Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Tam o’ Shanter

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.


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 thinkna on the lang Scots miles,

The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles,

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 bonnie 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,

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, even 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 i’ 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 vera 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’ 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 didna 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 blessed, 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 keystone,

That dreary hour he mounts his beast on;

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 Deil 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 glowering 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 ford,

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 murdered 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 thro’ 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’ usquebae, 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 cotillon 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 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 shawed the dead in their last dresses;

And by some devilish cantrip sleight,

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 fra a rape,

Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;

Five tomahawks, wi’ bluid red rusted;

Five seymitars, 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;

Three lawyers’ tongues turned inside out,

Wi’ lies seamed like a beggar’s clout;

And priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck,

Lay stinking, vile, in every neuk:

Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,

Which ev’n to name wad be unlawfu’.

As Tammie glowered, 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 cleckit,

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 aff my hurdies,

For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!

But withered beldams, auld and droll,

Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,

Lowping an’ flinging on a crummock—

I wonder did na 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 monie a beast to dead she shot,

And perished monie 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 tho’ 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 o’ witches!

But here my Muse her wing maun cow’r,

Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r;

To sing how Nannie lap and flang,

(A souple jad she was and strang!)

And how Tam stood, like ane bewitched,

And thought his very een enriched.

Ev’n Satan glowered, and fidged fu’ fain,

And hotch’d 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 a’ 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’ monie an eldritch skreech and hollow.

Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou ’lt 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 aff 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 inclined,

Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,

Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,

Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.