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The Cotter's Saturday Night

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Cotter's Saturday Night 
by Robert Burns
The toil-worn cottar....engraving by William Miller after Faed.jpg
"The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes", engraving by William Miller.
WrittenWinter, 1785-86
First published in31 July 1786
LanguageEnglish and Scots
FormSpenserian stanza
Rhyme schemeABABBCBCC
PublisherJohn Wilson
Read online"The Cotter's Saturday Night" at Wikisource

The Cotter's Saturday Night is a poem by Robert Burns that was first published in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect in 1786.


Burns wrote "The Cotter's Saturday Night" at his Mossgiel farm, near Mauchline, during the winter of 1785-86.[1][2] He adopted the lengthy Spenserian stanza form from Robert Fergusson's similarly themed 1773 poem "The Farmer's Ingle" to allow space to evoke his pastoral scene.[3] An extract from another major influence, Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", is used as an epigraph. The poem is dedicated to Robert Aiken, a successful Ayrshire lawyer who was Burns's patron at the time, and the opening stanza addresses him in advancing the poem's sentimental theme.[2]

What Aiken in a cottage would have been;
Ah! tho' his worth unknown, far happier there, I ween! (lines 8-9)


On a cold Saturday evening in November, a Scottish cotter—a peasant farmer who labours in return for the right to live in a cottage—returns home to his family ahead of the Sabbath. His wife and numerous children gather round the fire to share their news, while he gives out fatherly advice and admonition based on Christian teachings.

"And O! be sure to fear the Lord alway,
And mind your duty, duly, morn and night;
Lest in temptation's path ye gang astray,
Implore His counsel and assisting might:
They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright." (lines 50-54)

A boy from a neighbouring farm comes to call on the cotter's oldest daughter. The cotter's wife is pleased to see that the boy is not a rake and truly loves her daughter, and the cotter welcomes him into his home. The family then eat supper, after which they gather round the fire again as the cotter reads aloud from the Bible and the family sing hymns—Burns compares the family's humble devotions favourably with "Religion's pride"—before the oldest children return to their homes and the rest of the family go to bed. The poem concludes by eulogising the morality of such family life and how it does credit to Scotland.

From scenes like these, old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad (lines 163-4)


Bas-relief panel on statue of Robert Burns in Victoria Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Bas-relief panel on statue of Robert Burns in Victoria Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia

"The Cotter's Saturday Night" has inspired numerous works of art and literature. The Scottish painter John Faed produced a series of illustrations featuring scenes from the poem, some of which were subsequently engraved by William Miller.[4] Scenes from the poem also inspired paintings by David Wilkie[5] and William Kidd,[6] and William Allan's painting of Burns writing the poem was subsequently engraved by John Burnet.[7]

Bas-relief panels featuring scenes from the poem adorn a number of statues of Robert Burns, including: George Edwin Ewing's statue in George Square, Glasgow;[8] Charles Calverley's statue in Washington Park, Albany, New York;[9] and George Anderson Lawson's statue in Victoria Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia.[10]

The title of the Booker Prize-nominated novel From Scenes Like These by Gordon Williams ironically quotes the opening line of the poem's nineteenth stanza.[11]


  1. ^ "Robert Burns, The Cotter's Saturday Night". BBC. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Critical Analysis, The Cotter's Saturday Night". Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  3. ^ Leask, Nigel (2012). Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780521189361.
  4. ^ "'The Cotter's Saturday Night' in words and pictures". Edinburgh Libraries. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  5. ^ "The Cotter's Saturday Night by Sir David Wilkie". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Painting of the Cottar's Saturday Night by William Kidd". Burns Scotland Partnership. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  7. ^ "Robert Burns composing 'The Cotter's Saturday Night'". Burns Scotland Partnership. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  8. ^ "Plaster copy of 'A Cottar's Saturday night' panel at the base of Burns Statue in George Square, Glasgow". Burns Scotland Partnership. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  9. ^ "Washington Park Monuments". Washington Park Conservancy. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Robert Burns - Halifax, NS, Canada". Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  11. ^ Gifford, Douglas (2007). Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, Volume 3: Modern Transformations, New Identities (from 1918). Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press. p. 240. ISBN 9780748630653.
This page was last edited on 26 September 2020, at 20:52
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