by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Haggis is a
great dish if it is prepared correctly. I love it when it is and want more
than my share! It is a dish that conjures up several responses - one is
outright dislike, another is outright love, and usually the third draws a
blank stare at which point you know your audience does not know what you are
talking about. Usually there is no middle ground on the subject of haggis.
The paper below was delivered by Dr. Colin Blyth during the “Robert Burns at
250” international conference hosted earlier this year by the University of
South Carolina. As always, it is a joy to introduce a fellow Burnsian to our
This is the
second of three articles over the last few weeks on the Robert Burns
Lives! web site regarding haggis. The first was by the “King of Haggis”,
James Macsween of Macsween of Edinburgh, third-generation haggis makers in
the auld country. The final article will be by yours truly and much less
formal. The three articles are a blend of thoughts with regard to Scotland’s
national dish and the man who made it so - Robert Burns. Yet again, there
is no way this man will ever die! (FRS: 8-27-2009)
Prosody: Address to a Haggis
By Colin Blyth
Queen’s University, Emeritus, and University of Illinois
Colin R. Blyth
– Born in Guelph Ontario, 1922. Married Valerie Thompson 1955, six
children. Great grandfather Alexander, son of Glasgow brass founder Colin
Blyth, came to Guelph in 1832 and married Janet McDonald who had emigrated
from Strathpeffer with the La Guayra settlers to Venezuela in 1825 and then
to Guelph in 1827. Blyth is a Border Country name, but Colin’s forefathers
were shoemakers in Leith from the early 1600’s, and from 1634 each of them,
and down to Alexander, married a Highland girl. Education: Queen’s
University (B.A. 1944), University on California at Berkeley (Ph.D. 1950).
Professor of Mathematics at University of Illinois (1950 - 1974) and at
Queen’s University (1974-1987) and at La Trobe University in Melbourne
(1992). Publications:30+ papers in Mathematical Statistics; poem “Kate o’
Shanter”,1993 (reprinted in The Burns Chronicle, Spring 2009, page
61); book Gaelic Names of Pipe Tunes (1994); books Struwwelpeter
(2000) and Max & Moritz (2006) – verse translations of the
German children’s classics; paper “The Prosody of Robert Burns (The Burns
Chronicle, Winter 2008, pages 9 -15). Interests: Burns enthusiast since
1930, piper since 1939, Gaelic learner since 1965. Recent interest in
prosody (the study of the rhythms of verse). There is a very large academic
literature, hundreds of books and papers on prosody in English and German,
containing essentially nothing about Burns. It has been my goal to attempt
to get Burnsians interested in bringing the Bard into the mainstream of that
describing the haggis and our symbolic participation in the traditional
peasant feast. Next, a simplified notation for temporal prosody. Then, a
description of the timing of the lines of a performance of the Address,
using this notation. “Address to a Haggis” must be the most often recited
of all Burns’s poems – at Hogmanays and Burns’ suppers in January, and
Tartan Day dinners in April, and on Saint Andrew’s day in November. It is
recited when the haggis has been piped in and is being cut open for serving.
The pipe tune is “A Man’s a Man for a’ that”; the cut is often made in the
shape of a cross, sometimes a Saint Andrew’s cross. Often, only the first
three verses and the last are recited. These make a brief and coherent
whole, addressed to this haggis and this company. The other
verses are a comic digression. Verse 4 describes another haggis, served to
another company – a scene of bad table manners and gluttony. Verses 5 and 6
ask whether there breathes a man with soul so dead as to scorn such a
dinner, and if such there breathe, describes his feckless state.
contrasts this with the robustness (and obesity?- “the trembling earth”) of
the haggis-fed. Haggis was the traditional peasant feast all through Europe.
It is a sausage or casserole of minced viscera and grain, and varies widely,
depending on contents and seasoning and cooking method (Romanian drob
is very close to the Scottish version). Scottish haggis has toasted
coarse-cut oatmeal with sheep lungs and heart and a small amount of the
liver, plus suet and seasonings.
