Saturday, April 14, 2012

NPM: Bobby Burns encore

National Poetry Month charges forward! Today we'll be taking another look at that auld Scottish laureate, Mr. Robert Burns (1759 - 1796), and a couple of poems he wrote about whiskey and haggis.

Burns's poetry, probably more than anything else we'll be looking at, should be heard, not read silently to oneself. I found an excellent recitation of "Address to a Haggis" on the YouTube; I suggest clicking the poem's title, opening the video in a separate window, and reading along with the speaker. Unfortunately, I can only find low-quality recordings of "Scotch Drink" readings, recited by people who can't even fake a Scottish accent. (Reading Burns with an American accent is linguistic and literary apostasy.) Unless you can find a Scottish person to read it out loud for you, you might be on your own. (I won't recommend reading it out loud to yourself in a Groundkeeper Willie voice; I got a few unhappy messages about that last year.)

As for the unfamiliar vocabulary, I wouldn't worry about too much. You can usually infer what a word means from its context, and there's more than a few cognates and cases of commonplace words with alternate spellings whose meanings reveal themselves once they're sounded out. If you care to explore the pieces' meanings a little more deeply, you can always check out the poetry section over at Rampant Scotland to find transcriptions that include footnotes.

And so, without further ado...!

Scotch Drink

 Gie him strong drink until he wink,
   That's sinking in despair;
 An' liquor guid to fire his bluid,
   That's prest wi' grief and care:
 There let him bouse, an' deep carouse,
   Wi' bumpers flowing o'er,
 Till he forgets his loves or debts,
   An' minds his griefs no more.
Solomon's Proverbs, xxxi. 6, 7.

Let other poets raise a fracas
'Bout vines, an' wines, an' druken Bacchus,
An' crabbit names an' stories wrack us,
                  An' grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
                  In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid, auld Scotch Drink!
Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
                  In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,
                  To sing thy name!

Let husky Wheat the haughs adorn,
An' Aits set up their awnie horn,
An' Pease and Beans, at een or morn,
                  Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
                  Thou king o' grain!

On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o'food!
Or tumblin in the boiling flood
                  Wi' kail an' beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood,
                  There thou shines chief.

Food fills the wame, an' keeps us livin;
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin,
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin;
                  But, oil'd by thee,
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin,
                  Wi' rattlin glee.

Thou clears the head o' doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o' drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o' Labour sair,
                  At's weary toil;
Thou ev'n brightens dark Despair
                  Wi' gloomy smile.

Aft, clad in massy, siller weed,
Wi' gentles thou erects thy head;
Yet humbly kind in time o' need,
                  The poor man's wine;
His weep drap parritch, or his bread,
                  Thou kitchens fine.

Thou art the life o' public haunts;
But thee, what were our fairs and rants?
Ev'n godly meetings o' the saunts,
                  By thee inspired,
When gaping they besiege the tents,
                  Are doubly fir'd.

That merry night we get the corn in,
O sweetly, then, thou reams the horn in!
Or reekin on a New-year mornin
                  In cog or bicker,
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in,
                  An' gusty sucker!

When Vulcan gies his bellows breath,
An' ploughmen gather wi' their graith,
O rare! to see thee fizz an' freath
                  I' th' luggit caup!
Then Burnewin comes on like death
                  At every chap.

Nae mercy, then, for airn or steel;
The brawnie, banie, ploughman chiel,
Brings hard owrehip, wi' sturdy wheel,
                  The strong forehammer,
Till block an' studdie ring an' reel,
                  Wi' dinsome clamour.

When skirling weanies see the light,
Though maks the gossips clatter bright,
How fumblin' Cuifs their Dearies slight;
                  Wae worth the name!
Nae Howdie gets a social night,
                  Or plack frae them.

When neebors anger at a plea,
An' just as wud as wud can be,
How easy can the barley-brie
                  Cement the quarrel!
It's aye the cheapest Lawyer's fee
                  To taste the barrel.

Alake! that e'er my muse has reason,
To wyte her countrymen wi' treason!
But monie daily weet their weason
                  Wi' liquors nice,
An' hardly, in a winter season,
                  E'er spier her price.

Wae worth that brandy, burnin trash!
Fell source o' monie a pain an' brash!
Twins monie a poor, doylt, druken hash,
                  O' half his days;
An' sends beside, auld Scotland's cash
                  To her warst faes.

Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well,
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell,
Poor, plackless devils like mysel,
                  It sets you ill,
Wi' bitter, dearthfu' wines to mell,
                  Or foreign gill.

May gravels round his blather wrench,
An' gouts torment him, inch by inch,
What twists his gruntle wi' a glunch
                  O' sour disdain,
Out owre a glass o' whisky punch
                  Wi' honest men!

O Whisky! soul o' plays an' pranks!
Accept a Bardie's gratfu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
                  Are my poor verses!
Thou comes——they rattle in their ranks,
                  At ither's arses!

Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic-grips, an' barkin hoast,
                  May kill us a';
For loyal Forbes' charter'd boast
                  Is ta'en awa!*

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han' Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
                  There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
                  For poor damn'd drinkers.

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill,
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will,
                  Tak a' the rest,
An' deal't about as thy blind skill
                  Directs thee best.

*Footnote from the text: Duncan Forbes of Culloden had a concession to distill whisky at Ferintosh. It was withdrawn in 1785. The name is pronounced in two syllables, "Forbès."

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 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 mak her spew
              Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
              On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
              His nieve a nit;
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,
              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!

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