“The Cotter’s Saturday Night” in words and pictures

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These wonderful illustrations by John Faed vividly tell the story of Robert Burns’ poem, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’. Burns wrote The Cotter’s Saturday Night over the winter of 1785 – 86 when he was 26 years old.

Life was hard for a cotter (sometimes spelt ‘cottar’) and his family. Cotters, or cottagers, were labourers within the farming community. Their daily objective was to provide food and shelter for their families.

Faed’s pictures bring Burns words to life and we can clearly see the story unfold. The cotter turns for home, tired at the end of a week’s work. It is Saturday evening and he is enthusiastically welcomed home by his small children. Once indoors beside the fireside and amongst his wife and family his worries are left behind. Gradually, the family’s older children arrive home and recount stories from their week at work.

Jenny, the eldest daughter, is embarrassed when a young man arrives at the cottage to see her. She is relieved though when her mother shows her approval of their guest and her father talks to him about farming. Interrupting the story, Burns takes one verse to write emotively about the joys of love and Faed imagines the young lovers spending time together in a romantic woodland glen.

Returning to his theme, Burns describes how once supper is over, the family sit together round the fireplace to hear the father solemnly read from the cherished family bible.

Visit Capital Collections, our online gallery, to read verses from the poem alongside their accompanying illustrations.

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