'A Winter Night' by Robert Burns

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Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm!
How shall your houseless heads, and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?
- Shakespeare

When biting Boreas, fell and dour,
Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv'd glow'r,
Far south the lift,
Dim-dark'ning thro' the flaky show'r,
Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi' snawy wreaths up-choked,
Wild-eddying swirl;
Or, thro' the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl:

List'ning the doors an' winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
O' winter war,
And thro' the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle
Beneath a scar.

Ilk happing bird,-wee, helpless thing!
That, in the merry months o' spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o' thee?
Whare wilt thou cow'r thy chittering wing,
An' close thy e'e?

Ev'n you, on murdering errands toil'd,
Lone from your savage homes exil'd,
The blood-stain'd roost, and sheep-cote spoil'd
My heart forgets,
While pityless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats!

Now Phoebe in her midnight reign,
Dark-muff'd, view'd the dreary plain;
Still crowding thoughts, a pensive train,
Rose in my soul,
When on my ear this plantive strain,
Slow, solemn, stole:-

"Blow, blow, ye winds, with heavier gust!
And freeze, thou bitter-biting frost!
Descend, ye chilly, smothering snows!
Not all your rage, as now united, shows
More hard unkindness unrelenting,
Vengeful malice unrepenting.
Than heaven-illumin'd Man on brother Man bestows!

"See stern Oppression's iron grip,
Or mad Ambition's gory hand,
Sending, like blood-hounds from the slip,
Woe, Want, and Murder o'er a land!
Ev'n in the peaceful rural vale,
Truth, weeping, tells the mournful tale,
How pamper'd Luxury, Flatt'ry by her side,
The parasite empoisoning her ear,
With all the servile wretches in the rear,
Looks o'er proud Property, extended wide;
And eyes the simple, rustic hind,
Whose toil upholds the glitt'ring show-
A creature of another kind,
Some coarser substance, unrefin'd-
Plac'd for her lordly use thus far, thus vile, below!

"Where, where is Love's fond, tender throe,
With lordly Honour's lofty brow,
The pow'rs you proudly own?
Is there, beneath Love's noble name,
Can harbour, dark, the selfish aim,
To bless himself alone?
Mark maiden-innocence a prey
To love-pretending snares:
This boasted Honour turns away,
Shunning soft Pity's rising sway,
Regardless of the tears and unavailing pray'rs!
Perhaps this hour, in Misery's squalid nest,
She strains your infant to her joyless breast,
And with a mother's fears shrinks at the rocking blast!

"Oh ye! who, sunk in beds of down,
Feel not a want but what yourselves create,
Think, for a moment, on his wretched fate,
Whom friends and fortune quite disown!
Ill-satisfy'd keen nature's clamorous call,
Stretch'd on his straw, he lays himself to sleep;
While through the ragged roof and chinky wall,
Chill, o'er his slumbers, piles the drifty heap!
Think on the dungeon's grim confine,
Where Guilt and poor Misfortune pine!
Guilt, erring man, relenting view,
But shall thy legal rage pursue
The wretch, already crushed low
By cruel Fortune's undeserved blow?
Affliction's sons are brothers in distress;
A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!"

I heard nae mair, for Chanticleer
Shook off the pouthery snaw,
And hail'd the morning with a cheer,
A cottage-rousing craw.
But deep this truth impress'd my mind-
Thro' all His works abroad,
The heart benevolent and kind
The most resembles God.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Winter Night: A Masterpiece by Robert Burns

As the winter draws near and the cold winds start blowing, our hearts crave for warmth and comfort. It is at times like these that we turn to literature and art to find solace and joy. One such masterpiece that captures the essence of a winter night is the poem by Robert Burns, aptly titled "A Winter Night". This poem is a work of beauty, filled with imagery and emotions that make it a timeless piece of literature. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its themes, symbols, and meanings.


Before we start analyzing the poem, let us take a brief look at the life of the poet, Robert Burns. Burns was born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1759 and is considered one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era. He wrote in the Scots language and his poems were inspired by the beauty of nature, Scottish culture, and the struggles of the common man. Burns' work has been translated into many languages and has influenced many poets and writers around the world.


"A Winter Night" is a poem that portrays the beauty and serenity of a cold winter night. The poem is written in Scots and is made up of six stanzas, each with four lines. The poem is filled with imagery and metaphors that bring the scene to life. Let's take a look at each stanza and analyze its meaning.

