address to a haggis

January 23, 2009


Just the word haggis can inspire mistrust at best and grimaces at worst, but few non-Scots will be able to tell you what it actually is. We were among the chosen few invited to Special K’s early Burns Night dinner, with the most velvety, rich and flavoursome haggis I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

For those wanting the low-down, here it is: liver, lungs & heart of a sheep, minced and mixed with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, salt, pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme, all stuffed into a properly cleaned sheep’s stomach. An English chef educates himself and us on haggis making here (don’t miss the tee-hee captions in the accompanying – and very enlightening – photo series).

Surely the highlight of any Burns Night dinner has to be the Address to a Haggis, written, amazingly, in 1786.  Special K did the actions as we all took turns reading in our best Scottish accents. (Mr. Snow’s was quite convincing for once, as opposed to the Indian-Jamaican cross that usually emerges whenever he does any accent.) I think my favourite bit is the stab at the French. Seems like the rivalry was well and alive already back then.

I leave you with Burns’ poem,  with the English translation below. Happy Burns Night!

‘Address To a Haggis’ by Robert Burns

Broad Scots Dialect

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.

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 ye up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;

And then, Ach! 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 made 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,
Ach! 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’ll 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 ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

English Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
gut, stomach-lining, or intestine,
You’re well worth a grace
as long as my arm.

The overloaded serving tray there you fill,
Your buttocks shaped like a distant hilltop,
Your wooden skewer could be used to fix a mill
if need be,
While through your pores your juices drip
like liquid gold.

His knife see the serving-man clean,
And then cut you up with great skill,
Making a trench in your bright, gushing guts
To form a ditch,
And then, Oh! What a glorious sight!
Warm, steaming, and rich!

Then, spoonful after spoonful, they eagerly eat,
The devil will get the last bit, on they go,
Until all their well-stretched stomachs, by-and-by,
are bent like drums,
Then the head of the family, about to burst,
murmurs “Thank the Lord”.

Is there a pretentious soul who, over his French ragout,
Or Italian cuisine that would make a pig sick,
Or French stew that would make that same pig ill
with complete and utter disgust,
Looks down with a sneering, scornful attitude,
on such a meal? (as Haggis)

Poor devil! See him over his trash!
As feeble as a withered bullrush,
His skinny leg no thicker than a thin rope,
His fist the size of a nut,
Through a river or field to travel,
Completely unfit!

But look at the healthy, Haggis-fed person!
The trembling earth respects him as a man!
Put a knife in his fist,
He’ll make it work!
And legs, and arms, and heads will come off,
Like the tops of thistle.

You Powers who look after mankind,
And dish out his bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff
That splashes about in little wooden bowls!
But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!


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