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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.

 

Address to A Haggis

This famous poem by Burns is regularly recited during celebrations throughout the World, whenever Haggis makes an appearance on the menu ! Yet for many, some basic questions may need an answer.

  • What is A Haggis ?
  • Why did Burns write about it?
  • What does the Address to A Haggis mean?
  • Why is Haggis served during Scottish cultural celebrations?

What is a Haggis?

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Well, without wanting to disappoint anyone….it is NOT the mythical furry creature,…… with its two inside legs shorter than its two outside legs..…to allow it to run easily along hillsides ! Nor is it any kind of living creature.


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.

ARRRRRGH !!!

In the olden days the preparation of a Haggis went something like this :-

Take the liver, lungs & heart of a sheep and boil them. Mince the meats and mix with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, salt, pepper, and spices. Take one properly cleaned sheep's stomach. Stuff the cleaned stomach with the prepared contents. Sew up the stomach (leaving enough room for expansion to avoid a large messy explosion) and boil. Serve and eat. Lovely !

Haggis neeps and tatties Okay!, now you've returned from the bathroom, be reassured that modern Haggis prepared here in Scotland is not so gruesome. The best meats are selected, (including tripe and offal) and prepared with finest oatmeal and spices…..but served in a synthetic skin which is representative of the old technique. The quality manufacturers of Haggis here in Scotland pride themselves in their guarded secret recipes and prepare the Haggis to exacting standards. Haggis has a higher quality of content than your average "sausage"…..and is extremely healthy…..so please don't be put off! Nowadays, there are even vegetarian versions made from the finest Scottish produce.

So now that you know about Haggis, what are its origins? 

In the days when hunting was a means of basic survival, all parts of the dead animal had to be used. The skins were used as clothing, the gut and tissue used as thread for sewing, with the main carcass and organs used as food. The bulk content meat was often dried or salted and proved suitable for a long "shelf life" The innards and organs of the beast were the most perishable parts and had to be consumed first. 

Someone, somewhere, sometime, recognised that the stomach made an excellent cooking vessel, and that mixing the organs with spices and meal, placing them in this natural "pot" and cooking the contents provided a highly nutritional and tasty meal. This basic method of cooking has been traced back to Greek and Roman times. 

The name "Haggis" however has its origins in more recent history and links are shown to Scandinavian "hag" meaning to "hew" or the French "hageur" - "to cut" or German "hackwurst" meaning "minced sausage" Who knows !

It is difficult to identify exactly when the great Scottish "haggis" as described by Burns, came to be. For sure, in his day, and during the 18th century, the now famous meal was regularly served in Scotland as a tasty, and very healthy meal. It is only from here in Scotland that you can savour a genuine Scottish haggis ! 


Why did Burns write about the Haggis?         Back  

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!

What does the Address to a Haggis mean?

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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! 

Why is Haggis served during Scottish cultural celebrations?   

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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. 

Mac 
The World Burns Club          
Back            Address to a Haggis in our poem archive

2008 The Robert Burns World Federation