Tam O 'Shanter

Original Text: 
Edinburgh Magazine (March 1791).
3As market-days are wearing late,
6And gettin fou and unco happy,
7We think na on the lang Scots miles,
9That lie between us and our hame,
10Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame,
11Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
12Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
13      This truth fand honest Tam o' Shanter,
14As he frae Ayr ae night did canter:
15(Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses,
16For honest men and bonie lasses.)
17      O Tam! had'st thou but been sae wise
18As taen thy ain wife Kate's advice!
21That frae November till October,
22Ae market-day thou was na sober;
24Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
26The smith and thee gat roarin fou on;
27That at the Lord's house, ev'n on Sunday,
28Thou drank wi' Kirkton Jean till Monday.
29She prophesied, that, late or soon,
30Thou would be found deep drown'd in Doon;
32By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.
34To think how mony counsels sweet,
35How mony lengthen'd sage advices,
36The husband frae the wife despises!
37      But to our tale:--Ae market night,
42His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
43Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither;
44They had been fou for weeks thegither.
45The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter;
46And ay the ale was growing better:
47The landlady and Tam grew gracious
48Wi' secret favours, sweet, and precious:
49The souter tauld his queerest stories;
50The landlord's laugh was ready chorus:
52Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.
53      Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
55As bees flee hame wi' lades o' treasure,
56The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure;
57Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
58O'er a' the ills o' life victorious!
59      But pleasures are like poppies spread,
60You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
61Or like the snow falls in the river,
62A moment white--then melts forever;
63Or like the borealis race,
64That flit ere you can point their place;
65Or like the rainbow's lovely form
66Evanishing amid the storm.
67Nae man can tether time or tide:
69That hour, o' night's black arch the key-stane
70That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
71And sic a night he taks the road in,
72As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.
73      The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
74The rattling show'rs rose on the blast;
75The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
76Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow'd:
77That night, a child might understand,
78The Deil had business on his hand.
79      Weel mounted on his grey mare, Meg,--
80A better never lifted leg,--
82Despising wind and rain and fire;
83Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet,
84Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet,
87Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
89      By this time he was cross the ford,
92Whare drucken Charlie brak's neckbane:
94Whare hunters fand the murder'd bairn;
96Whare Mungo's mither hang'd hersel.
97Before him Doon pours all his floods;
98The doubling storm roars thro' the woods;
99The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
100Near and more near the thunders roll;
101When, glimmering thro' the groaning trees,
102Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze:
104And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
105      Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
106What dangers thou can'st make us scorn!
109The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
111But Maggie stood right sair astonish'd,
112Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd,
113She ventur'd forward on the light;
114And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
115      Warlocks and witches in a dance;
117But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels
118Put life and mettle in their heels.
120There sat Auld Nick in shape o' beast:
122To gie them music was his charge;
125Coffins stood round like open presses,
126That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
128Each in its cauld hand held a light,
129By which heroic Tam was able
130To note upon the haly table
132Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns;
135Five tomahawks, wi' blude red-rusted;
136Five scimitars, wi' murder crusted;
137A garter, which a babe had strangled;
138A knife, a father's throat had mangled,
139Whom his ain son o' life bereft--
140The grey hairs yet stack to the heft;
141Wi' mair o' horrible and awfu',
142Which ev'n to name wad be unlawfu'.
143      As Tammie glowr'd, amaz'd and curious,
144The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
145The piper loud and louder blew,
146The dancers quick and quicker flew;
152A' plump and strapping in their teens!
156That ance were plush, o' gude blue hair,
159      But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
162I wonder didna turn thy stomach.
163      But Tam ken'd what was what fu' brawlie;
165That night enlisted in the core
167For mony a beast to dead she shot,
168And perish'd mony a bonie boat,
170And kept the country-side in fear);
172That while a lassie she had worn,
173In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
175Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie,
177Wi' twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches),
178Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!
179      But here my Muse her wing maun cow'r,
180Sic flights are far beyond her pow'r;
181To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
182(A souple jad she was and strang),
183And how Tam stood like ane bewitch'd,
184And thought his very een enrich'd;
187Till first ae caper, syne anither,
189And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!"
190And in an instant all was dark:
191And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
192When out the hellish legion sallied.
196When, pop! she starts before their nose;
197As eager runs the market-crowd,
198When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud;
199So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
202In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin!
