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And you, farewell! Whose merits claim
Justly that highest badge to wear:
Heav’n bless your honour’d noble name,
To Masonry and Scotia dear!
A last request permit me here, –
When yearly ye assemble a’,
One round, I ask it with a tear,
To him, the Bard that’s far awa.
[Excerpt from Burns’ Farwell to the Brethren of St. James’ Lodge, Tarbolton]
Robert Burns is to Ayrshire, Scotland, what William Shakespeare is to Stratford, England. A prolific wordsmith, Burns is etched into the fabric of Scottish culture and history, and his works are as popular and cherished today as they were during his life.
Born to an impoverished family in 1759, Burns was raised on the farms of Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, where he was subjected to much toil and little formal education. In his formative years, he received only second-hand education from his father, making his rise to prominence as a writer and poet later in life all the more remarkable.
As a young man, Burns held radical political views, and was sympathetic to the French and American revolutions that were taking place at the time. It is likely that such views contributed to his literary style and inspired him to write some of his most widely appreciated works.
At the age of 23, Burns was initiated as an Entered Apprentice at the Lodge of St. David in Tarbolton. There’s evidence of Burns’ attendance at many lodge meetings across Scotland, notably at the lodge of St. Andrew in Edinburgh, where he was toasted by the Worshipful Master:
Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns!
Burns made many references to his life as a Freemason in his published works, even writing a poem entitled The Master’s Apron, in which he writes about the significance of one of Freemasonry’s most iconic and prominent pieces of symbolism.
Although Burns only lived until the tender age of 37, his contribution to Freemasonry and the fact that his works bear significant reference to the Craft, has earned him his legacy as one of the most important and highly esteemed Masons in all of history.
In fact, brothers across the world pay tribute to Burns with the reading of America’s Masons to Robert Burns, that is shared and toasted at various important Masonic ceremonies. It ends with the following poignant lines:
And thou, sweetest Bard., when our gems we enshrine,
Thou jewel the brightest, most precious, shalt shine,
Shall gleam from the East, to the far distant west,
While morning shall call us, or evening shall rest.
Brothers in Scotland are extremely proud of the contribution of their bard, and Freemasonry is grateful that such a highly respected and influential writer lived proudly as a Mason.