Standard Habbie

Recently I was asked to write a poem in the Standard Habbie form so I thought I’d share more info about this particular form…

A Standard Habbie (aka the Burns stanza) is a Scottish poetic form that Robert Burns often wrote in. It is attributed to Habbie Simpson (1550-1620), who was the town piper of Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire.

The earliest known form is ‘The Lament for Habbie Simpson’ (also known as ‘The Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan’), a eulogy ballad written by Robert Sempill.

Each stanza in the classic Standard Habbie form is a sestet (has 6 lines) with the rhyming scheme AAABAB in the following iambic meter:

xX xX xX xX    [iambic tetrameter]
xX xX xX xX
xX xX xX xX
xX xX           [iambic dimeter]
xX xX xX xX

You’re allowed to tack a syllable on to the end – this is known as ‘hypercatalectic’ or you can, of course, bend the rules!

With thanks to Duncan Lockerbie of Tapsalteerie, Poetry Base, Poets’ Collective, Wikipedia, Scottish Poetry Library and the National Library of Scotland.

Standard Habbie poems

Sleekit anthology, Tapsalteerie

‘Robert Burns in Scottish Stanza’ by Janette Ayachi – Scottish Poetry Library

To a Mouse by Robert Burns – Poetry Foundation

To a Mouse

On Turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough, November 1785.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
          Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
          Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
          Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
          An’ fellow-mortal!

Address To The Toothache by Robert Burns – BBC

Broadside ballad entitled ‘Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan [Habbie Simpson]’ – National Library of Scotland

Habbie Simpson – the Piper of Kilbarchan

Kilbarchan now may say alas!
For she hath lost her Game and Grace
Both Trixie and the Maiden Trace:
But what remeid?
For no man can supply his place,
Hab Simpson’s deid.

Now who shall play ‘The day it daws’?
Or ‘Hunt up when the cock he craws’?
Or who can for our Kirk-town-cause,
Stand us in stead?
On Bagpipes now nobody blaws
Sen Habbie’s dead.

by Robert Sempill of Beltrees, 1594 – 1668

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