Scotland’s Poetic Gimcracks 

Poems on fishes, train wrecks, gigantic cheeses…Scotland’s bad poetry ranges hugely in subject matter. What some Scottish poets created to inspire people in Victorian times, provides now (and probably then) quite a hoot!


At that tide when the voice of the turtle is dumh,
And winter wi’ drap at his nose doth come,

A whistle to mak o’ the castle lum
To sowf his music sae sairie, O !

And the roast on the speet is sapless an’ sma’,
And meat is scant in chamber and ha’,

And the knichts hae ceased their merry gaffaw,
For lack o’ their warm canarie, O !

Then the Harp and the Haggis began a dispute,
’Bout whilk o’ their charms were in highest repute :
The Haggis at first as a haddie was mute,
An’ the Harp went on wi’ her vapourin*, O !

An’ lofty an’ loud were the tones she assumed,
An’ boasted how ladies and knichts gaily plumed,
Through rich gilded halls, all so sweetly perfumed,
To the sound of her strings went a caperin’, O !

”While the Haggis, “she said, “ was a beggarly slave,
An’ never was seen “mang the fair an’ the bi-ave ;”
”Fuff! fuff !” quo’ the Haggis, “ thou vile lying knave,
Come tell us the use of thy twanging?

Can it fill a toom wame ? Can it help a man’s pack?
A minstrel when out may come in for his snack,
But when starving at hame, will it keep him, alack !
Frae trying his hand at the hanging, O ?”

The twa they grew wud as wud could be,
But a minstrel boy they chanced to see,

Wha stood list’ning bye, an’ to settle the plea,
They begged he would try his endeavour, O !
For the twa in their wrath had all reason forgot,
And stood boiling with rage just like peas in a pot,
But a Haggis, ye ken, aye looks best when it’s hot,
So his bowels were moved in her favour, O !

Nocht pleasures the lug half sae weel as a tune,
An’ whar hings the lug wad be fed wi’ a spoon ?”
The Harp in a triumph cried, “ Laddie, weel done,”
An’ her strings wi’ delight fell a tinkling, O !
The harp’s a braw thing,” continued the youth, “
But what is a harp to put in the mouth?

It fills na the wame, it slaiks na the drouth,—
At least,—that is my way o’ thinking, O.
”A tune’s but an air; but a Haggis is meat;—
An’ wha plays the tune that a body can eat ? “

When a Haggis is seen wi’ a sheep’s head and feet,
My word she has gallant attendance, O.

A man wi’ sic fare may ne’er pree the tangs,

But laugh at lank hunger though sharp be her fangs
But the bard that maun live by the wind o’ his sangs,
Waes me, has a puir dependence, O.

”How aften we hear, wi’ the tear in our eye,

Now the puir starving minstrel, exposed to the sky,
Lays his head on his harp, and breathes out his last sigh,
Without e’er a friend within hearing, O,
But wha ever heard of a minstrel so crost,—
Lay his head on a Haggis to gie up the ghost ?—
O never, since time took his scythe frae the post,
An truntled awa to the shearing, O.

” Now I’ll settle your plea in the crack o’ a whup ;—

Gie the Haggis the lead, be’t to dine or to sup :

Till the bags are weel filled, there can nae drone get up,
Is a saying I learned from my mither, O.

When the feasting is owre, let the harp loudly twang,
An’ soothe ilka lug wi’ the charms o’ her sang,

An’ the wish of my heart is, wherever ye gang,
Gude grant ye may aye be thegither, O.”

— Carrick.

God’s might so peopled hath the sea
With fish of divers sort,
That men therein may clearly see
Great Things for their comfort.
There is such a great varietie,
Of fishes of all kind,
That it were a great impiete
God’s hand there not to find.

The Puffin, Torteuse and Thorneback,
The Scillop and the Goujeon,
The Shrimpe, the Spit-fish, and the Sprat,
The Stock-fish, and the Sturgeon;
The Torteuse, Tench, and Tunnyfish,
The Sparling and the Trout
And Herring for the poor man’s dish.
Is all the land about.

The Groundling, Gilt-head, and the Crab.
The Gurnard, Cockle, Oyster,
The Cramp-fish and als the Sea-Dog,
The Crefish and the Conger;
The Periwinkle and Twinfish—-
It’s hard to count them all;
Some are for oyle, some for the dish;
The greatest is the Whale!

— —Zachary Boyd, (1585-1653) Minister of the Barony, Glasgow, and thrice Rector of Glasgow University