'Tam O'Shanter' by Robert Burns

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A Tale"Of Brownyis and of Bogilis full is this Buke."-Gawin Douglas.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 think na 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 bonie lasses).O 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 ev'ry 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' Kirkton 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 vera brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi' sangs an' clatter;
And aye 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 did na 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 blest, but Tam was glorious,
O'er a' the ills o' life victorious!But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
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 tak's 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 grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;
Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glow'rin 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 thro' 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 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 seemed in a bleeze;
Thro' ilka bore the beams were glancing;
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst mak' 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 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 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 cantraip 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 frae a rape,
Wi' his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi' blude 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 grey hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi' mair of horrible and awfu',
Which even 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 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 they been queans,
A' plump and strapping in their teens;
Their sarks, instead o' creeshie flainen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!-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 withered beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Lowping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.But Tam kenned what was what fu' brawlie:
`There was ae winsome wench and waulie',
That night enlisted in the core
(Lang after kenned on Carrick shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perished 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 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 souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitched,
And thought his very een enriched;
Even Satan glowered, 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 woefu' woman!
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na 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 grey 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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Tam O'Shanter: A Masterpiece of Scottish Poetry

Tam O'Shanter, one of Robert Burns' most famous works, is a narrative poem that tells the story of a drunken farmer named Tam, who, after a night of revelry, encounters a group of witches and warlocks in a haunted churchyard. This poem, a combination of humor, folklore, and tragedy, is a masterpiece of Scottish poetry, with its vivid descriptions, witty dialogues, and profound insights into human nature.

The Structure and Style

Tam O'Shanter is written in a very particular form of verse known as the "heroic couplet", which consists of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter. This form of verse was popular in the 18th century, and Burns uses it masterfully to create a sense of rhythm and melody that makes the poem easy to read and remember.

The poem begins with a description of Tam's drunken state and his wife's warning about the dangers of the night. The first part of the poem is filled with humorous anecdotes and descriptions of the various characters Tam meets along the way. But as Tam approaches the haunted churchyard, the tone shifts dramatically from comedy to horror, and the poem becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of indulging in excessive behavior.

The language of the poem is also noteworthy. Burns uses a mix of dialects, including Scottish, English, and even a bit of Latin, to create a sense of authenticity and local flavor. He also employs a variety of poetic devices, such as alliteration, metaphor, and simile, to create a rich and vivid imagery that brings the story to life.

The Themes and Messages

Tam O'Shanter is a multifaceted poem that touches on a variety of themes and messages. Perhaps the most obvious theme is that of excess and the dangers of indulging too much in alcohol and other vices. Tam, who is portrayed as a likable but flawed character, is ultimately punished for his excessive behavior by being chased by the witches and almost losing his life.

But the poem also touches on deeper and more universal themes, such as the fragility of human life, the power of fear, and the importance of community. Tam's encounter with the witches highlights the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of life, and the fear he experiences is a reminder that we are all vulnerable to the unknown.

At the same time, Tam's escape from the witches is due in part to the help of his horse, who represents the importance of community and the need for others in times of crisis. The poem suggests that we are stronger when we work together and that we should not let our own pride or selfishness get in the way of seeking help when we need it.

The Legacy and Significance

Tam O'Shanter has had a lasting impact on Scottish literature and culture. It is often regarded as one of the greatest Scottish poems ever written, and its influence can be seen in everything from Scottish music to film and television.

The poem's enduring popularity is due in part to its universal themes and relatable characters. Tam is a flawed but sympathetic protagonist who represents the everyman, and his struggles with temptation and fear are ones that many readers can identify with.

But perhaps the most significant aspect of Tam O'Shanter is its celebration of Scottish culture and folklore. Burns was a champion of Scottish identity and language, and the poem's use of dialect and incorporation of local legends and lore helped to establish a distinct Scottish literary tradition.


Tam O'Shanter is a masterpiece of Scottish poetry that combines humor, horror, and insight into a memorable and timeless narrative. It is a poem that has captured the hearts and imaginations of readers for over two centuries, and its legacy continues to inspire and influence writers and artists today. Whether you are a fan of poetry, folklore, or simply a good story, Tam O'Shanter is a must-read for anyone interested in Scottish culture and literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Tam O'Shanter: A Classic Poem by Robert Burns

Tam O'Shanter is a classic poem written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1790. It is one of the most famous and widely read poems in the English language, and it tells the story of a drunken farmer who encounters supernatural beings on his way home from the pub. The poem is a masterpiece of Scottish literature, and it has been studied and analyzed by scholars and readers alike for centuries.

The poem begins with a description of Tam O'Shanter, a farmer who loves to drink and party. He is a popular figure in the town of Ayr, and he is known for his wild behavior and his love of women. One night, after a long night of drinking at the pub, Tam decides to ride his horse home through the dark and spooky countryside.

As he rides through the night, Tam sees all sorts of strange and supernatural creatures. He sees witches dancing in a field, and he watches as they perform a strange and eerie ritual. He also sees ghosts and goblins, and he is terrified by their presence.

Despite his fear, Tam continues to ride on, and he eventually comes to a bridge that is guarded by a group of witches. The witches try to capture Tam, but he manages to escape by urging his horse to jump over the bridge. As he rides away, he looks back and sees the witches chasing him, and he realizes that he has narrowly escaped a terrible fate.

The poem is a masterpiece of Scottish literature, and it is full of symbolism and imagery that has captivated readers for centuries. The character of Tam O'Shanter is a complex and multi-dimensional figure, and he represents the wild and untamed spirit of Scotland. His love of drink and women is a reflection of the Scottish culture, which has always been known for its love of life and its passion for living.

The supernatural creatures that Tam encounters on his journey are also symbolic of the Scottish culture. The witches, ghosts, and goblins are all part of the rich folklore and mythology of Scotland, and they represent the mysterious and mystical aspects of the Scottish identity.

The poem is also notable for its use of language and dialect. Burns was a master of the Scottish language, and he used it to great effect in Tam O'Shanter. The poem is full of Scottish words and phrases, and it captures the unique flavor and character of the Scottish people.

Overall, Tam O'Shanter is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a masterpiece of Scottish literature, and it is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Scotland. The poem is full of symbolism, imagery, and language that has captivated readers for centuries, and it remains one of the most beloved and widely read poems in the English language.

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