Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Right Proper Toasting for Robert Burns

Robert Burns was born on this day in 1759.  He died at at the age of 37 but his poetry was so influential that Burns nights have been held since 1802.  The date was moved from January 29th to January 26th in 1803 when Ayr parish records showed the proper date.

Burns Night Suppers have been immensely popular not only to celebrate the Romantic era poet but also to celebrate Scottish language and culture, which Robbie championed by penning many of his works.

The highlight of the evening is the pipping of the Haggis (a savory pudding made with sheeps' pluck, minced onions, suet and oatmeal) followed by a reading of Burns' "Address to a Haggis".

Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns (1786)

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm

(sonsie = jolly/cheerful)

(aboon = above)
(painch = paunch/stomach, thairm = intestine)
(wordy = worthy)
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

(hurdies = buttocks)
His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

(dicht = wipe, here with the idea of sharpening)
(slicht = skill)

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

(deil = devil)
(swall'd = swollen, kytes = bellies, belyve = soon)
(bent like = tight as)
(auld Guidman = the man of the house, rive = tear, i.e. burst)
Is there that o're his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

(olio = stew, from Spanish olla'/stew pot, staw = make sick)
(scunner = disgust)
Poor devil! see him ower 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!

(nieve = fist, nit = nut, i.e. tiny)
But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whistle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thristle.

(wallie = mighty, nieve = fist)

(sned = cut off)
(thristle = thistle)

For twenty years, it was impossible to get Haggis from Scotland due to the ban on BSE products (Mad Cow Disease).  There was talk that the USDA would loosen its restrictions on haggis importation, but the inclusion of sheeps' lungs violates a 1971 USDA decree on carcinogenic foodstuffs and keeps the ban in effect. 

Presumably, most Scottish-Americans consider the continued ban on Highland haggis to be a truly offal situation (sic). 

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