To a Haggis on Burns Night

It’s Burns Night, the traditional celebration of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most iconic poet. Often with a traditional Scottish meal, songs, and poetry reading, Burns Night is celebrated across the Scottish diaspora every year on January 25th.

Although I won’t be partaking in a Scottish meal (though I do love me some haggis . . . not really; it’s okay, but I prefer black pudding), I celebrate by sharing with you excerpts from Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis,” written in 1787.

Related posts on this blog involving Robert Burns’ poetry, language translation, and definitions include:

As with those posts, I have done my best to add word meanings below for the Scots terms. Again I used the Dictionary of the Scots Language as my source.

However, dear students and enthusiasts, I leave you to analyze the first section of this haggis poem to your hearts’ content. Enjoy its text in full through, for example, the link found in a 2017 article about Burns Night from International Business Times. My primary source for the text of the poem is The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, a gift I received last year.

Address to a Haggis

Opening 3 stanzas

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.

fa’ (v.) – fall
sonsie (adj.) – good, honest, lucky (said esp. of women)
Aboon (prep.) – above, higher than
a’ (pron.) – all
tak (v.) – take
painch (n.) – paunch, belly, stomach
tripe (n., adj.) – tall, thin, ungainly person; slovenly, gangling
thairm (n.) – gut or bowel
weel (adj.) – well
wordy (v.) – worthy
grace (n.) – grace-drink, taken at the end of a meal after grace is said
lang (adj.) – long

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.

trencher (n.) – round or square plate or platter of wood or metal (i.e., flatware)
hurdies (n.pl.) – buttocks, hips, haunches of humans and animals
wad (v.) – would

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
                        Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
                        Warm-reekin’, rich!

dight (v.) – clothe, deck or adorn
onie (adj.) – any
reekin’ (adj.) – reeking

The next 3 stanzas share delicious language about competing for a portion of the food, defying foreigners to disdain their feast, and the unpleasant consequences after supper awaiting those who ate too well.

The last 2 stanzas frolic with the feaster as he makes his bloated way home until at last we see the final statement of haggis’s superiority to other refreshments, such as porridge and milk.

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’ hands will sned,
                         Like taps o’ thrissle.

walie (adj.) – fine, excellent; big, strong
nieve (n.) – fist, grip
whissle (v.) – spend? (as in explode?)
sned (v.) – chop (off)
taps (n.pl.) – tufts, as of bird crest feathers
thrissle (n.) – thistle

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!

wha (pron.) – who
mak (v.) – make
auld (adj.) – old
nae (adj.) – no
skinking (adj.) – pouring, pitcher
jaups (v.) – dash, splash, ripple
luggies (n.pl.) – small wooden dishes or vessels used in serving milk, porridge
gie (v.) – give
haggis (n.) – “A dish consisting of the pluck or heart, lungs and liver of a sheep minced and mixed with suet, oatmeal, onion and seasoning and boiled in a sheep’s maw or stomach.” (also used as an insult, a term of contempt for a person – blockhead, stupid)

And so, what is Burns Night to a haggis? Complete annihilation.


For a recipe and more information, see “What Is Haggis Made of?” at The Spruce Eats. Of course, Burns Night isn’t complete without bagpipes and whisky. Nae bother, we’ll be better organized by next January.

Happy Burns Night–and weekend. . . .

Speaking of weeks and ends, catch the Season 4 finale of Outlander, Sunday, January 27, at 8pm Eastern on STARZ. Episodes guide here.

Traditional haggis. Photo credit Reuters via International Business Times, UK, 2017.

Primary References

Dictionary of the Scots Language. / Dictionar o the Scots Leid. (n.d.). A database supported by the Scottish Government and hosted by the University of Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.dsl.ac.uk/

Waverley Books. (2011). The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. Glasgow: The Gresham Publishing Company Ltd. pp. 194-195.

Poetic feet now ON fire

They were brought to the heat, and now they just might be ablaze. You be the judge.

In my last post, I talked about preparing for a writing performance and publishing opportunity happening in July. Originally approached for revision simply to reshape it for optimal total number of lines to comply with submission guidelines, one particular poem seemed finished to me otherwise.

But I have learned anew the truth of how good writing happens. It ain’t quick, and it ain’t easy. I think I’ve had a notion for a while that, because poetry is my favorite mode and the one I’ve received the most recognition for, I don’t have to work as hard at it compared to other writing. Nothing could be more false.

If, as Anne Lamott says in her book Bird by Bird, we’re to expect and get used to writing “sh**ty first drafts” in prose, the same applies to poetry. That may be an exaggeration, but the quality does have huge potential to rise with revision.

I also notice that the more time I spend with a poem, the greater tendency it has of becoming more formal in meter. The demands of rhythm take over, and I’m compelled to make it consistent across the poem. This is what has happened with my poem “Inspirator,” shared previously on this blog. There’s a lot of counting, yes, even using my fingers, to make sure lines are complete and don’t go over the set number of stresses, which in this case is seven.

