Robert Burns: Tam O’ Shanter (Part 2)

Tam O' Shanter, Robert Burns
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:

When we last saw Tam O’ Shanter in Part 1, he was getting drunk with his friends, as shown in the picture above. 

A storm was brewing outside but Tam “didna mind the storm a whistle”. He was too busy laughing and drinking with his friends.

He left his wife at home. She was “gathering her brows like gathering storm” and “nursing her wrath to keep it warm”. In short, there was a storm brewing for Tam at home and abroad.

I wonder how Tam will get on, on his journey home. We join him after he has mounted his horse, and set off into the night.

Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg,

Well mounted on his gray horse Meg.

A better never lifted leg

Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,

Tom dashed on through puddles and mud.

Despising wind, and rain, and fire;

Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;

While holding onto his good blue bonnet

Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet…

While crooning over some old Scots sonnet

Whiles glow’ring round wi’ prudent cares,

Lest bogles catch him unawares:

Lest gouls catch him unawares

Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,

Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.-

Where ghosts and owls nightly cry


By this time he was cross the ford,

Whare, in the snaw, the chapman smoor’d;

Where, in the snow, the salesman was smothered

And past the birks and meikle stane,

And past the trees and big stone,

Whare drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;

Where drunken Charlie broke his neck

And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,

And through the gorse, and by the cairn (a cairn is a mound of stones erected as a monument or marker)

Where hunters fand the murder’d bairn;

Where hunters found the murdered child.

And near the thorn, aboon the well,

And near the structure, above the well,

Whare Mungo’s mither hang’d herself. –

Where Mungo’s mother hanged herself

…When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,

Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze;

Church-Alloway seemed in a blaze

Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing;

Through every gap, the beams were glancing

And loud resounding mirth and dancing. –

…The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,

The beers foamed in Tammie’s head

Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle.

Fair enough, he didn’t care a farthing about devils

But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d,

Till by the heel and hand admonish’d,

She ventured forward on the light;

And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!

And, vow! Tam saw an wonderous sight!

Warlocks and witches in a dance;

Nae cotillion brent new frae France,

Not cotillion brand new from France

But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels,

These are Scottish dances.

Put life and mettle in their heels

A winnock-bunker in the east,

A window-seat in the east,

There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;

A towzie tyke, black grim and large,

A shaggy dog, black grim and large,

To gie them music was his charge:

He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,

He screwed the pipes and made them shriek

Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. –

Till roof and rafters all did rattle. –

Coffins stood round, like open presses,

That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;

And by some devlish cantraip slight

And by some devilish weird trick

Each in its cauld hand held a light.-

Each (dead person) in its cold hand held a light

By which heroic Tam was able

To note upon the haly table

To note upon the holy table

…A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,

A thief, new cutted from a rope,

Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;

With his last gasp his mouth did gape;

Five tomahawks, wi blude red-rusted;

Five scymitars, wi’ murder crusted;

A garter, which had a babe had strangled;

A knife a father’s throat had mangled…

Witches and warlocks in a dance, Tam O' Shanter, Robert Burns

How will Tam cope with this incredible sight? Will he join in the dancing? Will he run away? Does he know how much danger he is in?

Part 3 of Tam O’ Shanter, the final installment, will be posted tomorrow.

Here’s a link to the previous installment – Robert Burns: Tam O’ Shanter (Part 1)



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