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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Robert Burns (1759–1796)

Tam O’Shanter

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’ gettin’ fou and unco 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 bonny lasses).

Oh, 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 roarin’ ’fou on;

That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,

Thou drank wi’ Kirton 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 mony 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 very 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 didna mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man sae happy,

E’en drowned himsel’ 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 snow falls in the river,

A moment white, then melts forever;

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 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,

Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was ’cross the foord,

Whare in the snaw the chapman smoored;

And past the birks and meikle stane,

Whare drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;

And through the whins, and by the cairn,

Whare hunters fand the murder’d bairn;

And near the thorn, aboon the well,

Whare 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 make 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 deils 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 metal in their heels.

A winnock-bunker in the east,

There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;

A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,

To gie 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 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, 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 e’en to name wad be unlawfu’.

As Tammie glower’d, 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 cross’d, they cleekit,

Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,

And coost her duddies to the wark,

And linkit at it in her sark!

Now, Tam, oh, 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 ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!

But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,

Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,

Louping an’ flinging on a crummock,

I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

But Tam kenn’d what was what fu’ brawlie.

There was ae winsome wench and waulie,

That night enlisted in the core

(Lang 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, 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 supple jade she was and strang),

And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,

And thought his very e’en enrich’d,

Even Satan glower’d, and fidged fu’ fain,

And hotched and blew wi’ might and main,

Till first ae caper, syne anither,

Tam tint 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 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 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 wofu’ 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 darena 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.