203In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
204Kate soon will be a woefu' woman!
205Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
206And win the key-stane of the brig:
207There at them thou thy tail may toss,
208A running stream they dare na cross.
209But ere the key-stane she could make,
211For Nannie far before the rest,
212Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
214But little wist she Maggie's mettle--
216But left behind her ain grey tail:
218And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
219      Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read,
220Ilk man and mother's son, take heed,
221Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
222Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
223Think, ye may buy the joys o'er dear,
224Remember Tam o' Shanter's mear.


1] This poem is based on a story current in Burns's neighbourhood with regard to the deserted and ruinous Alloway Kirk, which stood on the banks of the Doon about three-quarters of a mile from his birthplace. It was written at the request of Captain Grose, the antiquarian, in whose Antiquities (1791) it appeared along with a drawing of the Church.
Shanter was the name of a farm in the neighbourhood; the farmer afforded a suggestion for the hero of the poem.
chapman: a pedlar.
billies: fellows. Back to Line
2] drouthy: afflicted with drouth. Back to Line
4] gate: road. Back to Line
5] bousing: boozing.
nappy: ale. Back to Line
8] slaps: passages through the hedges. Back to Line
19] skellum: good-for-nothing. Back to Line
20] bletherin: talkative.
blellum: babbler. Back to Line
23] melder: an instalment of grain sent to the mill. Back to Line
25] ca'd: driven. Back to Line
31] mirk: dark. Back to Line
33] gars me greet: makes me weep. Back to Line
38] unco: uncommonly. Back to Line
39] ingle, bleezin: fire-place, blazing. Back to Line
40] reaming swats: foaming ale. Back to Line
41] Souter: cobbler. Back to Line
51] rair: roar. Back to Line
54] nappy: ale. Back to Line
68] maun: must. Back to Line
81] skelpit an: clattered along.
dub: puddle. Back to Line
85] glowrin: staring. Back to Line
86] bogles: spirits. Back to Line
88] houlets: owls. Back to Line
90] smoor'd: smothered. Back to Line
91] birks: birches.
meikle: big. Back to Line
93] whins: furze. Back to Line
95] aboon: above. Back to Line
103] bore: hole. Back to Line
107] tippeny: a weak ale at twopence a pint. Back to Line
108] usquebae: whiskey. Back to Line
110] boddle: farthing. Back to Line
116] brent-new: brand-new. Back to Line
119] winnock bunker: window-seat. Back to Line
121] towzie tyke: shaggy dog. Back to Line
123] gar them skirl: made them shriek. Back to Line
124] dirl: resound. Back to Line
127] cantraip: magic. Back to Line
131] airns: irons. Back to Line
133] Cut down from the rope; he had been hanged. Back to Line
134] gab: mouth. Back to Line
147] set: faced their partners.
cleekit: hooked together. Back to Line
148] Till every woman sweat and steamed. Back to Line
149] duddies: clothes. Back to Line
150] linket: tripped.
sark: shirt. Back to Line
151] queans: wenches. Back to Line
153] creeshie: greasy. Back to Line
154] Very fine linen; linen with 1700 threads to a width. Back to Line
155] Thir breeks: these breeches. Back to Line
157] hurdies: buttocks. Back to Line
158] burdies: Girls. Back to Line
160] rigwoodie: perhaps means "lean."
spean: wean. Back to Line
161] Lowping: leaping.
crummock: staff with a curved handle. Back to Line
164] walie: choice. Back to Line
166] Carrick shore. Carrick is the southern district of Ayrshire. Back to Line
169] bear: barley. Back to Line
171] cutty: short.
harn: coarse linen. Back to Line
174] vauntie: vaunting, proud. Back to Line
176] coft: bought. Back to Line
185] fidg'd fu' fain: fidgeted with eagerness. Back to Line
186] hotch'd: jerked (refers to the movement of the arm in playing the bagpipes). Back to Line
188] tint: lost. Back to Line
193] fyke: fuss, agitation. Back to Line
194] byke: nest of bees. Back to Line
195] open: give tongue.
pussie's: hare's. Back to Line
200] eldritch: unearthly. Back to Line
201] fairin: reward, literally, a gift at a fair. Back to Line
210] The fient a tale: the devil a tale. Back to Line
213] ettle: endeavour. Back to Line
215] hale: whole. Back to Line
217] claught: clutched. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.313.