“To a Haggis”

What exactly is a Haggis?

A Haggis is a very old Scottish dish, which combines meats, spices and oatmeal to create a very rich, unusual, but none the less delicious feast. The factual and historic description of Haggis is sometimes off-putting to people who have not tried it. Fortunately, modern techniques in the preparation and presentation of Haggis make it an acceptable delicacy to almost everyone’s palate. In fact, its simply delicious. If you haven’t tried haggis …..authentic Scottish Haggis…..you must ! Whilst here in Scotland it is not consumed on a daily basis, it does feature regularly on many peoples home menus throughout the year. It makes “guest” appearances on a more formal basis throughout the year, whenever Scottish culture is celebrated.

Why did Robert burns write about the Haggis?

This is an interesting question and I doubt if we will ever know exactly what inspired him to write The Address To A Haggis. What is clear however, is that Burns was presenting the Haggis as being a unique and symbolic part of Scottish identity and culture. Through the power of the spoken word and the imagery of vivid language, Rabbie successfully portrayed a picture in the mind, which has long since become the focal point of the celebration of Burns and Scotland.

When written, only a short time had passed since the Jacobite Rebellion. The French Revolution was alive, and America was in the aftermath of the War of Independence. In Britain, the political struggle between Scotland and England was very much to the fore and Burns wrote passionately on the subject.

So war, political struggle, and the Scottish identity were the catalyst for the poem. The humble Haggis was merely the vehicle used to demonstrate his proud Scottish nationalism, which he does in a light-hearted way. Burns clearly thought that Haggis was a great meal but he also recognised its nutritional value, its popularity and its unusual preparation and presentation. It was uniquely Scottish.

It is therefore easy to see why Rabbie made the link between Scotland’s Identity at that time, and the serving of Haggis to ordinary Scots, as an ordinary Scottish meal. I suppose it was a strange subject to write about but this is the mastery of Burns!

Why is the Haggis served during Scottish cultural celebrations?

Following the death of Burns, a number of Burns Clubs were formed to celebrate and honour his memory..and what better than to serve the great Haggis during this celebration, and to recite his famous Address to a Haggis.

This custom has been carried through the years and has now become firmly established as one of the key recitals at any Burns Supper , celebrated by millions throughout the world.

All manner of Scottish celebrations choose to have Haggis on their menu. It is a truly excellent choice for such occasions and almost everyone who tries it..loves it ! There is nothing better than real, authentic, Scottish haggis, served traditionally with “neeps n tatties” At home with the family, entertaining guests, or at organised events..go for Haggis!

Burns wrote the poem as a celebration of Scotland and all things Scottish. In some ways it is quite strange and rather amusing to think that one of the worlds greatest poets, should write so passionately about a simple meal. Rabbie himself, would no doubt find the celebrity status of the Haggis hilarious, particularly since he is responsible for that fame!

All in all, it is very fitting that the humble Scottish Haggis has continued and prospered in modern society, and has itself now become representative of Scotland.

What does the Address to a Haggis mean?

Address To A 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.

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 sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O 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 lyke 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 sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody 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 ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

The Translation

Fair is your honest happy face      Great chieftain of the pudding race Above them all you take your place Stomach, tripe or guts                      Well are you worthy of a grace           As long as my arm

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich

Then spoon for spoon
They stretch and strive
Devil take the last man, on they drive
Until all their well swollen bellies
Are bent like drums
Then, the old gent most likely to rift (burp)
Be thanked, mumbles

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!