Circadian Poems

A place to celebrate poetry, poets, and the creative spirit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Celebrating the Life and Genius of Robert Burns -- Part II

. . .continued from yesterday. By Colin Galbraith

Many of Burns’s songs and poems have become international favourites over the centuries and January 25th is now a significantly major day on the Scottish calendar. It sees Scots from all over the world come together to celebrate the life and genius of their greatest ever writer; the National Bard, Robert Burns.

It is to Burns’s testament, that Rabbie Burns Day is celebrated with more fervor and passion in Scotland, than the National Patron’s day for St. Andrews on November 30th.

To celebrate the life of Robert Burns, Scots will gather and undertake an ancient and traditional set of protocols under the banner of a Burns Supper. Whether it be a small gathering or a formal event, Scots will gather celebrate Robert Burns through the eating of Haggis, drinking of whisky and recital of the great man’s poems and songs.

The Scottish traditional dish, Haggis, is a centuries old recipe containing lamb’s liver, suet, oatmeal, onion and spicy peppers. These ingredients are combined and stuffed inside a sheep’s Pluck, (cleaned stomach bag). The bag is then boiled for about five hours, pierced very carefully to avoid explosion, then served.

Before serving, however, there are some very important traditions that must also be upheld.

A piper, dressed in full Scottish regalia, will first pipe in the guests. The audience is required to stand and applaud while the High Table is seated. This usually includes the venue’s hosts, Chairman, Speakers and other VIP’s.

The Chairman then welcomes everyone to the celebration, which will include The Selkirk Grace. This is a short, but important prayer.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit

The Haggis is then piped into the room. Guests remain standing for this and will clap their hands in time to the music while the Haggis is delivered on a large silver platter, accompanied by the Chef, the Piper, and the Addresser.

The Honorary Reader will then perform the Address to the Haggis, by reciting the poem, "To A Haggis".

To A Haggis

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,
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;
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 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!

The audience normally joins in as the last line is read and a triumphant applause follows. The Haggis is then toasted to fully charged glasses of Malt Whisky and the words, “The Haggis!” cheered by the room.

The Haggis is then served, normally with Neeps and Tatties (mashed Turnip and Potatoes) and beer or wine.

Immediately after the meal the first performer is invited up to the stage to sing one of Burns’s famous songs or recite one of his poems. This is then followed by the Keynote Speaker who delivers a speech entitled "The Immortal Memory", which is traditionally a speech on Burns’s life told in a witty and loving way of Scotland’s National Bard. The speech always ends with the line, “To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns”.

Another song or poem is performed, followed by The Toast to the Lassies. This is a humorous highlight of the evening usually consisting of selected works from Burns’s poems, which celebrates the role of women in the modern world today. It is rounded off with a tumultuous, “To the Lassies!”

More poetry and songs follow before the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies. A woman will reply to the Toast to the Lassies on behalf of the ladies, thanking the toast-master and then through the use of some of Burns’s work, upstaging the men.

The final entertainment follows and finally the Chairman will close the evening by inviting guests to stand and recite one of the most famous of Scottish songs, "Auld Lang Syne".

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus -
For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
,For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us briad hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.


And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak' a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.


Robert Burns became a Scottish legend before he died, but Scotland never quite realised until he was gone. He was taken so early in his life, had he lived beyond his thirties one can only imagine what he might have achieved and how many children he might have gone on to have. He gained more fame and notoriety after his death than he ever did during his lifetime, and Robert Burns is now perhaps the only person who can genuinely stake a claim to being the most internationally famous and influential Scottish writer there has ever been.

Colin Galbraith has seen many poems of his poems published. His first chapbook, Brick by Brick, was published in April 2005 and a second chapbook about the recent Edinburgh Festival, Fringe Fantastic, was published in December, 2005. He can be contact through his website: or his daily blog:


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