Address to a Haggis (with an all-new English translation)

Written for Burns Night 2013.

STOP PRESS! This translation now features in my web series Burns in Translation. Check out the video or scroll down for the full text.

Address to a Haggis (with an all-new English translation)

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.

[Fair and full is your honest plump face
Master of all non-specific sub-premium meat products!
No other non-specific sub-premium meat product compares to your tastiness
Regardless of which part of the digestive system it has been harvested from,
Therefore you are most worthy of this poem
Which is quite ridiculously long (given the subject matter).]

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.

[You fill the serving-dish to the brim
And your arse looks like a hilltop in the distance,
That little wooden stick could be used for major structural repairs
If I were hallucinating and there was nothing else to hand,
While unidentifiable liquids ooze about you
Resembling the whisky that I’ve already drunk half a bottle of.]

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!

[Watch and marvel as a man, so drunk he can barely stand up, attempts to clean a knife
And stabs at you wildly with the least of precision
Eventually making a gash in your nondescript innards
Like a makeshift latrine in the woods,
And then, O! what a glorious sight,
The only thing in this godforsaken country that isn’t absolutely baltic!]

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.

[Then, gobful after gobful, they scoff it down,
Brawl over seconds, and continue scoffing,
Until all their clinically obese bellies
Become a gluttonous parody of human flesh,
Then the fattest of the lot, on the verge of puking
Mutters “Jesus fucking Christ that was good.”]

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?

[Are there any people who, over their fine French food,
Or Italian cooking that would make a pig wretch
Or haute cuisine that would surely make it physically sick
In total and utter disgust,
Look down with a sneering and scornful attitude
On a dinner like this?]

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!

[Poor healthy and cultured unfortunates! See them eating real food!
They are as feeble as withered stalks,
Their skinny legs as thin as rope,
Their hands are tiny and effeminate,
When it comes to travelling through peaty bogs and Bathgate
They’ve got no chance!]

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.

[But look at the haggis-eating Scots,
So great that the earth literally shakes beneath them as they walk.
Give them knives,
They’ll stab pretty much anyone!
They’ll chop off legs, arms, and heads,
Like the tops of the thistles they bizarrely revere.]

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!

[O Gods, who watch over all humanity,
And determine its fates and appetites,
Give to Old Scotland no healthy and nutritious stuff
That resembles something genuinely edible!
But remember, we are proudly the ‘sick man of Europe’
And give us more Haggis!]



Follow link below to full text:



Kurt Schwitters’ epic sound poem Ursonate is an enigma that has perplexed scholars for decades, or would have done, had its solution not long been considered a Sisyphean impossibility. ‘It is the primeval sound, at once before and beyond sense. The feeble language of common humanity is powerless to penetrate or paraphrase its depths!’ And yes: even today, this is true. But our technologies augment and extend us. The algorithms of natural language processing create lines of flight to peaks once inaccessible. We may still be too human for Ursonate, but need not be as feebly human as once we were. Thus, out of our heads, and into the machines. Let the machines read Ursonate. Imaginary solutions to imaginary problems have real means. The boulder fills with helium; we float.


01Sonate is constructed using the automatic caption/translate function of YouTube. First a performance is chosen, then the captions are transcribed verbatim. Next proceeds further close listening with reference to the original score in order to align the captions as closely as possible with the original. Finally the captions are inserted, lineated, into the frame of the original score. Linear distribution should follow the original score as closely as possible; however, a degree of creative licence is considered inevitable at this stage. The translation should include punctuation from both original score and captions, except when a lack of textual elements leads to successive punctuation marks, in which case repeated marks may be removed. Upper and lower case should remain in accordance with captions.

Among the numerous performances of Ursonate available online, Christian Bök’s was selected according to spontaneous impulse. Additionally, as one of the few complete Ursonate performances available on YouTube, it is already prepared for translation via the automatic caption/translate function native to that environment. Curiously, the software considers the native language of the performance Italian, therefore the automatic translate function was used to render the captions in English. This accounts for the high frequency of Italianate features in the final score. At this stage, it is not known whether this is an anomaly of Bök’s performance or indicative of a common trend.


The 01Sonate presented here re-scores but one performance of the original score among infinite varieties. Readers are strongly encouraged to produce alternative translations according to various performances, as it is assumed that each will offer a unique and compelling solution to the original Ursonate enigma. It will be noted that the present translation bears the initials of the performer after the title; the author suggests that this pattern is followed for any future translations so as to distinguish each from the other. Ultimately, it might be possible to produce a web-based application that allows the user to compare any number of translations against the original and/or alternative translations, accompanied by audio of the performances.


Christian Bök’s performance, from which the present translation is made, can be found here.
The original score, according to which the present translation is assembled, was retrieved from here.