Stanza 1

When biting Boreas, fell and dour,
Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv'd glow'r,
Far south the lift,

In this stanza, Burns sets the scene by describing the harshness of the winter night. "Biting Boreas" refers to the icy winds that blow during winter, and "fell and dour" describes their severity. The "leafless bow'r" symbolizes the barrenness of winter, and the "short-liv'd glow'r" of Phoebus (the sun) indicates the brief moments of light during the day. The "lift" refers to the sky, which is far to the south.

Stanza 2

When hailstanes drive wi' bitter skyte,
And infant frosts begin to bite,
In comes auld Nature, shiv'ring, white,
Wi' hoary locks a' streaming;

In this stanza, Burns gives us a vivid description of the harshness of the winter night. "Hailstanes" refer to the hailstones that fall during winter, and "skyte" means to drive or strike with force. "Infant frosts" refer to the early stages of frost formation. Burns personifies nature by describing it as an old man with hoary locks, shivering in the cold.

Stanza 3

Wi' limpin' step, an' snawy locks,
Wee Robin comes in stowin',
Wi' buskit brow, and lifted hocks,
Like 'sprentit onie stane for ae ane.

In this stanza, Burns introduces a character, "Wee Robin", who symbolizes the struggle of life during winter. Robin is described as having "limpin' step" and "snawy locks", which means he is cold and struggling to walk. "Buskit brow" means a ruffled or puffed up face, and "lifted hocks" means raised hind legs. This description of Robin makes us feel compassion for his struggle, and "sprentit onie stane" means he is hopping from one stone to another, seeking warmth.

Stanza 4

Poor Mailie! thy wee bit housie, too,
In ruin! thy wee bit housie, too,
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin'!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,

In this stanza, Burns introduces another character, "Poor Mailie", who symbolizes the destruction and loss that winter brings. Mailie's "wee bit housie" (little house) is in ruins, and the wind has blown away its walls. Burns uses repetition to emphasize the loss and helplessness of Mailie, and "naething now to big a new ane" means she has nothing to rebuild her house.

Stanza 5

And bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell and keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary winter comin fast,

In this stanza, Burns describes the onset of winter and the desolation it brings. "Bleak December's winds" are described as "snell and keen", which means sharp and piercing. Burns uses the phrase "thou saw the fields laid bare" to indicate the barrenness and emptiness of winter, and "weary winter comin fast" refers to the impending hardships of the season.

Stanza 6

It's Up wi' the Hailzie,
And on wi' the tartan,
The brawest sark,
And the whiteest airtan!

In the final stanza, Burns brings a sense of hope and celebration to the poem. "Up wi' the Hailzie" means to raise a toast or cheer, and "on wi' the tartan" refers to wearing Scottish clothing. "Brawest sark" means the finest shirt, and "white airtan" means the finest linen. These lines indicate a celebration of life and a determination to enjoy the winter despite its hardships.


"A Winter Night" is a beautiful poem that portrays the harshness and beauty of winter. Burns uses vivid imagery and metaphors to bring the scene to life and evoke emotions in the reader. The characters of Wee Robin and Poor Mailie symbolize the struggles of life during winter, and their stories make us empathize with their hardships. The final stanza brings a sense of hope and celebration to the poem and encourages us to enjoy life despite its difficulties.

The poem also has a deeper meaning beyond its literal interpretation. Burns uses winter as a metaphor for the struggles of life and the hardships that we all face. Just like winter, life can be harsh and barren at times, but it is up to us to find the beauty and joy in it. The characters of Wee Robin and Poor Mailie represent the struggles that we face in life, and their stories remind us to be compassionate and understanding towards others.


In conclusion, "A Winter Night" is a masterpiece of literature that captures the essence of winter and the struggles of life. Burns' use of imagery and metaphors makes the poem come alive, and the characters of Wee Robin and Poor Mailie make us empathize with their hardships. The final stanza brings a sense of hope and celebration to the poem and encourages us to enjoy life despite its difficulties. "A Winter Night" is a timeless piece of literature that reminds us of the beauty and serenity that can be found in the harshest of winters.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Winter Night by Robert Burns: A Masterpiece of Romantic Poetry

As the winter nights grow longer and colder, there is nothing quite like a cozy fire and a good book of poetry to warm the soul. And when it comes to romantic poetry, few writers can compare to the great Robert Burns. His poem "A Winter Night" is a masterpiece of the genre, capturing the beauty and melancholy of a winter evening in Scotland.

