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Address to a Haggis -- Robert Burns

In honour of Robert Burns's birthday, here's a guest poem from David McKelvie, about that most endearing of Scottish
(Poem #1154) Address to a Haggis
 Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
 Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
 Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
 Painch, tripe, or thairm:
 Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
 As lang's my arm.

 The groaning trencher there ye fill,
 Your hurdies like a distant hill,
 Your pin was help to mend a mill
 In time o'need,
 While thro' your pores the dews distil
 Like amber bead.

 His knife see rustic Labour dight,
 An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
 Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
 Like ony ditch;
 And then, O what a glorious sight,
 Warm-reekin', rich!

 Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
 Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
 Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
 Are bent like drums;
 Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
 Bethankit! hums.

 Is there that owre his French ragout
 Or olio that wad staw a sow,
 Or fricassee wad make her spew
 Wi' perfect sconner,
 Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
 On sic a dinner?

 Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
 As feckles as wither'd rash,
 His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
 His nieve a nit;
 Thro' blody flood or field to dash,
 O how unfit!

 But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
 The trembling earth resounds his tread.
 Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
 He'll mak it whissle;
 An' legs an' arms, an' hands will sned,
 Like taps o' trissle.

 Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
 And dish them out their bill o' fare,
 Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
 That jaups in luggies;
 But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
 Gie her a haggis!
-- Robert Burns
I like Robert Burns; I like him in two distinct ways.

Firstly, because of who and what he is. One of the main foundations of the
Romantic period that followed him; one of the few truly international poets
(the Russians love him apparently); a humanist at a time when such attitudes
were seen as bizarre (one critic of his day said of the socialist anthem
"For a' that and a' that": "This song may be said to embody all the false
philosophy of [his] time") and to top all of that off, a bit of a rogue.
Casanova eat your heart out! Oh, and did I forget to mention that he is a
superb poet with music running through his veins?

The second reason is because my dear maternal great-grandmother claimed that
we were descended from him. I haven't got round to checking my mother's side
of family tree. It might not be true. It probably isn't. But while there's
doubt, there's hope. So I don't think I'll be checking my family history
just yet..... :) And another personal note: my very first anthology of
poetry was given to me by my father. He won this as first prize in a Burn's
Recitation competition when he was at school. So, my liking for Burns may be
either genetic or purely down to my father's skills at recitation!

This poem is traditionally recited at Burns Suppers held on the 25th January
to celebrate his date of birth. How many other nations in the world (the
Western world at least) have an annual celebration centrered the recitation
of poetry? The poem itself is typical Burns: strong rhythms, even stronger
dialect (yes, I have great difficulty with it and I'm Scottish) and typical
earthy Burns humour directed at the those with their fancy ways and French
ragouts. And to top it off, my copy of his Colected Poems claims that he
pretty much improvised and recited this poem on the spot. Now that's just
showing off....

And if you've come this far and want to know what a haggis is....
[broken link] has lots of information on the Bard and a glossary for
all those tricky words.


[David also sent me a bit about the tradition of Burns Suppers - I've included
it below - martin]

The 25th January is the birthday of Robert Burns and here in Scotland (and all
over the world amongst scottish folk) there will be Burns Suppers. Here's an
extract from about them:

"The annual celebratory tribute to the life, works and spirit of the great
Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). Celebrated on, or about, the Bard's
birthday, January 25th, Burns Suppers range from stentoriously formal
gatherings of esthetes and scholars to uproariously informal rave-ups of
drunkards and louts. Most Burns Suppers fall in the middle of this range, and
adhere, more or less, to some sort of time honoured form which includes the
eating of a traditional Scottish meal, the drinking of Scotch whisky, and the
recitation of works by, about, and in the spirit of the Bard.

Every Burns Supper has its own special form and flavour, though there are
probably more similarities than differences among these gastro-literary
affairs. Individual tastes and talents will determine the character of your
Burns Supper. Some celebrants may contribute the composition of original songs
or poems; some may excel at giving toasts or reciting verse; while others may
be captivating storytellers. A particular group of celebrants will, over time,
develop a unique group character which will distinguish their Burns Supper
celebration from every other."

62 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

joshuacantor said...

Not really a poem, but topical nonetheless.
Joshua Cantor

Tony Blair is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness and greets one.
The patient replies:
"Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin race,
Aboon them a you take your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm."

Blair is confused, so he just grins and moves on to the next patient.
The patient responds:
"Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit."

Even more confused, and his grin now rictus-like, the PM moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:
"We sleekit, cowerin, timrous beasty,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickering brattle."

Now seriously troubled, Blair turns to the accompanying doctor and asks "What kind of facility is this? A mental ward?"
"No", replies the doctor.
"This is the serious Burns unit."

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