Burns can have had little time for writing poetry while he was being lionised in Edinburgh. The lively and amusing "Address to a Haggis" is one of the few good vernacular poems written at this time. Composed within a fortnight of the Poet's arrival, it appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on December 20th 1786 and in the Scots Magazine for January. It was included in the Edinburgh Edition of his poems. Hogg assures us it was produced almost extempore, at dinner, within the house of Mr Andrew Bruce, merchant, Castlehill
It is usual to have this Scottish dish at the anniversary celebrations of the poet's birth, and a very savoury viand it is.
There is a true story related by Allan Cunningham "Pray sir," said a man from the south, "why do you boil it in a sheep's bag and above all, from what is it made?" "Sir," answered a man of the north, "we boil it in a sheep's bag because such was the primitive way before linen was invented and as to it's ingredients, I dare not trust myself to tell. I can never name all the savoury items without tears, and surely you would not have me expose such weakness in a public company."
Galt records in his autobiography, that he sat next the Duke of York at one of the poet's anniversary dinners, when his royal Highness was attracted by the savoury steam issuing from a haggis. It was evidently badly made,the bag dingy, altogether an ugly, flabby trencher full of fat things. "Pray, what dish is that?" inquired the Duke. "A boiled pair of bagpipes!" gravely replied Galt, who dearly relished a joke in his own quiet way. The dish was ordered off the board.
Watch this video. The words are taken from my CD - The Greatest Poems in the World.
Further details of this CD can be viewed here.
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face
Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place
Painch, tripe, or thairm
Weel are ye wordy of 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
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
Is there that owre 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' bluidy 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 skinking ware
That jaups in luggies
But, if you wish her gratefu' pray'r
Gie her a Haggis!
Address To a Haggis features on my CD of Burns poems - The Greatest Poems in the World.
To read more about this Click Here.
It should be performed with great gusto, Burns wrote it to be fun.
The actions to go with the words are
As lang's my arm - run one hand down the length of the other arm
Thro' your pores - run fingers along the haggis and savour the aroma
His knife - clean blade on sleeve
An cut ye up - cut haggis open
Pause before Warm-reekin' and inhale the steam
Bent like drums - pat tummy
Trembling earth - stamp on the ground
Clap in - pick up knife
Whissle - brandish knife
Legs, arms, heads - imaginary cutting of those parts of the anatomy
Gie her a Haggis - pick up trencher for all to see
Savour the applause and enjoy your wee dram
This translates as the following
Greetings, you are a superior food and are worthy of a grace as long as my arm.
You fill the plate so well and look so sturdy. Your juices are as inviting as whisky.
See the knife cut you, allowing your insides to flow. A glorious sight and aroma.
Then spoon after spoon they stretch and strain.
It is every man for himself because there will be none left for the slow ones, until all their stomachs are full and fit to burst.
Is there anybody who eats foreign food who would look down disdainfully at this dinner.
Poor souls, if they do. They will be poor thin creatures, not fit for anything.
But if you eat Haggis, you will be strong, robust and fit for battle.
God, who looks after us and feeds us, Scotland does not want food with sauce that splashes in dishes. But if you want a grateful prayer then give her a Haggis.