Monday, 30 January 2012

Burns Night

When Chris turned 40 I bought him a book of Burns poetry dating from 1878. Its in amazing condition considering its age and it claims to contain everything he ever wrote...letters, poems, songs, epistles, epigrams and epitaphs. We were invited to our friends house to celebrate Burns Night, we took it with us and he read the address to a haggis before we had our meal. It reminded me just how much I love Robert Burns poetry! The language used and the imagery conjured up really is something to behold so yesterday I sat down and re-read one of my favourite poems and I've decided to share it with is quite long but well worth a read! (Don't worry, I've included translations).

Tam O'Shanter:

When chapman billies (Fellows) leave the street,
And drouthy (thirsty) neibors neibors meet,
As market days are wearin' late,
And folk begin to tak the gate (road);
While we sit bousing at the nappy (Ale),
And gettin' fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles (Breaches in hedges or walls),
That lie between us and our hame,
Where 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 bonny lasses.)

O Tam! hadst thon but been sae wise
As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice!
She tauld thee weel thou wast a skellum (A worthless fellow),
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum (A talker of nonsense, a drunken fool);
That frae November till October,
Ae market dat thou wasne sober;
That ilka melder (any quantity of corn sent to the mill is called a melder), wi' the miller
Thou sat as land as thou hadst siller (money);
That every naig (Horse) was ca'd a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on,
That at the Lord's house, even on Sunday,
Thou drank wi' Kirkton (the village in which a parish church is situated is known as a kirk-town) Jean till Monday (Jean Kennedy ran a reputable pub in the villiage of kirkoswald).
She prophesised that, late or soon,
Thou wouldst be found deep drown'd in Doon!
Or catch'd wi warlocks i' the mirk (Dark),
By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.

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

But to our tale: - Ae market night,
Tam had got planted unco (Unusually) right,
Fast by an ingle (fire), bleezing finely,
Wi' reaming swats (foaming ale), that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy (thirsty) crony;
Tam lo'ed him live a vera brither-
They had been fou for weeks thegither!
The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter.
And aye 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 (roar) and rustle-
Tam didna 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 (loads) o'treasure,
The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure:
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
O'er a' the ills of life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed!
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 thier place;
Or like the rainbow's lovely form,
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether (tie up) time or tide;
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o'night's back arch the keystane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic (such) a night he take 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 (devil) had business on his hand.

Well mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit (rode with careless speed) on through dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning (humming) o'er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glowering (Staring) round wi' prudent cares,
Lest bogles (Spirits) catch him unawares:
Kirk - Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets (Ghosts and owls) nightly cry.

By this time he was 'cross the foord,
Whare in the snaw the chapman smoor'd (Pedlar was smothered),
And past the birks that meikle stane
Whare drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane:
And through the whins, and by the cairn (Stone heap)
Whare hunters fand the murder'd bairn (child);
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo's mither hand's hersel.
Before him Doon pours a' his floods;
The doubling storm roars through the woods
The lightening flash frae pole to pole;
Near and more near the thuders roll;
When, glimmering through the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze (lit up);
Through ilka bore (Crevice) the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst mak us scorn!
Wi' tippenny (Two penny), we fear nae evil;
Wi usquebae (Whisky), we'll face the devil! -
The swats sae ream's in Tammie's noodle (the ale so wrought in Tam's head),
Fair play, he cared na deils a boddle (A small coin).
But Maggie stood right saie 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 cotillon brent-new (Brand new) frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strethspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle i' their heals:
At winnock-bunker (window seat), i' the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
A towzie tyke (A rough dog), black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge;
He screw'd the pipes, and gart (made) them skirl (scream),
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl (vibrate).
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantrip (spell) slight
each in its cauld hand held a light,-
B which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer's banes in gibbet airns (Irons);
Twa span-lang, wee (small), unchristen'd bairns;
A thief, new-cutted fre a rape,
Wi his last gasp his gab (mouth) did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi' bluid red-rusted;
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 (handle):
Wi' mair o'horrible and awfu',
Which even to name wad be unlawfu'.

