ROBERT Burns, Scotland’s protean poet, fickle man and distorted myth, is undoubtedly an international figure.

His work has been translated into at least 43 languages – including Latin, Faroese and Esperanto – and his day is celebrated by approximately nine and a half million people around the world.

Seen as a womaniser and heavy-drinker (the former, undeniable; the ­latter, at least inaccurate) and frequently ­associated with tendencies ranging from ­passionate love and sentimental longing to ­revolution, independence and ­democracy, Burns’s international reputation is wide-ranging, like his own sympathies.

Just as he was able to empathise with different views of the world, his international admirers have not hesitated to create and celebrate their own versions of Burns, more than often going to lengths to fit him into differing agendas.

For ­instance, in the old Soviet Union, Burns was portrayed as the quintessential proletarian poet, whilst in the United States, his commitment to freedom is ­cherished by modern-day Republicans. Moreover, in Germany, the reception of Burns has been closely connected to ­language politics, whereas the French have tended to highlight his radical ­values.

If in Central Europe, Burns was interpreted in terms of Herderian struggles over national identity, this was not the case in Spain or the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.

Still, Burns’s work may have served as inspiration and encouragement for ­Galicia’s national poet, Rosalía de ­Castro, in the late 19th century.

Surprisingly, Burns did not draw much interest in the Catalan cultural agenda of the early 20th century, or in Spain in ­general. But he did attract relevant ­literary figures; amongst others, Miguel de Unamuno and Antonio Machado in the early 20th century, and a few ­decades later, the Nicaraguan poète maudit, ­Carlos Martínez Rivas.

More recently, the web has ­provided researchers with evidence of Burns’s ­­presence in Spanish and Argentine ­underground culture. Regarding ­translations of Burns into Spanish, the work of Enrique de Vedia in the late 19th century is foundational.

Although the first volume solely ­dedicated to Burns’s verse in Castilian Spanish was not published until 1940, it was followed by ­additional collections in 1954, 1990 and 2008. ­Importantly, Burns was translated into Bable, the Asturian language, in 1999, and into Galician in 2014.

While these connections do not ­suggest a great influence of Burns in Spain and the Spanish-speaking world, they do ­reveal a sustained interest in Scotland’s bard.

During his lifetime, Burns was famous beyond belief. He was “rockstar famous” Andrew O’Hagan has observed – and acclaimed as a genius. By the end of his life, however, as his correspondence reveals, his circumstances were as precarious as both his mental and physical health.

Given many of his life circumstances and, of course, his understanding of the world, Burns is commonly referred to as a contradictory man, albeit this could be a simplistic view.

According to Gerry Carruthers, one of the reasons for Burns’s success as a poet, and more precisely as a national poet, is that he acknowledges different ways of understanding Scottish history and ­identity; he knows that there is more than one way of being Scottish and of being human. Just as he can sympathise with a Covenanter – even changing his views – he can also identify with Mary Queen of Scots. And this is what makes him an empathetic man and poet.

Adam Smith’s The Theory Of Moral ­Sentiments, one of Burns’s favourite books, encouraged him to put himself in the place of others, to try to understand their perspective. Relevant examples of this enlightened idea, with Burns’s own spin, can be found in the well-known To A Louse and To A Mouse. This ­crucial ­aspect of Burns the man and the poet, however, has not been sufficiently stressed by translators of his work.

Soon after his death in 1796, Burns’s name and that of Scotland became ­increasingly popular and ­fashionable ­beyond the British borders and the ­English-speaking world. Literary ­enthusiasts from Europe and other ­corners got a taste for Burns’s verse and lyrics, which then extended to an ­interest in the rural scenes and places that ­inspired his writing and were, at the same time, created by his carefully crafted Scots.

Burns’s birthplace and the Land of Burns did not take long to become ­popular literary destinations. As Nicola Watson has affirmed, within three years of his death, the cottage, by then an ­alehouse, was already being visited. International visitors would arrive a few decades later.

Yet, the international interest in ­Scotland did not originate with Burns. By the end of the 18th century, James Macpherson’s Ossian became an object of cult in Western Europe. Additionally, and in many respects due to its ­connection to Macpherson’s work, Hugh Blair’s ­Lectures On Rhetoric And Belles Lettres soon established its influence across the continent.

There is no doubt that James ­Thomson’s The Seasons, vastly translated since the 1750s, also played a crucial role in the origins of European Romanticism. And a few decades later, Sir Walter Scott’s work was taking European readers by storm.

In fact, as Dominique Delmaire has ­observed, by the early 19th century, ­Scotland was fast becoming the centre of Romantic Europe and the epitome of a new Nordic exoticism.

While this fascination for Scotland and its authors is a direct consequence of their literary merits, their reception in many European countries was made ­possible mainly by the work of professional and amateur translators, who, frequently lacking basic tools such as dictionaries, worked under truly challenging conditions while undertaking an impossible task.

Despite the obvious ­shortcomings of ­literary translation, its ­importance cannot be stressed enough, as it makes ­intercultural communication ­possible, ­enhances empathy through ­entertainment, whilst also offering ­endless ways of ­enriching the ­imagination. Without a doubt, translation is the principal means of creating and acquiring literary ­capital, hence enriching the prestige of the ­languages involved. And, of course, it was translation practitioners who transported Scottish literature to Europe, particularly Paris – then the Greenwich Meridian of literature, in Pascale Casanova’s terms.

Nonetheless, the path of Burns’s fame has not been straightforward, and his international status has oscillated from grandiosity to invisibility.

