January 25th is Burns Night, and round the world you'll see great fatty puddings tucking into some haggis. People in Scotland will be reciting Burns’ “Ode To a Haggis,” and others will be celebrating the Diaspora, thinking pleasantly of the country in which their ancestors clearly couldn't stand living, while trying not to wonder too much about what those pink wobbly bits in their haggis are (diced sheeps' lungs, if you’re curious).
Anyway, Burns night is a celebration of the 18th Century poet Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s National Bard (or just The Bard) and the Ploughman Poet (and, as Burns might explain; “it’s not fields I’m ploughing! Whoar! Know what I mean, missus? Honk honk. Ooh er.”)
He popularised Auld Lang Syne (A song performed by everyone yearly, leaving just enough time between renditions to make you forget the words but think you can remember them. New years' alcohol doesn't help this.)
Burns was extraordinarily prolific, and wrote hundreds of poems before his death (from heart disease aged 37). He wrote the poem “My love is like a red, red rose,” and “Ae Fond Kiss”, and others which are all very romantic and that’s all good and fine. But he wasn’t called the people’s poet for nothing, and there’s nothing that the proles like more than rude jokes, particularly if it’s a celebrity telling them.
I’ve helpfully translated some of the Scottish words into English as I go along. Just to explain, Scots is a separate language from English, and although modern Scottish people speak English instead of Scots, they still use a large number of Scots words, seemingly designed to irritate everyone who thought that they could understand English, such as foreign tourists, English people, and most other Scots.
All of these words feel immensely solid and satisfying to intone, particularly when spoken in a broad accent. E.g. “Och, git oota ma pus, ya bawbag! Jings!” which literally means “[general exclamation], get out of my face, you testicle! [general exclamation]!” (That’s not a Burns original, I should mention). Of course, Scots sounds very similar to English, but because of those misplaced-sounding vowels and different contractions and words, hearing the Scottish language makes you think the speaker has suffered a devastating stroke, and even seeing it written makes you pity the writer for the terrible, intractable dyslexia which has rendered their words so illegible.)
Anyway, let’s kick aff:
5. Twa wives:
"There was twa wives, and twa witty wives,
As e'er play'd houghmagandie,
And they coost oot, upon a time,
Out o'er a drink o brandy;
Up Maggie rose, and forth she goes,
An she leaves auld Mary flytin,
And she farted by the byre-en'
For she was gaun a shiten.
She farted by the byre-en',
She farted by the stable;
And thick and nimble were her steps
As fast as she was able:
Till at yon dyke-back the hurly brak,
But raxin for some dockins,
The beans and pease cam down her thighs,
And she cackit a' her stockins."
Some of these songs are only rude because the words used in them have gained new meanings between the 16th century and today. Others are genuinely foul-mouthed, written intentionally as such by Burns. Bonus points for guessing which is which.
This one is about two women enjoying an affair (“houghmagandie” means something like hanky panky) possibly with each other, the poem isn’t entirely clear on this, but it seems likely as they then go to sleep together after a drink of brandy.) Maggie then gets up to go to relieve herself, but alas! She has left it too late, and while looking for some dock leaves (rather good for wiping one's bottom) she shits down her legs (“cackit a’ her stockins.”).
4. Reply to a trimming epistle: Robert Burns Answer:
"What ails ye now, ye lousie bitch,
To thresh my back at sic a pitch?
Losh man! hae mercy wi' your natch,
Your bodkin's bauld,
I did na suffer ha’f sae much
Frae Daddie Auld.
What tho' at times when I grow crouse,
I gi’e their wames a random pouse,
Is that enough for you to souse
Your servant sae?
Gae mind your seam, ye prick the louse,
An' jag the flae.
King David o' poetic brief,
Wrocht 'mang the lasses sic mischief
As fill’d his after life wi' grief,
An' bloody rants ,
An' yet he's rank'd amang the chief
O' lang syne saunts .
And maybe, Tam, for a' my cants,
My wicked rhymes, an' drucken rants,
I'll gie auld cloven Clooty's haunts
An unco slip yet,
An' snugly sit amang the saunts
At Davie's hip yet.