What I see as improvements extend to:

  • better word choice
  • shorter sentences to get the point across sooner
  • less reliance on other favorite words such as “bloat” and “forth” as in “bring forth” (I’ve noticed them in several of my poems)
  • reduced number of hyphenated descriptors, a crutch of mine
  • fewer needless words such as prepositions, some articles, and the pronoun “all,” another crutch
  • removal of unneeded descriptors–by the 2nd-to-last line, the reader gets that the imagery is “fiery”; no need for another adjective just to use every way of saying it
  • smoother phrasing that aligns with rhythm and is easier to say out loud
  • clearer communication of meaning in individual images and overall
  • closer connection between title and poem, using the word in the text
  • less alliteration, a device best reserved for comedy or levity (not for this poem)
  • closer attention to the reader’s journey through the field described, addressing the reader directly
  • while the meter is not uniform in unstressed syllable use, there are exactly 7 stresses in every line, and I noticed alternation between starting lines stressed and starting unstressed, until the last stanza, which consists solely of iambic heptameter (unstressed, stressed; 7 stresses per line)

See if you can find some of those improvements and new features in the revised first stanza of the poem “Inspirator,” originally shared here:

Giddy feathers, beige but tall, perch unnamed fronds; their crowns
in fanned-out spikes sprout up to play both fire and ashy end.
Higher still, the color starts. Smooth leaves, chartreuse beneath,
grey-green their backs—or are they faces?—cast off half-domes,
masonry left homeless; unimpressed, the orphans bow
half-hearted honor, fractured praise, or simple nodding off.

which replaces the earlier version‘s:

Giddy beige feathers in
this field of tall, unnamed fronds
perched at a tilt, sprout their crowns
in fanned-out spikes, forging two things
into one: fire and ashy aftermath.

Two heads’ lengths above
these frozen flames,
the color starts.

Green, rounded leaves
of chartreuse underbellies
and grey-green backs, or faces—
I can’t tell which—huddle like
discarded half-arches, craft of the
stone mason who made too many,
just in case. A half-hearted bow
only at their very tops, partly
praising the fractional work.

Can you detect the following types of figurative language and literary device in the first one or last two stanzas of the poem?:

  • fire imagery and theme
  • metaphors – equivalences
  • personification – giving inanimate objects human-like qualities
  • theater/performance/façade/pretense theme
  • breath/consumption and output themes
  • irony – reversal of typical sense or connotation; appearance contrasting reality
  • synecdoche – an expression in which part of something stands in for its whole, as in “hand” for a person’s help when “we need more hands for the project”

Some sky-bound spirit forages and slurps all this combustion,
pulling smoke from grey below; above, from yellow-white
sun fumes. The wind roars conflagration, feigns inspirator*,
while darker soot envelops lighter, breathing victory.

These pebbles see up sprays of grass to ashen, flying feathers,
but more to rushing bands of smoky clouds and asphalt char,
the path astride this field. My molten shadow drips off stones.
The tar now fused and cooled, I walk it back to turgid fires.

which replaces:

The wind roars like a terrible
conflagration, and the grey,
not white, smoke is winning.

Stone-piles at my feet see up
to the short spray of grasses,
hints of feathers on higher fliers,
and my shadow. But mostly,
to the rushing bands of smoky
clouds, straight up, and the char
of an asphalt path set down
astride the still, fiery field.

Blown quiet, I walk on
cold coals, most unhurried,
back, into no fire.

All this is to just to reiterate what I said last time, that the specter of a live audience and official publication is a healthy catalyst for fruitful revision. Since exploring the nature of the writing process with my poetry in my series “On Process: Verse Writing,” I have come to realize, too, that the particulars of the process matter less than going through it. But it should consist at least of a shift in types of attention to the work: writing with creative abandon, then reading with editorial skepticism, and, once this due diligence is done, being willing to put the editor away again if the piece needs another injection of creativity.

So, by way of advice, I would say don’t skip revision and be open to rewriting. You may not only learn new things but also greatly improve your work. The trick at that point is knowing when to stop and say, “It’s as good as it’s going to get,” because writing can be overworked, too.

Well, what do you think of the changes to “Inspirator”? Are these poetic feet on fire, or am I sifting through the ashes of ideas lost to change?


* The word “inspirator” can mean four different things: (a) a device or agent that serves as an injector of vapor, air or liquid, (b) something that enlivens or gives spirit to someone or something, (c) something that inspires in an artistic or conceptual sense, and (d) something or someone that takes in breath (creative license here). I mean it in all four senses at different points in the poem.


If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Five-Phrase Friday (30): British Invasion

Now that St. Patrick’s Day is over, and you’re ready for some post-hangover learning, bring on the Brits!

