beginning of his window pane graffiti trail. Robert had recently acquired a diamond tipped stylus, which he used to scratch four lines into the window pane. The lines entreat that all men who are good to women should be rewarded:

‘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.’

window pane - Falkirk

There are some who question Robert Burn’s relationships with women, and whether he deserved a reward for his ‘good’ treatment of women. Nevertheless, this was not the last of his unusual writings in August 1787. In the royal burgh of Stirling he visited a seat of the Scottish Kings, Stirling Castle. The castle at the time of his visit was in a ruinous state, and this roused Burns’s Jacobitism for the Stewart Kings of previously. In a letter to Robert Muir, Burns outlined his day in Stirling and his indignation at what had occurred to the castle and the fallen Stewarts. These were the ten lines he wrote on his room’s window at the Wingate’s Inn (now the Golden Lion Hotel):

“Here Stewarts once in triumph reigned,

And laws for Scotland’s weal ordained;

But now unroofed their palace stands,

Their sceptre’s swayed by other hands;

Fallen, indeed, and to the earth

Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth,

The injured Stewart line is gone.

A race outlandish fills their throne;

An idiot race, to honour lost;

Who knows them best despise them most.”

This poem is highly critical of the Hanoverian monarchy that had replaced the Stewart Kings. George III was on the throne in 1787 and he is still known today as the Mad King, a member of the ‘idiot race’ as Burns scathingly wrote. In addition to this, the Hanoverians were still seen as alien foreigners, ‘a race outlandish’ that dared to occupy the throne of ‘the injured Stewart line.’ These words, although poetical, are no less treasonous for their meaning. Burns saw the danger of this particular window graffiti and returned later to break the glass to avoid prosecution. Yet these lines almost ruined his chances to become an Excise man later, since he was interrogated like a child about my matters, and blamed and schooled for my inscription on a Stirling window.’ Despite this attempt to erase his glass scribblings, the Stirling Lines have been remembered. The Golden Lion lost the broken fragments of the original Stirling Lines in a fire that occurred last century, but they have been re-engraved for a display dedicated to Robert Burns in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

Robert Burns had not lost his taste for window graffiti after Stirling, even though these particular lines could have seen him arrested for treason. In 1790, he once again lifted his diamond-tipped stylus and started engraving on several window panes in the Globe Inn in Dumfries. This time Burns decided to omit his opinions on the monarchy, and focused on the relative merits of sex and war instead.

window panes

‘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.’

Burns was a lover rather than a fighter, evident perhaps from his many offspring from several different women. He practiced what he wrote, and he had an affair with a barmaid called Anna Park in the same room he wrote these lines. Their relationship together produced a daughter; Elizabeth Park Burns, who was raised with Robert’s other children by Jean.

Robert Burns was a prolific writer across numerous genres, these window panes inscribed with his lines testifies to that. He believed women should be treated in a good manner, and that such men would be justly rewarded in return. He played with this idea of loving women by comparing war with love and sex. It gives life to the old adage of men being ‘lovers’ or ‘fighters.’ Robert Burns was indeed a romantic, but he was also more than that, he was a highly educated and politically opinionated man. This is obvious from his most famous window graffiti, The Stirling Lines, in which his love of Scotland and his nationalistic fervour is clear. All three examples of his window graffiti paint a picture of an unusual man, one who did not necessarily conform to society’s expectations or rules.

The window graffiti from Falkirk and Dumfries are displayed within the museum’s collection for you to see. If you also head into the cottage you will see generations of graffiti carved into the cottage doors, and one visitor even followed Robert Burns’s example and left a message on a window pane in 1881.

By Learning Trainee Kirstie Bingham



An Insight Into Ae Fond Kiss

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Ae Fond Kiss is one of Robert Burns’s most famous love songs, one that outlines not the joy that love can bring but the acute pain of a broken-heart. It is moving, emotional and tender.

The song was written in 1791 and sent in a letter to Mrs Agnes McLehose (addressed as ‘Nancy’ in this instance). Burns met Agnes (1758–1841) in Edinburgh when she arranged an introduction to the bard by a mutual friend, Miss Erskine Nimmo. They engaged in an intense yet unconsummated love affair, largely through a series of passionate letters exchanged between the two.

