January 25th is Robert Burns’ birthday. All over the world people will celebrate “Burns Night” by drinking whiskey and reciting “Address to a Haggis” before partaking of one for dinner. Just the other day, I found out that authentic haggis is banned in the U.S. because one of the ingredients (along with the heart, liver, oat meal, onion, suet and spices and all baked in its stomach or sausage casing) is the sheep’s lung.
To commemorate his birthday, I always recite John Keat’s sonnet, “Written in the Cottage Where Burns Was Born” (from John Keats: Selected Poems, Gramercy Books, 1983) and “gulp a bumper” to his name with my recitation improving with each bumper I gulp:
WRITTEN IN THE COTTAGE WHERE BURNS WAS BORN
This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine own Barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal;
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o’er and o’er, –
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind, –
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name, –
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!