Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Addressing the Haggis

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.

I have attended proper Burn’s suppers, in Cambridge, where a piper played at the head of a procession, with the haggis being placed on the top table - where it was dispatched with a lethal-looking dagger. Kilts appeared on people you never suspected were Scottish. All the stanzas of Robert Burn’s Address to a Haggis were recited. Whisky was drunk.

I don’t expect to ever be invited to anything like those dinners again, but every year we cook haggis on the 25 January (Burn's Night). I really like the taste, it’s an excuse to bring out a good single malt, and Robert Burns is a great writer who (even if you’re not Scottish) deserves to be celebrated.

I don't think too much about the nationalism and deeper issues surrounding Burn's, I'm just cooking a tasty sausage, but here's an interesting dissenting view: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/jmacmillan/100050906/why-i-no-longer-worship-at-the-altar-of-robert-burns/

Let's also spare a thought for Scots living in the USA. There is still a 40-year old ban in place that prevents the sale of haggis, which officially deprives Scots living in the US of a part of their culture. Story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-12259126

I have to go to do battle with my haggis now, and prepare the neeps and tatties, but I’ll leave you with the rest of Burn’s Address to the Haggis. It’s rather bloodthirsty (“Trenching your gushing entrails bright”) and less than complimentary about French cuisine (“fricassee would make her throw-up”).

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 ye up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
   Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
   Warm-reeking, 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 mak her spew
   Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
   On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feclkess as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
   His nieve a nit;
Tho' 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 make it whistle;
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 ye wish her gratfu' prayer,
   Gie her a Haggis!

[nb. Pudding = sausage. Standard English translation here: http://www.worldburnsclub.com/poems/translations/address_to_a_haggis.htm]

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