Tam o' Shanter
Robert Burns, (1759-1796)
  • Written in only one day, Burn's most polished poem has been described as the best days work
  • ever produced in Scotland since Bruce beat the English at Bannockburn!
  • WHEN chapmen billies leave the street,
  • And drouthy neebors, neebors meet,
  • As market-days are wearing late,
  • An' folk begin to tak the gate;
  • While we sit bousing at the nappy,
  • And getting fou and unto happy,
  • We think na on the lang Scots miles,
  • The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles,
  • That lie between us and our hame,
  • Whare sits our sulky sullen dame.
  • Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
  • Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

  • This truth fand honest Tam o' Shanter,
  • As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
  • (Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses
  • For honest men and bonie lasses.)

  • 0 Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
  • As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice!
  • She tauld thee wee1 thou was a skellum,
  • A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
  • That frae November till October,
  • Ae market-day thou was nae sober;
  • That ilka melder, wi' the miller,
  • Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
  • That every naig was ca'd a shoe on,
  • The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
  • That at the L-d's house, even on Sunday,
  • Thou drank wi' Kirkton Jean till Monday.
  • She prophesied that late or soon,
  • Thou would be found deep drown'd in Doon;
  • Or catch'd wi' warlocks in the mirk,
  • By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.

  • Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
  • To think how mony counsels sweet,
  • How many lengthen'd, sage advices,
  • The husband frae the wife despises!

  • But to our tale:-Ae market-night,
  • Tam had got planted unco right;
  • Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
  • Wi' reaming swats, that drank divinely
  • And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
  • His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
  • Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither-
  • They had been fou for weeks thegither!
  • The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter
  • And ay the ale was growing better:
  • The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
  • Wi' favours, secret, sweet and precious:
  • The Souter tauld his queerest stories ;
  • The landlord's laugh was ready chorus:
  • The storm without might rair and rustle,
  • Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

  • Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
  • E'en drown'd himsel' amang the nappy!
  • As bees flee hame wi' lades o' treasure,
  • The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure:
  • Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious.
  • O'er a' the ills o' life victorious!

  • But pleasures are like poppies spread,
  • You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
  • Or like the snow falls in the river,
  • A moment white-then melts for ever;
  • Or like the borealis race,
  • That flit ere you can point their place ;
  • Or like the rainbow's lovely form
  • Evanishing amid the storm.-
  • Nae man can tether time or tide;
  • The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
  • That hour, o' night's black arch the key-stane,
  • That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
  • And sic a night he taks the road in
  • As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.

  • The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
  • The rattling showers rose on the blast;
  • The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
  • Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow'd:
  • That night, a child might understand,
  • The Deil had business on his hand.

  • Wee1 mounted on his gray mare, Meg-
  • A better never lifted leg-
  • Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire,
  • Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
  • Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;
  • Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet;
  • Whiles glowring round wi' prudent cares,
  • Lest bogles catch him unawares:
  • Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
  • Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

  • By this time he was cross the ford,
  • Whare, in the snaw, the Chapman smoor'd;
  • And past the birks and meikle stane,
  • Whare drunken Chairlie brak 's neck-bane;
  • And thro' the whins, and by the cairn,
  • Whare hunters fand the murder'd bairn ;
  • And near the thorn, aboon the well,
  • Whare Mungo's mither hang'd hersel'.-
  • Before him Doon pours all his floods ;
  • The doubling storm roars thro' the woods ;
  • The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
  • Near and more near the thunders roll:
  • When, glimmering thro' the groaning trees,
  • Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze ;
  • Thro' ilka bore the beams were glancing;
  • And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

  • Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
  • What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
  • Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil;
  • Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!-
  • The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
  • Fair play, he car'd na deils a boddle.
  • But Maggie stood, right sair astonish'd,
  • Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd,
  • She ventured forward on the light;
  • And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!

  • Warlocks and witches in a dance;
  • Nae cotillion brent-new frae France,
  • But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
  • Put life and mettle in their heels.
  • A winnock-bunker in the east,
  • There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
  • A tousie tyke, black, grim, and large,
  • To gie them music was his charge:
  • He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl,
  • Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.-
  • Coffins stood round, like open presses,
  • That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
  • And by some devilish cantraip slight,
  • Each in its cauld hand held a light.-
  • By which heroic Tam was able
  • To note upon the haly table,
  • A murderer's banes in gibbet-airns;
  • Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns;
  • A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
  • Wi' his last gasp his gab did gape;
  • Five tomahawks, wi' blude red-rusted;
  • Five scymitars, wi' murder crusted;
  • A garter, which a babe had strangled:
  • A knife, a father's throat had mangled,
  • Whom his ain son o' life bereft,
  • The gray hairs yet stack to the heft;
  • Wi' mair o' horrible and awfu';
  • Which even to name wad be unlawfu'.
  • [Three lawyers' tongues, turn'd inside out,
  • Wi' lies seam'd like a beggar's clout;
  • Three priests' hearts, rotten, black as muck,
  • Lay stinking, vile in every neuk.]

