How to address your haggis in honour of the great, according to Robert Burns

'Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,/Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!'

Who was Robert Burns?

Every year Scotland honours its national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), on his birthday.

Burns wrote over 550 poems in the second half of the 18th century and remains an icon of the Romantic period and a hero for his liberal and socially-minded political outlook.

The centrepiece of the Burns Night festivities remains the noble haggis – a delicacy comprised of a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs boiled with mincemeat, suet and onions in its own stomach.

But before the haggis, neeps and tatties can be tucked into, the dish must be toasted with a ceremonial reading of the poet’s work, a secular blessing paying tribute to the late writer and to the glory of Scotland.

Burns himself wrote a poem ideally suited to this purpose, “Address to a Haggis”, an ode it has since become the custom to recite before the meal commences.

Haggis is commonly served at Burns Night dinners

For those whose memory needs jogging, the complete text of the address, written in Burns’s inimitable dialect, is below (with an English translation to follow for the uninitiated).

“Address to a Haggis” (1787)

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

The Robert Burns monument in Dumfries (London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty)

English translation

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!

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