Saturday, January 26, 2008

Here's Tae Us; Wha's Like Us?...

...Damn few
and they're a' deid!

I just realized that yesterday was Rabbie Burns Day, and somehow I forgot to crack out my terrible Scottish accent, and slightly inappropriate Scottish toasts!

The above means - Here's to us, who's like us (or, who's as good as us)? Damn few, and they're all dead.

Ha! I love it.

As a good girl of mostly Scottish descent (though really, I'm at least 4th generation Canadian at almost every turn), it seems only appropriate to celebrate this holiday of holidays. Isn't the Scottish Diaspora famous for maintaining ludicrous levels of Scottishness outside the homeland?

The rest of the above lovely toast reads:

Here's tae us
Wha's like us
Damn few,
And they're a' deid
Mair's the pity!

May those who live truly be always believed,
And those who deceive us be always deceived.
Here's to the men of all classes,
Who through lasses and glasses
Will make themselves asses!

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is he
In the hope that he drinks to another,
And the other he drinks to is me.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand
Andy may his great prosperity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

The best verse is the first, oft repeated in my family.

In honour of Rabbie Burns Day, and the traditional Rabbie Burns Night, I give you the Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
In standard English that is something like:
Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thanked.

I prefer it in the Lallans myself.

That is recited before the meal. The grace is attributed to Burns himself, though apparently this has fallen into question. Either way, I like it. It states precisely what people are thankful for in eating, without flowering it up too much.

For more on how a Robbie Burns Supper should go, check the actually quite good Wikipedia article on the topic.

One of my favourite Robert Burns poems is:

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell—
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!


I guess for non-followers of the Bard (the Bard, by the way, being Burns, not Shakespeare), the most enduringly famous of his works is Auld Lang Syne. Sung by drunken revelers everywhere on New Year's Eve.

His humour aside, Burns was an important political writer - dealing in his works with Republicanism and radicalism. He was, after all, writing in the turbulent 1770-1796 period. A time that saw not only the world changing French Revolution, but political turmoil as Scotland struggled continuously against England. His work is seen as an influence to later movements of socialism and liberalism in Scotland and elsewhere, as well as to the Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Colleridge, and Shelley. For more of his poetry and songs online, check out the Project Gutenberg site. Scroll down to Burns on the "B" authors list.

And to close, the Address to 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 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 lyke 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 ower 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 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!

Or, in standard English:

Fair is your honest happy face
Great chieftain of the pudding race
Above them all you take your place
Stomach, tripe or guts
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich

Then spoon for spoon
They stretch and strive
Devil take the last man, on they drive
Until all their well swollen bellies
Are bent like drums
Then, the old gent most likely to rift (burp)
Be thanked, mumbles

Is there that over his French Ragout
Or olio that would sicken a pig
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust
Looks down with a sneering scornful opinion
On such a dinner

Poor devil, see him over his trash
As week as a withered rush (reed)
His spindle-shank a good whiplash
His clenched fist.the size of a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battle field to dash
Oh how unfit

But take note of the strong haggis fed Scot
The trembling earth resounds his tread
Clasped in his large fist a blade
He'll make it whistle
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles

You powers who make mankind your care
And dish them out their meals
Old Scotland wants no watery food
That splashes in dishes
But if you wish her grateful prayer
Give her a haggis!


Anonymous said...

thank you for the great post about the gaelic toast and the complete poem or what it is the is really beautiful!!

Slondjevaa /Slainte Mhath!

twinsrkul said...

Thank you for the toast. It was a favourite of my Dad's, who passed away this Memorial Day. He was the personification of that Gaelic toast: There are, indeed, none like my Dad, J. Howard Standing. I love you, Papa-Bear.

Leslie said...

I'm having trouble finding this poem listed elsewhere online. I wanted to see if I could find it in a book to give to my dad, who's often said the "Here's tae us" line. Do you have a source for it?

Anonymous said...

We're going to use it to toast my dad at his wake. Thank you for posting the whole toast. I couldn't find it anywhere else!


Anonymous said...

You seem to have confounded various toasts, most of which have no apparent link to Burns. Only the last verse is from "John Barleycorn",

Anonymous said...

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Thanks for the article, and happy reading!