PLANNING a Burns Night supper? If you’re serving haggis, you might want to honour the traditional Scots dish with a rendition of one of Robert Burns’ most famous and oft-performed poems: Address To a Haggis.

Usually recited by the dinner's host, the tongue-in-cheek address has been a long-established focal point of the Burns Supper, a night which celebrates the birth date of the literary legend himself: January 25, 1759.

After the haggis is piped to the table (a Spotify bagpipe playlist will do in a pinch), Burns’ words are recited over the dish as it is cut open and served to the guests.

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Some say it is wise to cut a small incision in the side of the haggis before it is properly "cut open" on the table - tales of guests being scalded by flying contents during enthusiastic recitals have been told.

Others say this is part of the fun.

What is the history of an Address to a Haggis?

The address was composed in the year 1786 - not long after the poet arrived in Scotland’s capital city. There are two stories linked to the poem’s inception - one more romantic than the other.

The first version alleges he’d been invited for dinner at the house of a merchant friend, Andrew Bruce, and composed the poem to amuse the wealthy host and his guests.

The second, and slightly more charming version, is that he composed the poem off-the-cuff whilst visiting the house of his cabinetmaker friend, John Morrison, in a fit of inspiration brought on by the sight of the luxurious meat pudding.

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In the 18th century, haggis would not be a meal enjoyed very often – reserved as an item of extravagance and occasion. Based on Burns’ political persuasion, it’s been speculated that his tribute was ironic in its praise – poking fun at the upper classes who might revere it as an item of luxury.

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Though the true origin of the poem is debated, it was one of Burns’ first poems to be published in the Edinburgh periodical, The Caledonian Mercury, on December 20, 1786.

A quick video search for an “Address to the Haggis” brings up hundreds of results, ranging from a “Haggis Address for Kids”, recitals at kitchen tables and in dingy restaurants - to a piper in full dress, piping the dish into the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  

High-society lifestyle magazine Tatler recently published an article titled “Where to head for the finest Burns Night supper in London” - it’s clear that the Address to the Haggis can and should be performed in places both high and low. 

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As thousands of Addresses to the Haggis continue to be made the world over, it’s inevitable that each one will have a character of its own - something the Bard himself would surely have approved of. 

Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns, in full

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o' the pudding-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,  (you would hold up a knife and cut the haggis at this line)
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 make 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 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 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! 

Let your audience applaud your performance and then enjoy the feast!