Friday, January 25

Burns Night

Tonight is "Burns Night." The birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) has become an occasion for Scotsmen, their descendents, and their romantic wannabes, to gather together wherever they may be to the lilt of bagpipers and the strains of Burns’ poetry. Celebrants traditionally enter the rooms with the shout, “Hail Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-Race.” While the drinking of Scotch, and the requisite carousing that sometimes attends it, often marks such festivities, the traditional celebration is actually a formal dinner. The bill of faire generally includes roast lamb, haggis—a traditional Scottish grain and savory offal sausage—boiled potatoes, and shortbread for dessert.

Burns, of course, was the highly revered Scottish National Poet, was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. His best known works include Auld Lang Syne, Comin' Thro' the Rye, A Red, Red Rose, To a Mouse, and his collection Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. In 1859, at a centenary Burns Night dinner in Boston, Ralph Waldo Emerson would affirm that, “The Confession of Augsburg, the Declaration of Independence, the French Rights of Man, and the Marseillaise, are not more weighty than the songs of Robert Burns.”

All hail your honest rounded face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race;
Above them all you take your place,
Beef, tripe, or lamb:
You're worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your sides are like a distant hill
Your pin would help to mend a mill,
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distil,
Like amber bead.

His knife the rustic goodman wipes,
To cut you through with all his might,
Revealing your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, what a glorious sight,
Warm, welcome, rich.

Then plate for plate they stretch and strive,
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all the bloated stomachs by and by,
Are tight as drums.
The rustic goodman with a sigh,
His thanks he hums.

Let them that o'er his French ragout,
Or hotchpotch fit only for a sow,
Or fricassee that'll make you spew,
And with no wonder;
Look down with sneering scornful view,
On such a dinner.

Poor devil, see him eat his trash,
As feckless as a withered rush,
His spindly legs and good whip-lash,
His little feet
Through floods or over fields to dash,
O how unfit.

But, mark the rustic, haggis-fed;
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Grasp in his ample hands a flail
He'll make it whistle,
Stout legs and arms that never fail,
Proud as the thistle.

You powers that make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare.
Old Scotland wants no stinking ware,
That slops in dishes;
But if you grant her grateful prayer,
Give her a haggis.

1 comment:

Mark Nenadov said...

I never knew about Robert Burns until I found a statue of him in a garden here in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I fondly remember that discovery of a new (for me) poet. I believe it was donated by a Windsor-Detroit Robert Burns society.