According to Murray Pittock, Burns’s reputation in Europe gained initial ­traction partly because of the ­exaltation of national feeling in the German states in the Napoleonic era. As he later would in other languages and cultures, Burns entered German translation in ­Macphersonian terms as a Highlander. Not only did Burns appear in German ­reference books before he died, but Green Grow The Rashes was also translated into German before his early death.

Considered a man of the people, Burns soon became a revolutionary voice. It is important to highlight that the ­linguistic contrasts between High and Low German – and other German ­dialects – played a key role in the ­reception of Burns. In France, where language ­politics were not as problematic, Burns the ­radical was adopted by Republicans Unfortunately, many French writers wrongly conceived of Burns as a heavy-drinking peasant, which placed limits on his reach and reputation. ­Moreover, the identification of folk song as a ­natural emanation of rural life resulted in the ­neglect of Burns’s deliberate poetic choices and artistry.

Apart from his importance to 19th ­century European nationalism, Burns also ­became relevant to the USSR and ­China. As Natalia Kaloh Vid has ­explained, Burns’s work was handled freely by ­Soviet-era translators, often portraying him as a radical peasant who showed the peasantry’s capabilities to possess ­socialist ideas.

The arrival of Burns in Spain was quieter and less problematic. The earliest translations of Burns into Spanish were part of a travel journal by Basque historian, writer, translator and diplomat Enrique Lorenzo de Vedia y Goossens (below, 1802–1863).

The National: Vedia Goossens, Enrique de.

In 1857, while serving as Spanish ­Consul in Liverpool, Vedia toured the English lakes and the Scottish ­Highlands, ­collecting his impressions in a ­fascinating notebook. Translator of John Milton’s ­Comus, Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard, Lord Byron’s Parisina, and, alongside Pascual Gayangos, of an ­improved version of George Ticknor’s ­History Of Spanish Literature, to list a few, Vedia authored Diario De Un Paseo A Los Lagos Ingleses Y A Las Montañas De Escocia En El Verano De 1857, which included “imitations” of Burns.

Although Vedia’s Diario never appeared in book form, some fragments, including versions of The Braes O’ Ballochmyle and The Banks O’ Doon were published posthumously in 1868.

Fortunately, this was not Vedia’s only Burnsian enterprise. Amongst his unpublished papers, he also left a manuscript containing some of his original compositions, together with versions of German and British poetry.

Titled Antología Anglo-Germánica O Colección de Poesías Inglesas Y ­Alemanas Eraducidas é Imitadas En Verso ­Castellano, it features versions of figures such as Johann Wolfgang von ­Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Anna ­Barbauld, Byron, Gray, and of course, Burns, whose lyrics play a significant role in the anthology.

It also includes imitations of a few ­minor albeit fascinating poets, like, for ­instance, William Thom, the “Weaver Poet of Inverurie”.

As evidenced by The Vision, Burns strived to create a literary space for his ­native Ayrshire. In the celebrated piece, the speaker praises the local landscape, the vigour of its rivers and the heritage and prestige of its families.

According to Karyn Wilson-Costa, these Ayrshire destinations were to ­become increasingly popular with ­tourists over the course of the 19th century. One of these visitors or literary pilgrims, and more than likely the only Spaniard to document his journey, was Vedia, whose Diario not only confirms Burns’s success in creating a literary space in his homeland but also redefines the reception of his life, work and myth in the Spanish-speaking world.

Vedia’s travel journal and Antología demonstrate that Burns was translated into Spanish earlier than previously ­believed and reveal the vital connections between place, sound and poetry like no other work on Burns in Spanish has yet endeavoured.

Aware of Burns’s difference and uniqueness, Vedia tried to convey some of Burns’s particular poetic features ­highlighting how the landscape inspired him, and how his own art shaped the ­literariness of certain places. ­Significantly, Vedia’s work was not ­mediated by French ­versions, which was the norm at the time. Instead, his work was the result of first-hand knowledge of English and ­Anglo-Scots, and an awareness of the importance of Gaelic.

Moreover, the fact that Vedia’s ­pilgrimage to Ayrshire in search of the Scottish genius precedes that of French poet Richard De La Madelaine in 1874 is not a minor detail. Unfortunately, ­Vedia’s translations were not published until 1915.

While the first volume solely dedicated to Burns’s work – published in 1940, one year into the Franco regime – presents evidence of self-censorship, the ­selections that followed have not had to deal with such ordeals. Yet, most of them have ­followed the canon established by that first edition, simultaneously including newly translated poems and songs.

Still, Burns and his work have remained invisible in the debate about ­Romanticism. Of course, Miguel de Unamuno mentions Burns in a few of his essays, and even quotes one of Burns’s letters; moreover, his poem La Flor Tronchada seems to be inspired by To A Mountain Daisy.

And Unamuno’s friend and disciple, Antonio Machado, also borrowed some of Burns’s patterns as his ­manuscripts reveal.

Undoubtedly, the 2008 and 2014 ­translations of Burns into Spanish and Galician, respectively, as well as the ­presence of Tam O’ Shanter in blogs by single malt enthusiasts from Spain or in Iron Maiden fanzines from Argentina, somewhat demonstrate a renewed ­interest in Burns.

Yet, no Scottish writer can ­compete with Sir Walter Scott’s worldwide ­influence and fame. And alongside Scott, Burns, as the second most translated Scottish author, has contributed to ­broadcasting to the world the modern albeit romantic idea of Scotland. And this conception, all the way to Trainspotting, Braveheart or Outlander would not exist without Burns and Scott.

If Scott was the first to portray small men and how their lives were impacted by history, Burns was the first to provide ­rural men and women with a voice in verse of the highest order.

Carlos Llaza is a Peruvian poet completing his doctoral thesis, The Sound Of A Rhinoceros: On Translating Robert Burns Into Spanish. He currently teaches at the University of Glasgow