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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 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,

An’ getting fou and unco happy,

We think na on the lang Scots miles,

The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles,

That lie between us and our hame,

Whaur 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 thou but been sae wise,

As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!

She tauld thee weel 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 Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,

Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday.

She prophesied that, late or soon,

Thou would be found deep drowned in Doon;

Or catched 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 lengthened 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 an’ clatter,

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;

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,

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!

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

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:

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;

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),

Tam skelpit 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,

Lest bogles catch him unawares;

Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,

Whaur ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was ’cross the ford,

Whaur in the snaw the chapman smoored;

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,

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;

When, glimmering through the groaning trees,

Kirk-Alloway seemed in a bleeze;

Through ilka bore the beams were glancing;

And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn!

What dangers thou canst mak’ us scorn!

Wi’ tippenny we fear nae evil;

Wi’ usquabae we’ll face the devil!

The swats sae reamed in Tammie’s noddle,

Fair play, he cared na de’ils a boddle.

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;

Nae cotillion brent new frae France,

But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels

Put life and mettle in their heels.

At winnock-bunker in the east,

There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;—

A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large;

To gi’e them music was his charge:

He screwed the pipes and gart them skirl,

Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl!

Coffins stood round, like open presses,

That shawed the dead in their last dresses;

And by some devilish cantrip 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 unchristened bairns;

A thief new-cutted frae a rape,

Wi’ his last gasp his gab 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:

Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,

Which ev’n to name wad be unlawfu’.

As Tammie glow’red, amazed and curious,

The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:

The piper loud and louder blew;

The dancers quick and quicker flew;

They reeled, they set, they crossed, they cleekit,

Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,

And coost her duddies to the wark,

And linket at it in her sark!

Now Tam, O Tam! had they been queans

A’ plump and strapping, in their teens;

Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,

Been snaw-white seventeen-hunder linen;

Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,

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 hags wad spean a foal,

Lowping and flinging on a crummock,

I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

But Tam kenned what was what fu’ brawlie:

“There was ae winsome wench and walie,”

That night inlisted in the core

(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,

And kept the country-side in fear),

Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,

That while a lassie she had worn,

In longitude though sorely scanty,

It was her best, and she was vauntie.

Ah! little kenned thy reverend grannie,

That sark she coft 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:

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,

And hotched and blew wi’ might and main:

Till first ae caper, syne anither,

Tam tints his reason a’thegither,

And roars out, “Weel 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 hords 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 screech and hollow.

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,

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!

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 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:

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.