Robert Burns - The man of many words

Robert Burns. 25 January 1759 - 21 July 1796.

One of Scotland's biggest national treasures is the poet and lyricist Robert Burns. Often known as "Rabbie Burns", the "Bard of Ayrshire" and the "Ploughman Poet". He is celebrated all over the world with poems such as ‘A Red, Red Rose’, ‘To a Mouse’, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ and of course his most famous work Auld Lang Syne’ which is often sung at Hogmanay and many formal occasions in Scotland.  Robert Burns was known for writing in Scots dialect but also created poems and songs in standard English. In 2009 the Scottish television channel STV asked the Scottish public who they the thought was the greatest Scot and Robert Burns was of course the winner! This is not surprising as he has long been a large influence on Scottish literature and his works are taught throughout many Scottish schools.

Burns is celebrated every year for his poetry and songs. A special "Burns" supper is usually held on or near his birthday on the 25th January. The first Burns supper was held at Burns cottage in Ayr on the 21st of July 1801 to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of his death. Also this year the first Burns club was established in Greenock by merchants from Ayr, some of  which had personally known Burns. Their first Burns supper was held on 29th January 1802, however the next year they found the Ayr parish birth records showing the Robert Burns actual birthday was the 25th January. This then started the tradition to hold a burns supper every year as memory.

A traditional Burns Supper as a standard order usually begins with a piper piping in guests so they can mingle prior to the supper. More informal parties tend to play Scottish music. The Host then gives a welcome speech reflecting on why they have joined together sometimes with a verse of a Burns poem or song. Grace is then normally said prior to the dinner, it is usually the Selkirk Grace which earned this name after Robert Burns delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk. Prior to this dinner the grace was known as the Galloway Grace or Covenanters Grace.

After Grace there is normally a starter of Scottish soup. Then the Haggis is piped in, the host or a guest addresses the 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 worthy 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 slight,
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:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The 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 scunner,
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 bloody 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 make 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

During the line ‘ His knife see rustic labour dicht’ the host brings out a knife and starts sharpening it. Then at the line ‘ An’ cut you up wi ready slicht’ he plunges the knife into the haggis and cuts open from end to end. After the address is complete a whisky toast to the Haggis is made. The Haggis is often served with mashed potatoes and mashed swede. Normally a third course of a cheese board or Scottish pudding is served.

Once the meal has concluded the host will talk about the life of Rabbie Burns which can either be amusing or quite serious. This is followed by a toast to he immortal memory of Rabbie Burns and then a toast to the lassies. Originally it was to give thanks to the women that produced the meal, however, now it is more general and can often be amusing but not offensive. The men then drink to women's health.

The women then get to respond with the reply to the men – again it is pretty general and can often be in response on points made by the men. Often the two toast givers work on them together so that they can compliment each other.

After this more recitals of poems and songs from Burns are recited. When the supper is drawing to a close the host will ask everyone to give a vote of thanks. Everyone  will stand, hold hands and sing the classic "Auld Lang Syne". This concludes the Burns Supper.