Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Tam o’ Shanter. A Tale
By Robert Burns (1759–1796)
 
 Of Brownyis and of Bogilis full is this Buke.
Gawin Douglas.    

WHEN chapman billies 1 leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
An’ folk begin to tak the gate; 2
While we sit bousing at the nappy, 3        5
An’ getting fou and unco happy,
We thinkna on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, 4 and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,        10
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, whom ne’er a town surpasses        15
For honest men and bonie lasses).
  O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou wast a skellum, 5
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum; 6        20
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober;
That ilka melder, 7 wi’ the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on,        25
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton 8 Jean till Monday.
She prophesied that, late or soon,
Thou wad be found deep drowned in Doon;        30
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks 9 in the mirk, 10
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.
  Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet, 11
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen’d, sage advices,        35
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, 12 that drank divinely;        40
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs and clatter;        45
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
Wi’ favours, secret, sweet, and precious:
The souter 13 tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:        50
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 drowned himself amang the nappy!
As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,        55
The minutes winged 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 flow’r, its bloom is shed;        60
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        65
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;        70
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 show’rs rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;        75
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand.
  Weel mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,        80
Tam skelpit 14 on thro’ dub 15 and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glow’ring round wi’ prudent cares,        85
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets 16 nightly cry.
  By this time he was cross the ford,
Where in the snaw the chapman smoored; 17        90
And past the birks 18 and meikle 19 stane,
Where drunken Charlie brak ’s neck-bane:
And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
Where hunters fand the murdered bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,        95
Whare Mungo’s mither hanged 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:        100
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk Alloway seemed in a bleeze;
Thro’ ilka bore 20 the beams were glancing;
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
  Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!        105
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippenny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquebae, we ’ll face the Devil!
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle. 21        110
But Maggie stood right sair astonished,
Till, by the heel and hand admonished,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance;        115
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
At winnock-bunker 22 in the east,
There sat old Nick, in shape o’ beast;        120
A towzie 23 tyke, 24 black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart 25 them skirl, 26
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.— 27
Coffins stood round, like open presses,        125
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantrip 28 slight
Each in its cauld hand held a light,—
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,        130
A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns; 29
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;        135
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 grey hairs yet stack to the heft;        140
Wi’ mair of horrible and awfu’,
Which ev’n to name wad be unlawfu’.
  As Tammie glowr’d, amazed and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
The piper loud and louder blew;        145
The dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reeled, they set, they crossed, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies 30 to the wark,
And linket 31 at it in her sark!        150
  Now Tam, O Tam, had thae been queans
A’ plump and strapping in their teens;
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie 32 flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen-hunder linnen! 33
Thir 34 breeks o’ mine, my only pair,        155
That ance were plush, o’ gude blue hair,
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies, 35
For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!
  But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags, wad spean 36 a foal,        160
Lowping and flinging on a crummock, 37
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.
  But Tam kend what was what fu’ brawlie,
There was ae winsome wench and walie,
That night enlisted in the core,        165
(Lang after kend on Carrick shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perished mony a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear, 38
And kept the country-side in fear,)        170
Her cutty 39 sark, o’ Paisley harn, 40
That, while a lassie, she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.—
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie,        175
That sark she coft 41 for her wee Nannie,
Wi’ twa pund Scots, (’twas a’ her riches,)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches!
  But here my muse her wing maun cour;
Sic flights are far beyond her power;        180
To sing how Nannie lap and flang
(A souple jade she was, and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitched,
And thought his very een enriched;
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,        185
And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne 42 anither,
Tam tint 43 his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out, ‘Weel done, Cutty-sark!’
And in an instant all was dark;        190
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
  As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke, 44
When plundering herds assail their byke; 45
As open pussie’s mortal foes,        195
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’ monie an eldritch skreech and hollow.        200
  Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou ’ll 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,        205
And win the key-stane 46 of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they darena cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient 47 a tail she had to shake!        210
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle; 48
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle—
Ae spring brought off her master hale,        215
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, tak heed;        220
Whene’er to drink you are inclined,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.
 
Note 1. pedlar fellows. [back]
Note 2. road. [back]
Note 3. ale. [back]
Note 4. gaps in fences. [back]
Note 5. knave. [back]
Note 6. idle talker. [back]
Note 7. every time he went to get grain ground. [back]
Note 8. Kirkton is the distinctive name of a village in which the parish kirk stands. [back]
Note 9. wizards. [back]
Note 10. dark. [back]
Note 11. makes me weep. [back]
Note 12. frothing ale. [back]
Note 13. shoemaker. [back]
Note 14. hurried. [back]
Note 15. puddle. [back]
Note 16. owls. [back]
Note 17. was smothered. [back]
Note 18. birches. [back]
Note 19. big. [back]
Note 20. hole in the wall. [back]
Note 21. doit. [back]
Note 22. window-seat. [back]
Note 23. shaggy. [back]
Note 24. dog. [back]
Note 25. forced. [back]
Note 26. scream. [back]
Note 27. thrill. [back]
Note 28. magic. [back]
Note 29. irons. [back]
Note 30. clothes. [back]
Note 31. linked. [back]
Note 32. greasy. [back]
Note 33. The manufacturing term for a fine linen, woven in a reed of 1700 divisions.—Cromek. [back]
Note 34. these. [back]
Note 35. loins. [back]
Note 36. wean. [back]
Note 37. short staff. [back]
Note 38. barley. [back]
Note 39. short. [back]
Note 40. Very coarse linen. [back]
Note 41. ought. [back]
Note 42. then. [back]
Note 43. lost. [back]
Note 44. bustle. [back]
Note 45. hive. [back]
Note 46. It is a well-known fact, that witches, or any evil spirits, have no power to follow a poor wight any farther than the middle of the next running stream. It may be proper likewise to mention to the benighted traveller, that when he falls in with bogles, whatever danger may be in his going forward, there is much more hazard in turning back.—R. B. [back]
Note 47. deuce (fiend). [back]
Note 48. aim. [back]
 
 
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