Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“Gushing entrails bricht”

Poets generally do something else for a living. This is because poetry, as a profession, isn’t a big earner. You’d think the famous poems would at least earn a bit of coin, but they don’t — people memorize them and that’s that. It’s a rubbish profession to have, not least because if you go about saying “I’m a poet” when asked, people think you’re being a smart-arse. If you tell anyone you’re a poet, the very next thing they will ask is “will I be familiar with anything you’ve written?” and the answer will be no. You will feel so sheepish about the conversation, you will immediately launch into a pithy exchange about sports: “How about them Bengals?” which isn’t likely to last all that long either, at which point you will pretend to take a call on your phone from an important publisher, though in reality your phone has no battery, is dead as a doornail, because as a poet, you cannot afford to maintain a mobile phone account.

The Scotsman Robert Burns had none of these problems. That is because he lived from 1759 – 1796, which was a great time to be a poet. People couldn’t get enough of the stuff he wrote, and when he died they were so upset, they decided to make the anniversary of his birth a cause of celebration henceforth known as Burns Night.

On January 25th every year, Scottish people dress up in traditional garb and enact an elaborate and highly orchestrated dinner involving the recitation of poetry over a stuffed sheep’s stomach, helped along by gallons of whiskey. The humble haggis might have remained an obscure local delicacy had it not been for the enduring legacy of Robbie Burns.

Here follows Mrs. Beeton’s recipe for Haggis. A paunch is exactly what you’d expect, a stomach. The pluck refers to the sheep’s guts. The lights are its lungs. 

Before slicing open the haggis with a sword, one must recite the Selkirk Grace, as follows:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

A brave soul will also be required to recite, passionately, the indomitable ode penned by Burns himself, the "Address To A Haggis."

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