Robert Burns Collection

Museum and archive collections from Robert Burns Birthplace Museum are now available for everyone to explore online.

Whether you’re a Burns scholar, tracing your family roots to Ayrshire or wanting to find out more about Scottish music and folk traditions, the Burns Collection brings multiple layers of information about Robert Burns.

You can explore items from a variety of angles, listen to audio recordings and read articles from Burns experts – all illuminating different aspects of Burns’s life and legacy.

Explore the collection

Burns the man

A passion for books, music, nature and women shaped Robert Burns as a person and a poet.

Myths and folklore

Burns intertwined much of his work with Scotland’s traditions and folklore. His poems often reflect themes from events deeply rooted in Scottish cultural history.


Poetry and love went together for Burns. He wrote poems, songs and letters to more than 200 people, from lovers and good friends to eminent professors and titled earls.

Memorialisation and legacy

Burns’s popularity, not only in Scotland but across the world, is extraordinary – his characteristic ability to express an idea in just a few lines or words has inspired many people.

Burns Relationship Explorer

Explore correspondence between senders and recipients of letters and documents in the Burns Collection.


Listen to poems and songs

We have a wide selection of audio recordings of Robert Burns songs and poems in our archive. Below are some of our favourites, read and sung by some well-known voices.

To a Mouse, read by Bill Patterson

A large statue of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs with its tail wrapped around the base.
A large statue of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs with its tail wrapped around the base.

To a Mouse by Robert Burns


Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
’S a sma request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An never miss’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an waste,
An weary winter comin fast,
An cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an men
Gang aft agley,
An lea’e us nought but grief an pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An forward, tho I canna see,
I guess an fear!

Ae Fond Kiss, sung by Mae McKenna

A close-up of an oval portrait of the head and shoulders of Robert Burns. He is shown standing against a natural backdrop.
A close-up of an oval portrait of the head and shoulders of Robert Burns. He is shown standing against a natural backdrop.

Ae fond kiss by Robert Burns


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

Tam o’ Shanter, read by Brian Cox

A miniature carved wood 3D scene depicts figures dancing and cavorting in an old church. A skeleton is chained to the floor.
A miniature carved wood 3D scene depicts figures dancing and cavorting in an old church. A skeleton is chained to the floor.

Tam o’ Shanter by Robert Burns

Related object number: 3.6108

When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors neebors, meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bowsing at the nappy,
And getting fou, & unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps & styles,
That lie between us & our hame,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest Tam o’ Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses
For honest men & bonie lasses.
O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum;
That, frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder, wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That every naig was ca’d a shoe on,
The Smith & thee gat roarin fou on;
That at the Lord’s house even on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied that, late or soon,
Thou wad be found deep-drown’d in Doon;
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk
By Aloway’s auld haunted kirk.
Ah, gentle Dames! it gars me greet,
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen’d, sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!

But to our Tale: ae Market-night,
Tam had got planted unco right,
Fast by an ingle bleezin finely,
Wi’ reamin swats that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither,
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs & clatter,
And ay the ale was growing better:
The Landlady & Tam grew gracious,
Wi’ favors, secret, sweet & precious;
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The Landlord’s laugh was ready chorus;
The storm without might rair & rustle,
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.
Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E’en drown’d himsel among the nappy.

As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,
The minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure.
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious;
O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious!
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white – then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether Time or Tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in,
And sic a night he taks the road in
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

The wind blew as ’twad blawn its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
Loud, deep & lang, the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand
The deil had business on his hand.
Weel mounted on his grey meare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub & mire,
Despising wind, and rain, & fire;
Whyles holding fast his gude blue bonnet,
Whyles crooning o’er an auld Scots sonnet;
Whyles glowring round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Aloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists & houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was cross the ford,
Where in the snaw the chapman smoor’d;
And past the birks & meikle stane,
Where drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;
And thro’ the whins & by the cairn,
Where hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Where Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel.
Before him Doon pours all his floods,
The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods,
The lightenings flash from pole to pole,
Near & more near the thunders roll;
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Aloway seem’d in a bleeze;
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth & dancing.

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn,
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny we fear nae evil,
Wi’ usquabae we’ll face the devil.
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle;
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish’d,
Till by the heel & hand admonish’d,
She ventur’d forward on the light,
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks & witches in a dance,
Nae cotillon brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys & reels,
Put life & mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast,
A towzie tyke, black, grim & large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes & gart them skirl,
Till roof & rafters a’ did dirl.
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the Dead in their last dresses,
And (by some devilish cantraip slight)
Each in its cauld hand held a light.
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes in gibbet-airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchirsten’d bairns;
A thief new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks wi’ blude red-rusted;
Five scymitars wi’ murder crusted;
A garter that a babe had strangled;
A knife a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son of life bereft,
The gray hairs yet stack to the heft:
With mair o’ horrible & awefu’,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.
Three Lawyer’s tongues, turn’d inside out,
Wi’ lies seam’d like a beggar’s clout;
Three Priest’s hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinking, vile, in every neuk.

As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d & curious,
The mirth & fun grew fast & furious:
The Piper loud & louder blew,
The Dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reel’d, they set, they crost, they cleekit,
Till ilka Carlin swat & reekit,
And coost her duddies on the wark,
And linkit at it in her sark.

Now Tam! O Tam! had thae been queans
A’ plump & strappin in their teens,
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flainen,
Been snaw-white, seventeen-hunder linen;
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush o’ gude blue hair,
I wad hae gien them off my hurdies
For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies!
But wither’d beldams, auld & droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Loupin & flingin on a crummock,
I wonder did na turn thy stomach.

But Tam kend what was what fu’ brawlie;
There was ae winsome wench & walie,
That night enlisted in the core,
Lang after, kend on Carrick-shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish’d mony a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn & bear,
And kept the country-side in fear:
Her cutty-sark o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, & she was vaunty.

Ah, little thought thy reverend graunie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches)
Should ever grac’d a dance o’ witches!
But here my Muse her wing maun cour,
Sic flights are far beyond her power,
To sing, how Nannie lap and flang,
A souple jad she was & strang
And how Tam stood like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d;
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
And hotch’d, & blew wi’ might & main:
Till first ae caper – syne anither –
Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out – “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”

And in an instant all was dark;
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees biz out wi’ angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open Pussie’s mortal foes,
When, pop, she starts before their nose;
As eager rins the Market-croud
When, “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud;
So Maggie rins, the witches follow,
Wi’ mony an eldritch shout & hollo.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin!
In hell they’ll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!!!
Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane o’ the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross!
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake.
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle,
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle;
Ae spring brought off her Master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The Carline claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now wha this Tale o’ truth shall read,
Each man & mother’s son take heed:
Whene’er to Drink ye are inclin’d,
Or Cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear;
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s Meare!


We were able to bring the Robert Burns Collection project to life thanks to the support of a member of our Patrons’ Club, whose generosity was matched by donations from the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA.

We hope that this project might pave the way for us to develop further online collections as part of our strategy to make Scotland’s important history accessible to everyone – both now and in the future.

Some items in the collection were donated from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library by the Friends of the National Libraries in 2022.