Sunday, 25 January 2015

That bard Rabbie and his haggis!

Happy Burns Day everyone!

I thought I was going to a Burns Supper a few nights ago but for various reasons it didn’t happen.

I wouldn’t have been going to have an annual taste of haggis because we eat haggis, neeps and tatties all year around. I’m totally delighted that my grandchildren both love haggis…and they’ll be also be raised well in the tradition of the bard - Robert Burns.

It’s Sunday 25th January and we plan to have haggis for dinner, tonight. Although we’ll have no additional guests, that I know of at present, I might just sneak in a wee bit of a Burns Night tradition and have a wee song and a taster from Burn’s ‘Address to a Haggis’ - Even if I have to sneak out of the room and sing tunelessly to myself!
Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been asked before if I’m a fan of Robert Burns and the answer has to be a resounding yes. Yes -  because I grew up hearing his songs sung around me: at my school choir, and in my home since my father was a big fan of the bard.(There are previous posts about this on this site)

A long time after I learned to sing my first Burns song, when I reached the ripe old age of approx 15 years, I was one of the delighted ones who found that the work of Robert Burns needed to be studied for my O Grade English Certificate. Not every Glasgow schoolgirl or schoolboy wanted to learn about a ‘long dead poet' but I certainly did.

I absorbed many of his poems and learned many facts of his life - though it has to be said that my English teacher glossed over the facts about the Bard’s prolific sex life, those imagined encounters and the real ones. It wasn't the done thing to properly refer to sex in a classroom back in1966 or 1967, though most clued up pupils understood the hinted references. Sadly, I was pretty naive and had to have a friend divulge what they referred to.

Although my school was a Comprehensive Senior Secondary School in Glasgow, which meant it was a co-ed facility with equality of learning opportunities, the reality was that it had a large enough pupil roll to have segregated classes for many subjects. English, Maths History, French, Arithmetic...were all subjects where I was in 'girls only' classes till I was in my 5th year at school. My Physics and  Chemistry were the only mixed gender classes that I had till I was 16.

Back to the preparation for my English O Grade exam. This included being able to recite/ regurgitate a number of Burns poems since there were a range of possible themes which could come up in the exam and we were geared to learn sufficient to cover answering all of those possibilities.

I knew many of the more famous songs words already but chose to learn the WHOLE of Tam O’ Shanter. This was an amazing feat since even then my memory was rubbish. What I could do was CRAM for an exam and be able to spout for around a month before it faded into the recesses of my memeory banks. Even now, I can remember the first stanza and can continue on a little bit more with prompts. This is a skill that many people deride now as a wste of time but I think differently. I don't think the minds of youths are extended sufficiently nowadays- though I acknowledge they use their capabilities in different ways from my generation.

I find it incredible that at the same time I had to be just as well versed in reciting chunks of Shakespeare, and the works of essayists like Addison. We also had to write a story – our ‘composition’ from a choice of themes given on the exam day; and interpreted a passage of prose/ text.

I must research to find out if those O Grade and Higher level papers are still able to be viewed. I think the 'English Language and Literature' students of today might be shocked at the volume of work we had to cover.

But back to this Burns night…

Which song might I give my best rendering of?

John Anderson My Jo is a nice short one that I know the tune of… but I’ve mentioned that one before on this blog. So, I might sing a couple of verses from this one instead.

Is There For Honest Poverty

Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that?           hangs
The coward slave, we pass him by –
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an a’ that!
Our toils obscure, an a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.           gold

What though on hamely fare we dine
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?           course grey wool
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine –
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d ‘a lord’,       fellow  called
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that?
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a cuif  for a’ that.               dolt,  fool
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
Wikimedia Commons
A prince can mak a belted knight,
 A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might –     above
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that.                   must not
For a’ that, an a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith of sense an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that!              have the first place
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

And the bit of the Address to a Haggis? It’s impossible NOT to start at the beginning, anything else is unthinkable. *insert smiley face here * since the beginning few words are the most famous.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest sonsie face,                     jolly
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,                   Above
            Painch, tripe or thairm:                        paunch, … small guts
Weel are ye wordy of a grace,
            As lang’s may arm.

NB: I've never yet used my mother's inherited Burns plates (possibly made as early as 1910 by Staffordshire Potter 'Ridgeway') to present the haggis but there's always a first time!

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,                       buttocks
Your pin wad help to mend a mill                  skewer
            In time o’need.
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
            Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,                   wipe
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,                       skill
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:   spoon
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes believe           bellies; bye and bye
            Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive.           burst
            ‘Bethankit!’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,                          sicken
Or fricassee wad mak her spew         
            Wi’ perfect sconner,                            disgust
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
            On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! See him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,                        weak; rush
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
            His nieve a nit;                                    fist; nut
Thro’ bluidy 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,                       ample; fist
            He’ll make it whissle,
An’ legs, an arms, an’ heads will sned            crop
            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,         skinking
            That jaups in luggies;                          splashes; porringers
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
            Gie her a Haggis!

John Anderson my Jo has had many interpretations. It could mean the passing of time between a weel-kent aging couple or others favour the idea that it represents ‘Boozin’ Cronies- i.e. drinkin buddies who have been sloping down to the pub for many years- from the black-haired youth into white-haired old age. I’ve learned that the tune favoured for this song is a very old bawdy one so the ‘drinking’ reference might be deemed more appropriate. Whatever the interpretation, the words are poignant and the tune simple but eloquent.

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my Jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson my jo!

Our haggis is likely to be washed down with a wee sip of the traditional whisky by my husband and son-in- law but sadly, though I love all things Scottish, I'm not a fan of whisky. I'd maybe have a little Drambuie- a whisky liqueur if we had any but truht be told - I'm likely to have a sip or two from my Cointreau!( I know that Auld Alliance thing!) 

Whatever you're doing, join me in raising a glass to the Bard! 

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