It is boiled in
a sheep stomach as a casing. It can’t be served to large groups now, because
lungs are not available in the meat trade. To get the real thing you have to
find somebody who is slaughtering sheep, and make the haggis yourself. It is
worth the effort. This family recipe for haggis has come down from Elspet
Ross, who left Strathpeffer in 1825 with the Laguayra settlers, who went
first to Venezuela, and then in 1827 to Guelph, Ontario (founded in that
year by John Galt):
stomach, 1 cup of chopped onions,
1 sheep’s pluck (heart, lungs, liver), juice of 1 lemon,
½ pound finely chopped suet, 1½ tablespoons of salt,
½ pint of stock or gravy, ½ tablespoon of pepper,
2 cups of coarse steel-cut oatmeal, a pinch of cayenne.
stomach bag (remove and discard the small bag) in cold water, then in hot,
and scrape until thoroughly clean. Leave it in cold water until required.
Wash the pluck and boil it, weighted down, for 1½ hours. Toast the oatmeal
in a slow oven until lightly browned. [If this isn’t done, the haggis will
be gluey, especially if the oats are too finely ground, or rolled.] When the
pluck is cooked, put it through a meat grinder - after cutting away and
discarding the windpipe, any fat or gristle, and ¾ of the liver. Now, in a
large bowl, mix the ground pluck, oatmeal, suet and seasonings well, adding
enough stock to make a soft mass. Put this in the stomach bag (it should be
about b full), press out any air, and sew up the bag with a strong thread.
Put it on a rack in a pot of boiling water and boil it for 3 hours, adding
water as needed. Watch it, and whenever it puffs up, poke it several times
with a skewer to relieve the pressure of hot air and steam. [If you aren’t
careful, the haggis may burst - an irretrievable disaster!] Serve while
still hot. It is because of Burns’s Address that haggis is served on
Scottish occasions. Our symbolic participation in the poor man’s feast is a
celebration of Burns’s Masonic ideals of brotherhood and social equality:
It’s comin yet
for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
Edward J. Cowan
reports that Burns hated haggis, so that we are all being true
Burnsians when we have a symbolic taste of haggis and then proceed with our
own upper-class feast of roast beef and other luxuries. I can report that
while the “haggis” served at Burns dinners is at best indifferent, the real
thing is truly delicious (because it is the soul food of my youth? Because I
have been brain-washed by too many repetitions of the Address?)
The Address was
written in Standard Habbie stanzas – six lines, rhyming aaabab.
The a ines have four beats. The short b lines are
sometimes said to have two beats, but they are easy to read with four beats,
some of them silent, and the heavy indentation of the b lines could
mean that Burns intended them to begin with a silent beat. Each a
line has the question/answer rhythm that is heard in piobaireachd (Colin
Maclellan, piobaireachd lessons, 1982), and is echoed in the next a
line; the first b line is echoed in the second.
form is found in folk verse as early as the fourteenth century, and is named
after the poem “Habbie Simson, the Piper of Kilbarchan” (1640) by Robert
Sempill. Robert Fergusson (1750-1774), the poet Burns so much admired, used
it. Burns used it so often (in 45 poems, and 13 others in slightly different
stanza forms) and with such skill that it has been called the Burns stanza
ever since. Similar stanza forms are found in the Limerick and in
Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” - and in the parodies “The
Yarn of the Nancy Belle” by W. S. Gilbert and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
by Robert Service.
performances of the Address are exactly the same, and every performance is
worth listening to and enjoying. (This from Gordon Hepburn, the well-known
Burnsian who organized the Burns Suppers in Moscow during the cold war, and
more recently been organizing Burns suppers and Tartan Day dinners in
Toronto, and still more recently has organized a Toronto Burns Club). A
performance is made by voice and stage presence - a smiling face, an easy
and confident delivery that puts the audience at ease, words easy to
understand, changes in loudness and tempo and pitch to avoid monotony,
pauses for the audience keep up with the action. Voice and acting coaches
tell you about these things. These coaches also emphasize prosody -
the meter and rhythm, the timing, of the lines - and this can be described
in writing. We live with rhythms – repetitive movements or sounds – every
moment of our lives: the rhythms of the seasons, the tides, of day and
night, of breathing, speaking, walking, skating, - all of our activities.