In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of "A Winter Night," and examine how Burns uses these elements to create a powerful and evocative work of art.


At its core, "A Winter Night" is a poem about the power of nature to inspire both joy and sorrow in the human heart. Burns begins by describing the beauty of the winter landscape, with its "crispy frost" and "clear, cold sky." He revels in the stillness of the night, the silence broken only by the occasional sound of a distant owl or the rustling of leaves in the wind.

But as the poem progresses, Burns' mood shifts from one of wonder to one of sadness. He reflects on the passing of time, and the inevitability of death. He mourns the loss of loved ones, and the fleeting nature of human existence. And yet, even in the midst of his sorrow, he finds solace in the beauty of the natural world, and in the knowledge that he is not alone in his grief.


One of the most striking features of "A Winter Night" is its vivid imagery. Burns uses a wide range of sensory details to bring the winter landscape to life, from the "crispy frost" that crunches underfoot to the "frosty, starry sky" that stretches overhead. He describes the moon as "a crimson ball" that casts a warm glow over the snow-covered fields, and the stars as "sparkling gems" that twinkle in the darkness.

But Burns' imagery is not limited to the natural world. He also uses metaphor and symbolism to convey deeper meanings. For example, he compares the moon to a "crimson ball" to suggest that it is not just a cold, lifeless rock, but a warm and comforting presence in the night sky. He describes the "wee, modest crimson-tipped flower" as a symbol of the fragility and beauty of life, and the "drowsy tinklings" of the distant sheep as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all living things.


Another key element of "A Winter Night" is Burns' use of language. His writing is characterized by a rich, musical quality, with a strong emphasis on rhythm and rhyme. He uses a variety of poetic devices, such as alliteration, assonance, and repetition, to create a sense of unity and coherence in the poem.

One of the most striking aspects of Burns' language is his use of dialect. He writes in a Scottish dialect that is both lyrical and earthy, with a distinctive rhythm and cadence. This dialect gives the poem a sense of authenticity and immediacy, as if the reader is eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends.


So what makes "A Winter Night" such a powerful and enduring work of poetry? One of the key factors is Burns' ability to capture the essence of the human experience in all its complexity. He is able to convey both the joy and the sorrow of life, the beauty and the pain, the hope and the despair.

At the heart of the poem is the idea of transience, the sense that everything in life is fleeting and impermanent. Burns reflects on the passing of time, and the inevitability of death, with a sense of melancholy that is both poignant and profound. He writes:

"The pale moon is setting beyond the white wave, And time is setting with me, oh! False friends, false love, farewell! for mair I'll ne'er trouble them, nor they me, oh!"

Here, Burns is acknowledging the transience of human relationships, and the fact that even the closest bonds can be broken by time and circumstance. But he is also expressing a sense of resignation, a willingness to let go of the past and embrace the present moment.

Another key theme of the poem is the power of nature to heal and console the human heart. Burns finds solace in the beauty of the winter landscape, and in the knowledge that he is not alone in his grief. He writes:

"The wintry west extends his blast, And hail and rain does blaw; Or the stormy north sends driving forth The blinding sleet and snaw: While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down, And roars frae bank to brae; And bird and beast in covert rest, And pass the heartless day."

Here, Burns is describing the harshness of the winter weather, but he is also suggesting that even in the midst of this harshness, there is a sense of unity and interconnectedness between all living things. The birds and beasts may be taking shelter from the storm, but they are still part of the natural world, and still subject to its rhythms and cycles.

Finally, "A Winter Night" is a poem about the power of poetry itself to capture the beauty and complexity of the human experience. Burns is not just describing the winter landscape, he is also using language to create a work of art that is both beautiful and meaningful. He writes:

"Thus every kind their pleasure find, The savage and the tender; Some social join, and leagues combine; Some solitary wander: Avaunt, away! the cruel sway, Tyrannic man's dominion; The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry, The fluttering, gory pinion!"

Here, Burns is suggesting that poetry has the power to transcend the boundaries of time and space, and to connect people across cultures and generations. He is also suggesting that poetry has the power to challenge the status quo, and to critique the injustices and cruelties of human society.


In conclusion, "A Winter Night" is a masterpiece of romantic poetry, a work of art that captures the beauty and melancholy of a winter evening in Scotland. Through his use of vivid imagery, rich language, and powerful themes, Robert Burns has created a work that speaks to the human heart in all its complexity. Whether read by a cozy fire on a winter's night, or studied in a classroom, this poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire, console, and challenge us.

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