Tam o’Shanter

This is the section of the poem that we have chosen to narrate. It is going to be a very simple version as we feel this would lead to better execution.

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 swallow’d 
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow’d: 
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 thro’ dub and mire;
Despisin’ wind and rain and fire. 
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet; 
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet; 
Whiles glowring 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 smoor’d; 
And past the birks and meikle stane, 
Whare drunken Chairlie brak ‘s neck-bane; 
And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn, 
Whare hunters fand the murder’d bairn; 
And near the thorn, aboon the well, 
Whare Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel’.– 
Before him Doon pours all his floods; 
The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods; 
The lightnings flash from pole to pole; 
Near and more near the thunders roll: 
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees, 
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze; 
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing; 
And loud resounded mirth and dancing. 

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! 
What dangers thou canst make us scorn! 
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil; 
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!– 
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle, 
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle. 
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 

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. 
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 scre’d 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 develish cantraip slight, 
Each in its cauld hand held a light.– 
By which heroic Tam was able 
To note upon the haly table, 
A murders’s banes in gibbet-airns; 
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns; 
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape, 
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape; 
Five tomahawks, wi blude red-rusted; 
Five scymitars, 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 even to name was be unlawfu’. 
Three lawyers’ tongues, turn’d inside out, 
Wi’ lies seam’d like a beggar’s clout; 
Three priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck, 
Lay stinking, vile in every neuk. 

As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious, 
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious; 
The piper loud and louder blew; 
The dancers quick and quicker flew; 
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, 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 thae been queans, 
A’ plump and strapping in their teens, 
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen, 
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linnen! 
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair, 
That ance were plush, o’ gude blue hair, 
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies, 
For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies! 

But wither’d beldams, auld and droll, 
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Louping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder did na turn thy stomach!

But Tam kend what was what fu’ brawlie:
There was ae winsome wench and waulie, 
That night enlisted in the core, 
Lang after ken’d on Carrick shore; 
(For mony a beast to dead she shot, 
And perish’d mony a bonie 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 ken’d thy reverend grannie, 
That sark she coft for he wee Nannie, 
Wi’ twa pund Scots, (’twas a’ her riches), 
Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches! 

But here my Muse her wing maun cour; 
Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r; 
To sing how Nannie lap and flang, 
(A souple jade she was, and strang), 
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d, 
And thought his very een enrich’d; 
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain, 
And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main; 
Till first ae caper, syne anither, 
Tam tint his reason ‘ 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.”

The full poem can be found at:


About Emma Nicol

Artist / Communicator. Third year Illustration student @ Bristol U.W.E. Passionate about making environmental issues widely understood using art.

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