Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Robert Burns

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born 260 years ago today. The Bard, as he is known in Scotland, wrote much poetry in the Scots language or in the Scots dialect of English, as well as some essays in standard English. He is perhaps best known for such poems as Scots Wha Hae and Auld Lang Syne.

His birthday is celebrated in many places where Scots and descendants of Scots live and its accompanying ritual sounds intriguing. The Burns Night menu consists of many traditional dishes of Scotland, the centerpiece of which is haggis.

After opening remarks, the Selkirk Grace is said:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket
.Following this, the haggis is brought in and the poem To A Haggis is recited:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye 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 wad 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 slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie 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 o’er his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody 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’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!
The beverage of choice seems to be whiskey, no doubt a single-malt scotch. There are toasts to the women by the men, to the men by the women, to the sovereign, to Robert Burns' memory and as many others as needed to deplete the store of beverage.

I've eaten haggis before at the Highland Games in Denver, Colorado. It is actually quite tasty. Now if I could only find a source for sheep stomachs and a few other pieces-parts...

The text of the poems quoted here are taken from The Complete Works of Robert Burns, courtesy of The Gutenberg Project.

No comments: