poet, born around 1460, and dying some time in the early 1500s: perhaps killed at Flodden Field
in 1513. He and Robert Henryson
were the two greatest poet
s writing in Middle Scots
. He has been called the "Nobill Poyet".
His best-known work today is the Lament for the Makaris, a 25-verse lament on the power of death and the many poets (makars) of his time and before who had been taken, including Chaucer, Gower and Henryson. Each verse ends with the line Timor mortis conturbat me, "The fear of death disquiets me".
Dunbar also wrote On the Nativity of Christ, which also has each verse ending in a Latin line: some variation of nobis Puer natus est, "a boy is born to us".
His other poems include The Thrissill and the Rois in 1503, an allegory where the thistle is King James IV and the rose is his English queen; The Dance of the Sevin Deidly Synnis; and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo.
He appears to have been born in East Lothian, studied at St Andrew's (MA in 1479), and became a Franciscan novice. He travelled widely in England and visited France. He was a diplomatic secretary to the King, and in 1500 gained a pension of £10. This was later (1507) increased to £20 then (1510) £80. He disappears from history after 1513.
His first great poem was The Thrissill and the Rois. A collection published in 1508 was the first example of printing in Scots. His poem The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy in there, a humorous verse-duel with fellow poet Walter Kennedy, contains the first printed occurrence of the word 'fuck' (in "wan fukkit funling"). A little before that, his c. 1503 collection of poetry is currently the first known occurrence of the word in English (in "Be his feiris he wald haue fukkit").
Another famous poem, In Honour of the City of London, traditionally ascribed to Dunbar, was probably not his.