Lost and found – Burns' hidden poems make it into collection

MISSING verses by Robert Burns to his great muse, Clarinda, are among five "rediscovered" poems now attributed to the national bard.

A 42-line manuscript that the poet addressed to the woman he called "mistress of my soul" has been unearthed by Professor Robert Crawford, one of Scotland's leading literary scholars.

The verses, My Steps Fate on a Mad Conjuncture Thrust, are published in a new collection of Burns' poetry and prose co-edited by Prof Crawford.

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"You are putting your head in the lion's mouth in doing this," he said yesterday.

"They are poems that have been hidden out in the open. I'm claiming that they should appear as part of the Burns canon."

The revelation comes as interest in Burns grows ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birth in January, launching the Scottish Government's "Year of Homecoming" in 2009.

Prof Crawford, an award- winning poet who has edited major collections of Scottish and British verse, tracked down the manuscripts of poems and poem fragments while scouring the collection of the Robert Burns Birthplace and Museum in Alloway.

They appear in the new collection, The Best Laid Schemes. They range from The Highlander's Lament, with its Jacobite sentiments and despairing tone, to the verses to Clarinda, the Edinburgh beauty Agnes McElhose.

"I'm calling them 'rediscovered'," said the professor. "I don't want to use the word 'new' as they have been floating around. But the case of them being thought of as Burns poems, rather than poems collected by him, hasn't been made before."

The Year of Homecoming has brought a surge in Burns scholarship. Prof Crawford publishes a major biography of the poet this month and experts at Glasgow University have won the 15-year contract to produce a new multi-volume Oxford edition of Burns.

The last Oxford Burns, in 1968, included 26 lines of a poem to Clarinda and mentioned a missing 42-line manuscript that "has not been traced".

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That work is one of the Burns manuscripts that Prof Crawford hunted down in the archive.

"It's a guilty poem, it's a poem Burns has trouble with, but different bits survive. This is the fullest surviving version."

Claiming new Burns poems is fraught with dangers. In 2001 the scholar Dr Andrew Noble included a dozen 'new' Burns poems in the Canongate edition of the poet's works, which he identified from poems printed anonymously in radical newspapers. There was a furious backlash from other scholars.

Prof Crawford now attributes Here is to the King Sir, a celebrated Jacobite song, to Burns after finding a manuscript of it in the poet's hand. It appears in the Scots Musical Museum, the collection of Scottish song that Burns edited.

"People thought it was a poem that might have been collected by Burns," he said. "However, there is a manuscript in Burns' hand which is different from other versions of the song."

The Glasgow University literature professor Willy Maley praised Prof Crawford's efforts for spurring on Burns scholarship. "It's taken a long time, and there have been slips along the way, but this is another sign Burns is getting the kind of attention he deserves," he said.

"It's a fantastic thing to discover new poems, or poems that were wrongly attributed. This kind of sleuth work is always lauded, as it is going to stir the pot and brings something new.

"Burns is still clearly an open book and if Crawford is adding new poems to the canon you would hope it's something that will continue."


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ROBERT Burns collected many songs and poems, and wrote many others, and some are a mixture of the two.

One of his most famous, A Red, Red, Rose, is a striking example of the remaking of an earlier work, says Professor Robert Crawford.

Born on 25 January, 1759, the young poet wrote songs for local lassies in Ayrshire, and in 1783 started keeping a book of "observations, hints, songs, scraps of poetry &c".

It included several poems written after his father's death in 1784, and flirtatious verse penned while wooing Jean Armour. Burns composed hundreds of songs, poems and letters over about 22 years until his death aged 37. In 1786 he published his first book of verse, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, known as the Kilmarnock edition.

Experts on the poet have embarked on a 15-year effort to produce a comprehensive collection of his works.

The Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow will aim for an authoritative compilation of all his poems, songs and letters.

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