From the 1930s I well remember the effortless rhythm of men with scythes,
and struggling ineffectually with mine, and tiring myself out, and being
told, “Let the scythe do the work”. I remember envying my father’s easy 3/4
time milking rhythm, and not able to copy it until learning Gaelic milking
songs many years later. I did understand and enjoy the rhythm of plowing
with a single-furrow hand-held plow and a team of horses, the way Burns did.
It is moderately strenuous work, but the rhythm and the rapport with the
horses make it a pleasant and soul-satisfying way to spend a day. In
contrast, there is no more soul-destroying a task than working the land with
a tractor. If Burns had been plowing with a four-furrow plow and tractor, he
would have been a lot more prosperous, but he wouldn’t have been Burns.
Since the 1930s my perceptions of rhythm have been formed by playing the
pipes in marching bands, by dance tunes - especially hornpipes, by playing
and listening to piobaireachd, by singing and listening to songs -
especially Gaelic songs, and by reading and listening to verse - especially
There is a very
large academic literature on prosody. The paper by David Abercrombie, a
phonetician at University of Edinburgh, is a good place to begin. It is
short, and if you have had to study classical prosody, it is liberating and
enlightening. The Carper & Attridge (2003) book is easy to read and
non-technical, and is empowering to the reader: too many prosodists talk
down to the reader and are too prescriptive. From Leech (1969): “It has
become widely accepted that versification is a question of the interplay
between the regular, quasi-mathematical, pattern called metre and the
actual rhythm the language insists on, called prose rhythm”. The
rhythm of verse is just the natural prose rhythm of the language; it is the
echoing and parallelism of this rhythm from line to line that most
distinguishes verse from prose. Kurz (1999) is very clearly and concisely
written – he has so much to say that he doesn’t want to waste a word (many
books on prosody use a lot too many words). Sometimes he clarifies, in a few
words, concepts that I had read about extensively and that still confused
me. Kurz lists 284 references. Tarlinskaja (1993) gives a very full account
of strict stress-meter verse, also called ballad verse,
Volksliedform,dolnik, and other names. This verse has a regular
number of equally spaced beats to the line, with a strong syllable on most
of them. In the offbeat spaces there are weaker passing syllables (zero,
one, two or even three – the more hurried over, the more there are of them).
Tarlinskaja gives many examples from Yeats, Heine, Frost and others, and
reports extensively on what poets have done with this verse form, and lists
145 references. Tarlinskaja (1993) is the most immediately important of
these references, because Burns wrote strict stress-meter verse, and he is
the master of it.
divides a line of poetry into groups of syllables called
feet (iambs, trochees, anapests, amphibrachs and many others). Many
modern prosodists dismiss classical prosody, designed for syllable-timed
languages (Greek, Latin, French), as useless for stress timed languages
(English, German, Gaelic). Worse, classical prosody ignores the lengths of
the pauses between syllables, which are just as important to the rhythm as
the voiced syllables are. Temporal prosody describes the timing of
lines of verse using the language of music. In its most detailed form, a
note symbol is placed above each syllable and a rest syllable above each
pause to indicate their durations, the line is divided into measures
by bar lines, and a time signature such as 2/4 or 6/8 is specified. Most
temporal prosodists find this full notation too cumbersome and distracting,
but they have not reached an agreed-upon simplification. The notation used
here is intended to be as simple as possible, and it is analog, in contrast
with the digital notation of music. Temporal prosody is especially
appropriate for describing Burns’s verse, which he often composed to
song-rhythms, even for poems that are not usually sung. “Address to a
Haggis” is written in 4/4 time with four regular (down)beats to the line.
These are the instants at which a marcher’s foot strikes the ground, or a
bass drummer’s stick strikes the drum, or a conductor’s baton reaches its
down-point. Their locations in time are shown as L(left-foot) and
R(right-foot) along the line used as a time scale:
L R L R
The Address is
written in strict stress-meter with four beats to the line and with the
offbeat intervals between them occupied by pauses and zero, one, or two
syllables. Syllables that are on the beat are double underlined and are
usually distinctly and firmly spoken. Sometimes they are stressed
(emphasized by making them louder or longer) – the strongest of these are
boldfaced. A beat on which the voice is silent is still usually
perceived as a beat, sometimes called a “silent stress”, and is double
underlined. Syllables that are off the beat are usually weak passing
syllables, but it is their varied positioning within the intervals that
gives the poem its expression. The mid-points between beats are single
underlined and often pass unnoticed, but if there is a syllable there, it
may be perceived as an upbeat (the instant that the bass drummer’s
stick or the conductor’s baton syllables is less than in “Chief - tain”
(line 1) but more than in “Pud-den” (line 2).