  • As Tammie glowr'd, amaz'd, and curious,
  • The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
  • The piper loud and louder blew;
  • The dancers quick and quicker flew;
  • They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit,
  • Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
  • And coast her duddies to the wark,
  • And linket at it in her sark!

  • Now Tam, 0 Tam! had thae been queans,
  • A' plump and strapping in their teens,
  • Their sarks, instead o' creeshie flannen,
  • Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linnen !
  • Thir breeks o' mine, my only pair,
  • That ance were plush, o' gude blue hair,
  • I wad hae gi'en them off my hurdies,
  • For ae blink o' the bonie burdies!
  • But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
  • Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
  • Lowping and flinging on a crummock,
  • I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

  • But Tam ken'd what was what fu' brawlie,
  • There was ae winsome wench and waulie,
  • That night enlisted in the core,
  • Lang after ken'd on Carrick shore;
  • (For mony a beast to dead she shot,
  • And perish'd mony a bonie boat,
  • And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
  • And kept the country-side in fear.)
  • Her cutty-sark, o' Paisley harn
  • That while a lassie she had worn,
  • In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
  • It was her best, and she was vauntie.-
  • Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie,
  • That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
  • Wi' twa pund Scots, ('twas a' her riches),
  • Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!

  • But here my Muse her wing maun cour;
  • Sic flights are far beyond her power;
  • To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
  • (A souple jade she was, and strang),
  • And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch'd,
  • And thought his very een enrich'd;
  • Even Satan glowr'd, and fidg'd fu' fain,
  • And hotch'd and blew wi' might and main:
  • Till first ae caper, syne anither,
  • Tam tint his reason a' thegither,
  • And roars out, "Wee1 done, Cutty-sark!"
  • And in an instant all was dark:
  • And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
  • When out the hellish legion sallied.

  • As bees bizz out wi' angry fyke,
  • When plundering herds assail their byke;
  • As open pussie's mortal foes,
  • When, pop! she starts before their nose;
  • As eager runs the market-crowd,
  • When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud;
  • So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
  • Wi' mony an eldritch skriech and hollo.

  • Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou'11 get thy fairin'!
  • In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin'!
  • In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin'!
  • Kate soon will be a woefu' woman !
  • Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
  • And win the key-stane o' the brig;
  • There at them thou thy tail may toss,
  • A running stream they dare na cross.
  • But ere the key-stane she could make,
  • The fient a tail she had to shake!
  • For Nannie, far before the rest,
  • Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
  • And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;
  • But little wist she Maggie's mettle-
  • Ae spring brought off her master hale,
  • But left behind her ain gray tail:
  • The carlin claught her by the rump,
  • And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

  • Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read,
  • Ilk man and mother's son take heed:
  • Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
  • Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
  • Think! ye may buy the joys o'er dear-
  • Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.
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  • Notes

  • bear: barley
  • birks: birch-trees
  • blellum: babbler
  • blethering: gossiping
  • boddle: small coin
  • boggles: ghosts
  • bore: hole, opening
  • byke: hive
  • ca'd: hammered
  • cantraip: trick
  • carlin: old woman
  • chapman billies: packman fellows
  • clatter: chat
  • coft: bought
  • coost: cast
  • cour: cower
  • creeshie flannen: greasy flannel
  • cronie: pal
  • crummock: stick
  • cutty: diminutive
  • dirl: resound
  • drouthy: thirsty
  • duddies: clothes, rags
  • eldritch: unearthly
  • fand: found
  • fidg'd: itched randily
  • fyke: fuss
  • gars me greet: makes me weep
  • gate: way
  • gibbet-airns: gibbet-irons
  • harn: linen
  • howlets: owls
  • hurdies: hips
  • lades: loads
  • linket: danced
  • maun: must
  • melder: amount of grain for milling
  • nappy: strong ale
  • pussie: a hare
  • rape: rope
  • reaming swats: frothing drinks
  • reekit: steamed
  • rigwoodie: stringy
  • sark: shift
  • siller: silver, so money
  • skellum: good-for-nothing
  • skelpit: galloped
  • slap: gate, breach in a fence
  • smoor'd: smothered
  • Souter: Shoemaker
  • span: wean
  • swat: sweated
  • taen: taken
  • tippeny: ale
  • tyke: cur
  • usquabae: whisky
  • vauntie: proud
  • waulie: spirited
  • whins: gorse
  • winnock-bunker: window-seat