As Tammie glower'd (Stared), amazed 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 (till each old bedlam smoked with sweat),
And coost (stript) her duddies (clothes) to the wark,
And linket (tripped0 at it in her sark (shirt).

Now Tam! O Tam! had thae been queans (young girls),
A' plump and strappin' in their teens,
Thier sarks, instead o' creeshie flannen (Greasy flannel),
Been snaw-white seventeen-hunder linen (the manufacturers' term for fine linen)!
Thir breeks (these breeches) o'mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o'guid blue hair,
I wad hae gien them aff my hurdies (Hams),
For ae blink (look) o' the bonny burdies (Lasses)!

But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie (Gallows-worthy) hags, wad spean (Wean) a foal,
Lowpin' and flingin' on a cummock (jumping and capering on a staff),
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

But Tam kenn'd (knew) what was what fu' brawlie (full well)
"There was ae winsome wench and walie (A hearty girl and jolly),"
That night enlised in the core,
(Land after kenn'd on Carrick shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish'd mony a bonny boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear.)
Her cutty sark (short shirt), o' Paisley harn,
That, while a lassie (girl), she had worn,
In longitude though sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie (Proud of it).

Ah! little kenn'd they reverent grannie,
That sark she coft (bought) for her wee Nannie,
Wi twa pund Scots, ('twas a' her riches,)
Wad ever graced a dance o' witches!

But here my Muse her wing maun cour (Lower),
Sic flights are far beyond her power;
To sing how Nannie lap and flang (Jumped and kicked),
(A souple jade (girl) she was, and strang (strong),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch's,
And thought his very een (eyes) enrich'd;
Even Satan glower'd, and fidged fu' fain,
And hotch's (hitched) and blew wi' might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne (then) anither,
Tam tint (lost) his reason a' thegither,
And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!"
And in an instant a' was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees bizz out wi' angry fyke (Fuss),
When plundering heards assail their byke (Hive),
As open pussie's mortal foes,
When, pop! she started before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud;
So Maggies runs, the witches follow,
Wi' mony an eldritch (unearthly) screech and hollow.

Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou'lt get thy fairin' (deserts)!
In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin'!
In vian thy Kate awaits thy comin'!
Kate soon will be a woefu' woman!
Now, do they speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the keystane (Witches, or any evil spirit, have no power to follow a person any further than the middle of the next running stream) of the brig (bridge);
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they darena cross;
But ere the keystane she could make,
The fient (ne'er) a tal she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard unon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle (design);
But little wist (knew) she Maggies mettle-
Ae spring brough of her master hale,
Bit left behind her ain gray tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor maggie scarce a stump.

Now, what this tale o'truth shall read,
Ilk (each) man and mother's son, take head:
Whane'er to drink you are inclined,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think! ye may buy the joys owre dear-
Remember Tam o'Shanters mare.

(The bridge is still there and you can cross it!)


  1. Very cool!

    Good old Burns! But ew to haggis although I know you can get a veggie one these days.

  2. LadyFi - I just love that poem!! His wife at home gathering her eyebrows like a gathering can just see it can't you!

    Ah yes, the be honest...a few days ago I would have been totally with you on the ew...but we had it stuffed in chicken breasts and then wrapped in bacon and I have to was absolutely stunning! The first time ever that I have liked haggis!

    C x

  3. No drinking!! EVER.
    No problem...LOL

    And that's a good piece of information to have about just how far witches and evil spirits can give chase!

    <-- making a mental note!!

  4. Mel - LOL...I kinda like the fact that it says 'Listen to you wife...she's not as daft as you think'

    Yup, great piece of info re how far witches can give chase. Always run to the middle of the nearest bridge :-)

    C x

  5. It's the rhythm that always gets me with old poetry. It's fluid and beautiful. That's so neat about the bridge, Carol!

  6. Talon - I love poetry but always forget just how much. It's not something I usually seek out but I really should.

    If you have never read 'The Wild Party' by Joseph Moncure March then I can highly recommend it. It was written in the 30's and is a wonderful little tale...Art Spiegelman has now illustrated a new version of it and its wonderful!!

    C x


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