Following Burns’s departure from Edinburgh in 1788, the bard’s relationship with Agnes suffered owing to his reunion with and eventual marriage to Jean Armour, not to mention an affair with Jennie Clow, Agnes’s maid, which resulted in a child. In 1792, Agnes returned to the West Indies at the request of her estranged husband (only to return after finding out he had started another family). Upon learning of her planned departure, Burns was inspired and sent her the heart-rending song Ae Fond Kiss. The song was first published in 1792 in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (which can be seen on display at RBBM).


Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov’d sae kindly,
Had we never lov’d sae blindly,
Never met-or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweeli alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.


In the third verse, the speaker reflects upon his infatuation with Nancy, suggesting that he could not resist her charms. Notice how the emphasis is on her appearance rather than other attractions: “But to see her was to love her”. Nancy may have had a great personality, came from a respectable background but here the speaker is idealizing the external beauty only. This is classic Burns as he himself and some of his works do have undertones of machoism, for example, cheating on his wife and in Tam o’ Shanter with Kate at home ‘nursing her wrath’ whilst Tam is drunk, flirting with Kirkton Jean and eyeing up Nannie!

The language is relatively straightforward and is polished compared to some of Burns’s other poems in Scots. Scots pronunciations are used throughout – for example, ‘nae’ for ‘no’ and ‘weel’ for ‘well’. Scots terms are limited to ‘ilka’ for ‘each’ or ‘every’ in the fifth verse. Perhaps Burns’s reasoning for this is because Nancy was included in polite 18th century society in Edinburgh and would have spoken in English rather than Scots?

The heavily romanticized and iconic quote from this poem is:

But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.

This would make any romantic swoon but one should keep in mind that on a biographical level, Burns writes to Agnes long after their initial infatuation. We know that Burns had returned to his own wife and he had also got Agnes’ servant pregnant. Can we still see this song as a true outpouring of emotion? Or, should we see it as a carefully crafted piece of poetry? I think it is both – Burns had a tendency to have bursts of illogical emotion when it came to his love affairs, like confessing undying love to one whilst happily married to another, but that does not mean it was not real to him – but I do not think it matters either way you interpret it. It is what it is: and that is a beautiful love song.

In the main exhibition space within the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, there is a display case dedicated to Ae Fond Kiss which has four objects on display as well as an interesting contemporary interpretation of the work through images.

Ae Fond Kiss display case within RBBM

There are five snapshots taken from Hollywood movies that are about unrequited love: Romeo and Juliet, Casa Blanca, Gone with the Wind, Brokeback Mountain and Atonement. This reference to popular culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries is a great way to convey how love and heart-ache has and always will be a topic of interest and an inspiration for artists no matter their medium.

The five iconic unrequited love Hollywood movies.

Also, there is a teacup that belonged to Agnes which is used to represent the different social classes of Burns and her; a letter from Burns to Agnes saying he has included a song for publication (i.e. Ae Fond Kiss); another letter from Burns to Agnes in which they use their code names ‘Sylvander’ and ‘Clarinda’ because though separated, Agnes was deeply concerned with propriety and confidentiality; and Ae Fond Kiss shown in the Scots Musical Museum book.

Clarinda’s Coffee Cup, Object No.: 3.4010

Date: 1787, Object No.: 3.6363, Letter from Robert Burns to Agnes McLehose.

Date: 1791, Object No.: 3.6373, Letter from Robert Burns to Agnes McLehose.


The Scots Musical Museum, Object No.: 3.524


Other objects within the museum’s collection which are worth noting are the silhouette miniature of Agnes, the pair of wine glasses Burns gifted Agnes and a letter from Agnes to Burns.

Date: 1788, Object No.: 3.6374. This silhouette is the only known picture of Agnes McLehose. It was produced by Edinburgh artist John Miers. Miers was a skilled artist who could produce very accurate silhouettes. Miers also produced a silhouette of Burns which showed his distinctive nose. This was often used to authenticate other portraits of him.



Alexander Banks        Artist: John Miers, 
Object No.:



Date: 1788, Object No.: 3.4012.a-b. At the height of their affair in 1788, Robert sent these wine glasses to Agnes along with his love poem Verses to Clarinda: ‘Fair Empress of the Poet’s soul, And Queen of Poetesses; Clarinda, take this little boon, This humble pair of Glasses.’


Date: 1792, Object No.:3.6376. Letter from Agnes McLehose to Robert Burns.



You can listen to a beautiful rendition of Ae Fond Kiss here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax021N4iaFU



By Parris Joyce (Learning Trainee)