A Night Out with Robert Burns : The Greatest Poems, Paperback

A Night Out with Robert Burns : The Greatest Poems Paperback

Edited by Andrew O'Hagan

4 out of 5 (10 ratings)


The Scottish poet Robert Burns has been idolised and eulogised.

He has been sainted, painted, tarted up and toasted.

He is famous as the author of 'Auld Lang Syne', and he has long since become the patron saint of the heart-sore and the hung-over.

But what about the poems? Beneath the cult of Burns' Nights and patriotic yawps, there is the work itself, among the purest and most truthful created in any age.

This is a Burns collection like no other: a reader's edition, made for the pleasure of reading.

Novelist and Scottish essayist Andrew O'Hagan comes into company with the poet who has mattered most to him in his writing life.

He selects the poems for the reader, and converses with the work, offering fragments and distilled commentary of his own.

The effect is explosive, giving us Robert Burns at his very best - a political Burns, a poet who can name hypocrisy and intolerance, and point directly to the human heart.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Poetry by individual poets
  • ISBN: 9781847671127



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Showing 1 - 5 of 10 reviews.

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Review by

Burns is a poet whose life and work has been over-sentimentalised and exploited in the 250 years since his birth and this is a book which goes quite a long way in addressing these wrongs. O'Hagan loosely divides the poems into four sections, 'The Lasses', 'The Drinks', 'The Immortals' and 'The Politics' and prefaces each poem with a short introduction explaining why this poem is still important now. I was familiar with most of the poems in first two sections, but it is the Burns the angry radical who is a revelation, as O'Hagan says Robert Burns 'is the prince of poetry, not only for me or for Scotland, but for the world.' Read this collection.

Review by

I’m particularly fond of John Carey’s theory regarding the British and their relationship (or lack of) with the arts. I’ll oversimplify grossly to keep it brief, but it’s essentially that a lot of British people have been put off engaging with art due to the way it’s been taught and regarded since the Second World War, as elitist trophies to be admired rather than works to be engaged with and actively enjoyed, works which may still have vital ideas, maybe even something to say about our own time. He further argues that if this attitude were to be changed in the teaching and presentation of art, more people would find works of art accessible rather than offputting. Essentially, he’s passionate about trying to bring art to the people by democratising it. It’s best expressed in his book Pure Pleasure , which selects books not for perceived literary merit but by how much enjoyment can be derived from them. Professor Carey struck a chord with me there, particularly with some of my own reading experiences and as such A Night Out With Robert Burns looked like an ideal book for me. It seeks to take Burns from the cosy nostalgic tomb in which he’s generally been sealed, and reposition him as still vibrant and relevant today.Introductions for each poem are provided by Andrew O’Hagan. For much of the book I wasn’t quite sure O’Hagan was the ideal man to write and select the introductions, dropping names such as Seamus Heaney’s into these paragraphs comes across as a tad elitist. Various poems in the first three sections occasionally raise the spectre of that whisky fuelled nostalgia. While that might seem offputting, there was occasionally a certain element of that to Burns’ work, so their inclusion is valid. As I progressed through the book though, it became more and more clear how much thought had been put into both the selection of, and the introductions to, the poems, how they were designed to complement rather than tell what the poems are about. O’Hagan selects the poems not because of perceived greatness (although his most famous works are present and correct) but for the pleasure that can be derived from them and to give a good overview. The introductions generally bring out an aspect of the poetry without directly telling or patronising the reader, the occasional mention of famous friends is a small price to pay there – I was particularly fond of the use of one of the Mail’s more hysterical pieces.Where I found this collection scoring highly was in the final section, dealing with the more political poems. The relevant passages accompanying the poems are immaculately selected and really bring out the obvious anger and frustration that course through Burns’ words. It’s this section more than the other three which gives cause to re-evaluate what you think you know about Burns.In the end O’Hagan proves a fine advocate for Burns (although bracketing him with Shakespeare may be taking things a touch too far). As a perfect host, he only intrudes on proceedings when necessary, remembering Burns is the star of the show and not he. The rough energy and vibrancy of Burns’ words are allowed the space to speak for themselves whilst being given a relevant modern cultural context. It may not entirely bring Burns out of the Scottish dialect ghetto, but as an exercise in trying to correct historical misperceptions of a great figure it’s hugely successful.

Review by

A nice selection of Burns work.. missing some of the more famous ones though, which I did miss. The intoductions framed the works well though. I'm glad I got this book, as it is a good refresher, for a artist I had come unappreciate over the years.

Review by

A great introduction to the work of Robert Burns, presented in way which shows just how relevant his words are even in a modern context. A very useful start for anyone exploring Burns for the first time, or who just wants a trusty anthology for the shelf.

Review by

Hopefully I don't need to extol the joys of Burns' poems to most readers. Instead, what's special about this collection is the arrangement and introduction by Andrew O'Hagan, a literary figure akin to James Woods. O'Hagan is a liberal-left Scotsman from the Irish community which settled in Scotland in the 19th-century, fleeing oppression and poverty, only to find more of the same plus added sectarianism over the water. Yet O'Hagan's novels and essays unify the multiple experiences of Scottishness: religion, class, heritage, politics, Celticism and Britishness. So it's perhaps clear why Canongate asked him to introduce and arrange these very familiar poems: he rearranges to defamiliarise, to confront Scots and others with the radical, dangerous Burns, to wrench them (us?) away from the cosy, tartan-bound pride in a local boy done good. My grandfather's pocket copy of Burns is bound in just such ersatz-tartan, and carries no trace of the sexy, dangerous, radical, unsettling Burns who appears in O'Hagan's introduction and in the poems chosen for this volume. Buy it, and have your preconceptions rudely upset.

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