These lines closely echo line 7. They have four very regular and almost
equally emphasized beats.
Line 10: Line
9 ends with an implied question (when?) and after a pause this line gives
The upbeat “your” is shown emphasized just as strongly as the beats before
and after. [Those “pores” were punched in the haggis with a skewer while it
was cooking. I have never actually seen those “amber beads”. Have you?]
A very close echo of line 10.
has to examine every line in even more detail than has just been done for
these first twelve lines, looking at many possible choices of timing and
stresses, and considering how these choices affect the sounds and the
meanings of the lines and stanzas. For the remaining lines, to avoid
repetitiveness, points that have already been discussed are not repeated.
There are additional pauses in these lines, as the performer wipes his knife
on sleeve or kilt and puts his words into action.
This “O” is strongly emphasized by loudness as well as the long pauses
before and after it, as we pause to admire the opened haggis. The fermata
sign , indicating that the performer can hold the sound as long as
desired, should be directly above the “O”.
Burns’s hyphen may indicate that he intended “warm-reekin” to be pronounced
as one word, with the “warm” shortened and softened, with “reek on the beat,
and “in” clipped short. The haggis itself is hot, the steam only warm.
“an’” is placed after the upbeat to avoid the monotony of all three offbeat
syllables on the upbeat, and to give more emphasis to “stretch” and “strive.
”swall’d” is placed close to “weel” because Burns put a hyphen between them.
“maist” is placed close to “like” because of the comma after “Guidman”.
This is a close echo of line 22.
The same attention-getting initial stressed upbeat and downbeat as at the
beginning of line 1, to begin a new line of thought.
“that would” is placed early on the offbeat, and “a” late in its upbeat to
add emphasis to “staw”.
“her” is placed close to “spew” to better echo the preceding two lines.
“sneering” and “scornfu’” are kept short to strengthen them.
“sic a” is written to be an echo of “perfect”.
The same stressed upbeat, stressed downbeat that begins line 25. Putting
“him” before the upbeat and “his” on its upbeat is another way of reading
“feckless” and “wither’d” are matched in rhythm. The apostrophe suggests
shortening, and this clipping can be used to express disgust.
Timed here to match line 32.
These four strong equally spaced stresses signal an ending.
The three silent offbeats put emphasis on “Rustic” and “haggis”.
The stressed upbeat “his” is for contrast with the feckless one of lines
The question/answer rhythm of “Ye Pow’rs wha make/mankind your care” is
closely echoed in lines 44, 45, and 47.
The very strong stresses on “her” and “haggis” echo the timing of line 46,
and bring the Address to a rousing conclusion.
makes possible a very detailed written description of the timing of the
lines. Showing beats and upbeats and using boldface give some idea of
loudness and stress, but leaves these mostly to oral discussion with voice
coaches, and the use of pitch changes is left entirely up to them. Some
prosodists use the language of structural linguistics for written
descriptions of changes in pitch and loudness see Chatman (1965). This
language is quite technical and is not for casual reading.
Dr & Mrs Colin Blyth at the USC conference
Abercrombie (Edinburgh University, 1965). “A phonetician’s view of verse
structure”, Linguistics, Volume 1, pages 5-13. Also in Studies in
Phonetics and Linguistics, London, Oxford University Press.
and Derek Attridge (2003). Meter and Meaning - an introduction to rhythm
in poetry. New York and London, Routledge.
(1965). A Theory of Meter. The Hague, Mouton.
Collinson (1966). The Traditional and National Music of Scotland.
London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
(1999). Macharten - Über Rhythmus, Reim, Stil und Vieldeutigkeit.
Göttingen, Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht.
Leech (1969). A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. London, Longmans.
Tarlinskaja (1993). Strict Stress-Meter in English Poetry - Compared with
German & Russian. Calgary, University of Calgary Press.