Poetry has its way of coursing its way into conversations unexpectedly. I’ve given up alcohol for the month of January, except, of course, I’m making an exception for Burns night. Burns night. It glimmered as a side comment in the long litany of instruction on how to properly roll out and blind bake tart dough. Much like the gaps of baking education I am in the process of filling in, so did planning a Burns night.
To Scots, Anglophiles and poetry lovers, every year on January 25th commemorates the life of poet Robert Burns who wrote extensively of everyday Scottish life. He was a poet of the people. So beloved was he that he remains the national poet of Scotland. Typically a Burns Night commences with a reading of his poem, “Address to a Haggis” and then the feast begins.
In Scotland, the poem is apparently read to an accompaniment of bagpipes and the haggis is sliced and served upon completion of the poem. This can be a bit of a challenge if living in the city of San Francisco or elsewhere in the United States where haggis is not easily found.
1. THROW YOUR OWN BURNS NIGHT.
Bringing the poetry is just part of the fun. Invite your friends over and give each of them a dish to bring. You can even send them the link to the recipe. While haggis may be in short supply, rest assured a night of revelry, relishing good food and poetry can be yours.
Robert Burns cocktail
Bobby Burns cocktail
Neeps and Tatties
2. FIND A PUB IN YOUR AREA PUTTING ON THEIR OWN BURNS NIGHT.
Don’t fancy last minute party-planning? In this case, get thee to St. Andrew’s Society on Saturday night in San Francisco for their Burns Night Supper at 6 p.m. While the Edinburgh Castle has held a Burns night for the past 19 years in San Francisco, they’re taking a break this year (though if these Scots have something to say about it, there might be a makeshift one happening there?)
3. PLAN A TRIP IN 2015 TO SCOTLAND FOR THE ULTIMATE BURNS NIGHT.
This might qualify as an entry on a poet’s bucket list. Sometimes living in the United States where poetry can seem to live on the margins of society rather than infiltrate it, it can be downright refreshing or astonishing to encounter a culture where a poet’s life and work is honored long after he is gone. Scotland is proud of its “favourite son” hosting many events in his stead. The Haggis Highland Games with a parade and then dancing the evening of the 25th. A humanitarian award, celebration of the works of Robert Burns on display (in 2014) at the Museum of Rural Life and family-friendly events in Edinburgh will also take place to remember Burns.
4. READ “ADDRESS TO A HAGGIS” TO GET THE SUPPER STARTED.
“Address to a Haggis” by Robert Burns
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet 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 was 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,
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;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
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 feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody 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’ hands will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.
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!
You could always kick things off listening to someone else reading “Address to a Haggis” if you’re not up for picking your way through- plus this version comes with bagpipes. Pick up your own collection of Robert Burns’ poetry and dog ear your favorites to read throughout the Burns Night meal or pass around and have your friends take turns picking their own poem to read aloud.
Do you host your own Burns Night? What special flourishes do you incorporate into your party? Any other favorite poems you read aloud?
Photo credit: Wikipedia