Dining on Words, Part 2: Invitations and Dining (sort of…)

I know that I said this week was going to be a post of poetry relating to invitations to dine and the act of eating. But, as it turns out, while there are many poems on those topics, there aren’t so many of them on our shelves. So, we have a little of that, and then a poetical food tangent…

“Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson

This comes from Poems of Ben Jonson, edited with an introduction by George Burke Johnston, 1955. This one is an extra special find, since Johnston, the editor, was on the faculty at VPI and signed this copy!

Then I came across a short poem, really only four lines, by Robert Burns. It wasn’t so much an invitation as is it declining an invitation (it’s the first of two pieces titled “To Mr. S**E”):

I added the second page, since it included another four lines to the same Mr. Syme about a gift of beer and another four lines which were a reply to an invite to a tavern. Burns, it seems, enjoyed using poetry to say “yes” or “no” to a good invitation.

At this point, while I had some leads, I couldn’t find matching volumes on our shelves for things like Sylvia Plath’s “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper,” W. H. Auden’s “Tonight at 7:30,” or any of the occasional poems written by Oliver Wendell Holmes at dinner events. But I was still holding Robert Burns’ poetry in my hands and a glance at the table of contents reminded me of his “Scotch Drink,” an ode to, well, scotch whisky. And, like life in the world of archival research often goes, I found myself changing my focus to the food poems of Burns. So, while Jonson invited us to dine, Burns will supply the main course?


I should probably have saved “Scotch Drink” for next week, when I *plan* to talk about poetry about wine, beer, and spirits. (That shouldn’t be too hard to stay on topic!) But Burns had me hooked by now. Of course, I saved the best for last. Though I guess that should be qualified. “Best” may depend largely on your thoughts about haggis…Burns, of course, is firmly in it’s camp:



I couldn’t resist. It’s not often a dish that creates such mixed reactions in people gets such a lyrical, epic poem. Next week, we’ll have fewer lines about “gushing entrails bright” and a lot less dialect, but Burns does have a rather famous cocktail named after him, so this is some sort of segue. 🙂

Our National Poetry Month series continues next week, when we look at some poetry to the things that fill our glasses and make us say “cheers!”

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