News | January 17, 2023

Burns Night 2023: Survey Reveals Scotland’s Favorite Scots Poets


Actor James Cosmo performs the poetry of Robert Burns

To celebrate all things Scots poetry ahead of the celebrations for 2023’s Burns Night (January 25), VisitScotland has teamed up with Scottish acting legend James Cosmo MBE, who has appeared in some 130 Hollywood movies, including the likes of Game of Thrones, Trainspotting, Braveheart, Narnia and many more to recite Scotland’s favorite Scots poem, To a Mouse by Robert Burns.  

For Scotland’s national bard (poet) Robert Burns’ birthday, the national tourism organization surveyed 1000 Scottish adults to pinpoint precisely which Scots poems are their favorites and how they felt about learning Scots poetry at school. The survey found that Scotland’s favorite Scots poem is To a Mouse by Robert Burns, with more than a fifth of Scots saying this was their number one.

Robert Burns composed some of the world’s most instantly recognizable lines of poetry and song lyrics. His words have been cherished and passionately recited for the past two centuries, from us saying we will ‘tak a cup o’ kindness’ when we sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in each new year to poems with the subject matter of man, mouse, or even a louse.

The tradition of children learning Scots poems and songs at school is longstanding and embedded in Scottish culture, so much so that it is part of the Scottish school curriculum. Whether belting traditional Scottish songs in assembly, singing a cheeky Scots street song in the playground or reciting all 228 lines of Robert Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter from memory, most Scots will have some recollection of the Scots language from their school days. 

The research uncovered that a whopping 9 in 10 Scots say that they have fond memories of learning Scots poems and songs at school. 

A further 9 in 10 Scots say that they could read and listen to Scots poems and understand what most of the words mean, suggesting that learning Scots poems in school is a skill that sticks with Scottish people well into their adulthood.

VisitScotland found that 7 out of 10 of Scotland’s favorite Scots poems were by our national bard, Robert Burns! Other poets included in the top 10 favorites are Walter Wingate, Billy Keys, and J.K. Annand. The top 10 results were:
1. To a Mouse by Robert Burns 
2. Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns 
3. A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns 

4. Address to the Haggis by Robert Burns 
5. A Man’s a Man for a’ That by Robert Burns 
6. The Sair Finger by Walter Wingate 
7. A Dug, A Dug by Billy Keys 
8. To a Louse by Robert Burns 

9. Willie Wastle by Robert Burns
10. The Crocodile by J. K. Annand 
Speaking about the importance of teaching Burns in schools, James Cosmo said: “It’s so important that our children still read Burns...and that language that is so rich and vibrant can’t be lost. It's way too important. It’s what brings us together; it has a warmth and a beauty about it that can’t be replicated.

“Burns remains with us because he speaks of eternal truths and speaks to the human spirit and soul so clearly that I can’t think of another poet that has done that in such a special way. So, keeping Robert Burns and his work alive in the school room is incredibly important.”

Cat Leaver, Head of Brand and Global Marketing at VisitScotland said: “The words of Robert Burns have touched the hearts and minds of people the world over and Burns Night continues to be a global celebration of Scottish culture. Whether it is attending an event, visiting an attraction associated with Burns or hosting your own Burns Night dinner, there are so many ways to honour our National Bard. 

“This research shows the lasting impression Robert Burns and the wider Scots language has on people right across the country and it’s fantastic to see so many respondents share fond memories of learning these poems. They are an important part of our cultural heritage and one of the many things that makes Scotland so special.”