Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Tam o’ Shanter
By Robert Burns (1759–1796)
WHEN chapman billies 1 leave the street,
And drouthy 2 neebors neebors meet,
As market days are wearing late,
An’ folk begin to tak’ the gate; 3
While we sit bousing at the nappy, 4        5
An’ getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, 5 and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Whaur 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, wham ne’er a town surpasses,        15
For honest men and bonny lasses).
O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum, 6
A blethering, 7 blustering, drunken blellum; 8        20
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober;
That ilka melder, 9 wi’ the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That every naig was ca’d a shoe on, 10        25
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean 11 till Monday.
She prophesied that, late or soon,
Thou would be found deep drowned in Doon;        30
Or catched wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.
Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet, 12
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How many lengthened 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, 13 bleezing finely,
Wi’ reaming swats, 14 that drank divinely;        40
And at his elbow, Souter 15 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 an’ clatter,        45
And aye the ale was growing better;
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
Wi’ favors, secret, sweet, and precious;
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus;        50
The storm without might rair 16 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 flower, its bloom is shed!        60
Or like the snowfall 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 keystane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in:        70
And sic a night he tak’s the road in,
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.
The wind blew as ’twad blawn its last;
The rattlin’ showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed;        75
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellowed:
That night, a child might understand,
The de’il had business on his hand.
Weel mounted on his gray mare Meg
(A better never lifted leg),        80
Tam skelpit 17 on through dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow’ring round wi’ prudent cares,        85
Lest bogles 18 catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whaur ghaists and houlets 19 nightly cry.
By this time he was ’cross the ford,
Whaur in the snaw the chapman smoored; 20        90
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Whaur drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;
And through the whins, and by the cairn,
Whaur hunters fand the murdered bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,        95
Whaur Mungo’s mither hanged hersel’.
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars through the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
Near and more near the thunders roll;        100
When, glimmering through the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seemed in a bleeze;
Through ilka bore 21 the beams were glancing;
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn!        105
What dangers thou canst mak’ us scorn!
Wi’ tippenny 22 we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae 23 we’ll face the devil!
The swats 24 sae reamed 25 in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he cared na de’ils a boddle. 26        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 27 in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;—        120
A towzie tyke, 28 black, grim, and large;
To gi’e them music was his charge:
He screwed the pipes and gart them skirl, 29
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl! 30
Coffins stood round, like open presses,        125
That shawed the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantrip 31 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; 32
Twa span-lang, wee unchristened bairns;
A thief new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab 33 did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ bluid red-rusted;        135
Five scimitars 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:        140
Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,
Which ev’n to name wad be unlawfu’.
As Tammie glow’red, 34 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, 35
Till ilka carlin 36 swat and reekit, 37
And coost 38 her duddies 39 to the wark,
And linket 40 at it in her sark! 41        150
Now Tam, O Tam! had they been queans
A’ plump and strapping, in their teens;
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen, 42
Been snaw-white seventeen-hunder linen; 43
Thir breeks 44 o’ mine, my only pair,        155
That ance were plush, o’ guid blue hair,
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies,
For ane blink o’ the bonnie burdies!
But withered beldams old and droll,
Rigwoodie 45 hags wad spean 46 a foal,        160
Lowping and flinging on a crummock, 47
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.
But Tam kenned what was what fu’ brawlie:
“There was ae winsome wench and walie,” 48
That night inlisted in the core        165
(Lang after kenned on Carrick shore!
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perished mony a bonnie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear, 49
And kept the country-side in fear),        170
Her cutty sark, 50 o’ Paisley harn, 51
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude though sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie. 52
Ah! little kenned thy reverend grannie,        175
That sark she coft 53 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; 54
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 glow’red and fidged fu’ fain,        185
And hotched and blew wi’ might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tints 55 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, 56
When plundering hords assail their byke; 57
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’ mony an eldritch 58 screech 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 keystane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,—
A running stream they dare na cross.
But ere the keystane she could make,
The fient 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;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle—
Ae spring brought off her master hale,        215
But left behind her ain grey 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:        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. Fellows. [back]
Note 2. Thirsty. [back]
Note 3. Road. [back]
Note 4. Ale. [back]
Note 5. Gates or openings through a hedge. [back]
Note 6. Good-for-nothing fellow. [back]
Note 7. Nonsensical. [back]
Note 8. Chattering fellow. [back]
Note 9. Grain sent to the mill to be ground; i.e., that every time he carried the corn to the mill he sat to drink with the miller. [back]
Note 10. Nag that required shoeing. [back]
Note 11. Jean Kennedy, a public-house keeper at Kirkoswald. [back]
Note 12. Makes me weep. [back]
Note 13. Fire. [back]
Note 14. Foaming ale. [back]
Note 15. Shoemaker. [back]
Note 16. Roar. [back]
Note 17. Rode carelessly. [back]
Note 18. Ghosts, bogies. [back]
Note 19. Owls. [back]
Note 20. Was smothered. [back]
Note 21. Crevice, or hole. [back]
Note 22. Twopenny ale. [back]
Note 23. Whisky. [back]
Note 24. Drink. [back]
Note 25. Frothed, mounted. [back]
Note 26. A small old coin. [back]
Note 27. Window-seat. [back]
Note 28. Shaggy dog. [back]
Note 29. Made them scream. [back]
Note 30. Shake. [back]
Note 31. Spell. [back]
Note 32. Irons. [back]
Note 33. Mouth. [back]
Note 34. Stared. [back]
Note 35. Caught hold of each other. [back]
Note 36. Old hag. [back]
Note 37. Reeked with heat. [back]
Note 38. Cast off. [back]
Note 39. Clothes. [back]
Note 40. Tripped. [back]
Note 41. Chemise. [back]
Note 42. Greasy flannel. [back]
Note 43. Manufacturers’ term for linen woven in a reed of 1700 divisions. [back]
Note 44. Breeches. [back]
Note 45. Gallows-worthy. [back]
Note 46. Wean. [back]
Note 47. A crutch—a stick with a crook. [back]
Note 48. Quoted from Allan Ramsay. [back]
Note 49. Barley. [back]
Note 50. Short shift or shirt. [back]
Note 51. Very coarse linen. [back]
Note 52. Proud. [back]
Note 53. Bought. [back]
Note 54. Cower—sink. [back]
Note 55. Loses. [back]
Note 56. Fuss. [back]
Note 57. Hive. [back]
Note 58. Unearthly. [back]

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