Burns Night with the Corstorphine Rotary Club

Last weekend, myself and the other Global Rotary Scholars studying in Edinburgh, were invited to the Corstorphine’s International Night which happened to coincide with Burns Night.

Burns supper celebrates the birthday of Robert Burns who wrote many Scottish poems. During the night, we heard two poems by Robert Burns recited by a very animated Scotsman. The first one is titled “Address to the Haggis” and was orated after a large haggis was piped in. If you aren’t aware, haggis is a savory pudding popular in Scotland, containing sheep’s pluck (a.k.a. heart, liver, and lungs), vegetables, and spices, packaged nicely in a sheep’s stomach (note that there are both vegetarian and vegan versions which are also just as delicious as the real thing). And “piping in” means accompanied by bagpipes.

A haggis being piped in.

After the haggis was piped in, the “Address to the Haggis” was performed, albeit a little bit unintelligible for my modern English ear. But, I was assured that nobody else in the room could understand it either. The original version is on the left, and the modern English one on the right:

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 worthy 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 slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie 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 like drums;
The 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 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 make 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

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm. 

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

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst, 
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer, 
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!


We then had dinner, consisting of haggis, neeps (turnips), and taties (potatoes) with a whiskey sauce. A very filling meal. After which, a ceilidh band performed, and everybody participated in traditional ceilidh dancing (essentially Scottish folk dancing). My favorite dances of the evening were the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant (in part since they’re the easiest to learn).

All in all it was a lovely evening learning about the poet Robert Burns and getting to experience a slice of Scottish culture.

2 Comments

  1. Jay,Thanks for sharing. I love that you have a great sense of humor along with your brilliant mind.When is the class you are teaching in Beijing?  Of course, everything is now dependent on the status of the coronavirus.My best,AnnSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

    Like

    1. The university here is restricting all travel to China as of now, so depending on how things go, I most likely won’t be teaching in Shanghai. It’s scheduled for the last two weeks of June.

      Like

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