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30 Dec 2019

Address to a Haggis

A chef stands behind a large haggis on a decorative plate. He holds a sharp kitchen knife.
Written in December 1786, this was the first of Burns’s poems to be published in a newspaper (The Caledonian Mercury) – an indication of the success that the publication of his first volume of poems just a few months earlier had brought him.

On Burns Night the haggis is often piped to the table, and then this poem is recited (usually by the host) as the haggis is carved open and served.

It’s thought that Burns wrote the last verse whilst having dinner at a friend’s house. The poem celebrates the strength of the ‘ordinary’ working Scotsman (a haggis-fed Rustic) over those with more ‘continental’ tastes.

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 langs 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-swalld 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 make 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 witherd 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, 
Hell make it whissle; 
An legs an arms, an heads will sned, 
Like taps o thrissle. 

Ye Powrs, 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!


Handy glossary: Fair fa’ = good fortune; sonsie = pleasant-looking/cheerful; aboon = above; Painch = stomach/paunch;thairm = gut used as skin; hurdies = buttocks; pin = skewer; dight = make ready; slight = skill; onie = any; Warm-reekin = steaming; Deil = the Devil; weel-swall'd = very swollen; kytes = bellies; belyve = quickly; Guidman = head of the household/husband; rive = burst; owre = over; olio = a type of Spanish stew; staw = to feel sated; sconner  = revulsion; feckless = weak; rash = reed; spindle shank = thin leg; nieve = fist; nit = nut; clap = caress; walie = strong; sned = trim; taps o thrissle = tops of thistles; wha = who; skinking ware = thin, watery food; jaups = splashes; luggies = wooden dishes with two side handles

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