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Picture of Robert Burns, poet; eighteenth century Scottish Literature and poetry


 
January 25, 1759
Robert Burns   (1759 - 1796)
 
"Gie her a Haggis!"
 
by Steve King

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On this day in 1759 Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland, and on this night lovers of Burns or Scotland or conviviality will gather around the world to celebrate the fact. Burns was elevated to national hero in his lifetime and cult figure soon afterwards, the first Burns Night celebration occurring almost immediately upon his death. This is due partly to the poetry and partly to the legendary details of the ploughman-poet life -- his years as a poor tenant farmer; his enthusiasm for women (fifteen children, six born out of wedlock); a patriotism that would not allow him to take money for his songs; his death at thirty-seven. Though many poems are philosophical and political, there are more than enough on the Highlands-lassies-wee dram themes to go around this evening. Amidst much piping and toasting and auld-lang-syne-ing, there will be an enthusiastic reading of "Ode to a Haggis" -- more enthusiastic, for some, than its eating -- in which Burns first trashes the cuisine and character of the French and then trumpets that "Great Chieftain o' the pudding-race":

. . . 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's wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae shinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if you wish her gratefu' pray'r,
Gie her a Haggis!
Is there that over his French Ragout
Or olio that would sicken a pig
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust
Looks down with a sneering scornful opinion
On such a dinner

Poor devil, see him over his trash
As week as a withered rush (reed)
His spindle-shank a good whiplash
His clenched fist...the size of a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battle field to dash
Oh how unfit

But take note of the strong haggis fed Scot
The trembling earth resounds his tread
Clasped in his large fist a blade
He'll make it whistle
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles

You powers who make mankind your care
And dish them out their meals
Old Scotland wants no watery food
That splashes in dishes
But if you wish her grateful prayer
Give her a haggis!

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»   Robert Burns Stories, Books & Links
 
Related authors:  John Keats, Lord Byron, William Saroyan, William Wallace
 
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