Relations between Great Britain (UK) and the United States have been described as being between “two societies separated by a common language,” implying the difficulties we have in understanding each other when using the same words (homonyms) that have different meanings on either side of the pond.

Even agreement over the word “English” can be a tricky proposition. There’s American English (we’ll set aside its diversity for now), British English, Irish English, Scots English, Welsh English, and many more in between. It is debatable, I suppose, to call Geordie a form of British English, but references call it a dialect. Whichever “dialect,” or version, you consider to be true “English English” or “proper English” may inevitably depend upon which one you speak.

One way or another, though, as I said in post 28, ultimately it comes down to communication and common understanding. If we are to bring an attitude of respect to each other’s lands, then efforts toward this common understanding are paramount.

As an American, Briticisms you might come across while preparing for a UK vacay, especially in London or other large cities, include:

  1. bespoke apparel (adj.) = custom-made clothes. This term frequently describes famed or historic high-end tailoring houses, department stores, and royal shops in London, England. For Americans, it seems to be simply a quaint, archaic adjective, if not utterly foreign. British fictional characters might use it, but surely not real people.
  2. an arcade (n.) = a shopping mall or plaza. It gets its name from the use of arches in the architecture of the building. Our most familiar use of this term in the States refers to the video game arcades of decades past. Example: Burlington Arcade in London.
  3. a circus (n.) = a rounded open space in a town or city where several streets converge; a prime example: Piccadilly Circus. After all, it would be inaccurate to call it a square. The USA simply doesn’t have as many circular public spaces as the Old World does. (Brits have the other type of circus for entertainment as well.) Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/circus
  4. a parade (n.) = a public promenade, square or street of shops. Example: Horse Guards Parade, ” large parade ground off Whitehall in central London, England. . . . It is the site of the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch’s official birthday.” Again, another meaning is the event or activity of parading. Football (soccer) stadiums in England might also be named as some proprietor’s parade. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_Guards_Parade
  5. a hamper-style meal (n.) = In the UK, a hamper is “a basket or box containing food for a special occasion.” Although Americans might expect food to come out of the laundry, a hamper-style meal in Britain is similar to the American picnic basket or boxed lunch. A portable repast. Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hamper

COVERLONDONGUIDEPRINT

I drew my inspiration from the writing style and examples in the special-issue magazine London 2016 Guide, published by The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd and sponsored by Britain Magazine.

The guide is a useful collection of up-to-the-moment tips and insights for tourists of England’s capital this year. The art is high quality and enticing, and its advertisements reveal hidden treasures and specialized interests that may not have made the top lists featured in “Capital Views” or “101 Days Out,” which presents site lists based on theme. I particularly appreciated the “Literature Lovers” section on page 80 of that article. I’ve been enjoying my perusal of the guide as my husband and I plan our UK jaunt.

If you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the Outlander books and TV series, which is one of the major sparks for our planning this trip–Scotland. However, I figured, lest I get carried away booking Scottish stops, as an English teacher, I had better remember and learn more about the many reasons for visiting England. As I’ve been doing that, I’m wishing we only had more time to cover it all. It’s looking as though we’ll have to skip Ireland (sorry St. Paddy! and Mom) and Wales altogether for this, our first-ever trip to the United Kingdom.

By the way, if you missed all the fun with puns, see last week’s post or the small-town slogans in Five-Phrase Friday (7).

Five-Phrase Friday (4): Grammar Compound

This week we focus on phrasal grammar, specifically compound modifiers. A compound modifier is a two-word adjective like the compound “two-word” before the noun “adjective.”

Hyphenated when it appears before the noun it modifies, this device I compulsively use for its potential to say much with little. We don’t hyphenate compound modifiers (1) when they follow the noun they modify or (2) when the first word in the compound ends in “ly,” which makes it a modifier of a modifier. Quiz next week. . . .

1. “the best-laid plans” (“schemes”) – a common phrase and first half of the expression ending with “Of Mice and Men,” title of the classic American novel by John Steinbeck. The original line came from Scots poet Robert Burns’ famous poem “To a Mouse.”

2. “a fully loaded ride” – a vehicle, most often a car, with all the perks and extras

3. “one-horse town” – a common expression meaning: “A small and unimportant place, as in [the sentence] Ours was just a one-horse town until the nuclear plant was built. This expression, first recorded in 1857, presumably alluded to a town so small that a single horse would suffice for its transportation needs.”  *

4. “space cake high” from the song “Glory of the 80’s” by Tori Amos (yes, drugs)

5. “the bee-loud glade” – This phrase from the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W.B. Yeats, is one of my favorite phrases in poetry.


* source: “one-horse town.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. 11 Sep. 2015. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/one-horse town>.


In case you missed it:
Last time: Five-Phrase Friday (3): Pet Epithetic – terms of endearment for my dog
Day 1: Five-Phrase Friday (1): The Poetry Politic & the list of all 40 Five-Phrase Fridays