Burns stanza

The Burns stanza is named after Scotland's national poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). The form already existed before he made it his own; its old name was standard Habbie, after Habbie Simpson (1550-1620), the Piper of Kilbarchan, its earliest known exponent. (I have seen the spelling standart Habbie often enough to think that maybe it isn't a misprint after all.) This form is also sometimes known as the Scottish stanza or the six-line stave.

Stanzas have 6 lines rhyming aaabab, the a lines having four feet each and the b lines two, something like this:

The Fire Brigade
Their uniforms are so divine,
A shiver tingles up my spine!
I swear I never saw so fine
A band of men.
Their mission: let nothing combine
With oxygen.

My heroes! For although each knows
The perils, through the fire he goes
Armed only with a rubber hose
With which he aims
His stream at all the reddest glows
To douse the flames.

Such gallantry! And yet he spurns
The prize his courage surely earns.
My ardour for his brave heart burns
And won’t extinguish.
I serenade him à la Burns
(Although in English).

The Burns stanza is an example of rime couée.

Notable Burns stanzas

A great deal of Burns' work, including To a Mouse, To a Louse, To a Haggis, etc. A nice modern example is W N Herbert's To a Mousse.

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© Bob Newman 2004, 2005. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 12/07/2005