But, fegs, the Session says I maun
Gae fa' upo' anither plan,
Than garren lasses cowp the cran
Clean heels owre body ,
An' sairly thole their mither's ban
Afore the howdy.
This leads me on to tell for sport,
How I did wi' the Session sort—
Auld Clinkum at the inner port
Cry’d three times, ‘Robin!’
‘Come hither lad, an’ answer for't,
‘Ye're blam'd for jobbin’.’
Wi' pinch I put a Sunday's face on,
An' snoov'd awa before the Session—
I made an open fair confession;
I scorn't to lie;
An' syne Mess John, beyond expression,
Fell foul o' me.
A furnicator lown he call'd me,
An' said my fau’t frae bliss expell'd me;
I own'd the tale was true he tell'd me,
‘But what the matter,’
Quo' I, ‘I fear unless ye geld me,
‘I'll ne'er be better!’
‘Geld you!’ quo' he, ‘an' whatfore no,
If that your right hand, leg or toe,
Should ever prove your sp'ritual foe,
‘You shou’d remember
‘To cut it aff, an' whatfore no,
‘Your dearest member.’
‘Na , na,’ quo' I, ‘I'm no for that,
‘Gelding's nae better than 'tis ca't,
‘I'd rather suffer for my faut,
‘A hearty flewit,
‘As sair owre hip as ye can draw 't!
‘Tho' I should rue it.
‘Or, gin ye like to end the bother,
‘To please us a' – I've just ae ither,
‘When next wi' yon lass I forgather,
‘Whate'er betide it,
‘I'll frankly gie her 't a' thegither,
‘An' let her guide it.’
But, Sir, this pleas'd them warst ava,
An' therefore, Tam, when that I saw,
I said ‘Gude night,’ and cam' awa',
An' left the Session;
I saw they were resolved a'
On my oppression."
This poem was written to a specific recipient, and since the first line is “What is your problem now, you lousy bitch?” you can probably imagine that it isn’t a friendly poem. And no, Burns goes on a massive rant where he mercilessly berates the poor person to whom this is intended. It would clearly take a long time to explain all this; if you're interested, a full English translation is here.
3. Johnie Lad, cock up your beaver:
When first my brave Johnie lad came to this town,
He had a blue bonnet that wanted the crown;
But now he has gotten a hat and a feather,
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up your beaver!
Cock up your beaver, and cock it fu' sprush,
We'll over the border, and gie them a brush;
There's somebody there we'll teach better behaviour,
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up your beaver!
Disappointingly, “cock” means feather and “beaver” means hat. So the line “cock up your beaver” means a feather in your hat. Aw.
Try saying that to your friends instead of “that's a feather in your hat” and then try explaining to them that actually you are being cultured and using 18th century Scots’ words. I bet they won't believe you.
2. My girl she’s airy:
"My girl she's airy, she's buxom and gay,
Her breath is as sweet as the blossoms in May;
A touch of her lips it ravishes quite.
She's always good natur'd, good humor'd, and free;
She dances, she glances, she smiles with a glee;
Her eyes are the lightenings of joy and delight,
Her slender neck, her handsome waist,
Her hair well buckl’d, her stays well lac’d,
Her taper white leg with an et, and a,c,
For her a, b, e, d, and her c, u, n, t,
And Oh! For the joys of a long winter night!!!"
This one is in English, and also just pure filth. Burns loves that sort of thing. Although he clearly thought that putting commas between the letters makes rude words magically not rude and acceptable in a poem. and three exclamation marks!!! That's very gauche.
Gay means happy in old fashioned English, remember. This isn’t Maggie or Mary from the poem above.
Hey! Try reciting this one to a loved one on Valentine’s Day instead of Red, Red Rose. She’ll love it.
1. Epitaph to Hugh Logan:
"Here lyes Squire Hugh--ye harlot crew,
Come mak your watter on him,
I’m shuir that he weel pleased wad be
To think ye pished upon him."
This one says “Hey everyone, Squire Hugh is buried here, come and piss on him. He’d like it if you pissed on him.”
This is an epitaph. Burns wrote this as a suggestion of what he thought should go on this recently deceased man’s headstone. Burns is a very naughty man.