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Burn's Night

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posted by INNES alias PentlandPirate free as a tame penguin can be on Friday 25th of January 2019 07:27:42 PM

It is Burn's Night tonight (25th January), when Scotland celebrates it's greatest poet, by eating haggis, and muttering Wee Timorous Mousie before throwing back another tumbler of whisky, all to the accompaniment of skirling bagpipes. It was probably the bright hair and shapely nose that made me recognise the witch shaped out of driftwood in Vale Park, overlooking the River Mersey. Instantly she made me think of the poem of Tam O'Shanter. So I grabbed this shot with Burn's Night in mind. The poem was written by Robert Burns in 1790 and describes the habits of Tam, a farmer who often got drunk with his friends in a public house in the Scottish town of Ayr, and his thoughtless ways, specifically towards his wife, who waited at home for him, angry. At the conclusion of one such late-night revel after a market day, Tam rides home on his horse Meg while a storm is brewing. On the way he sees the local haunted church lit up, with witches and warlocks dancing and the Devil playing the bagpipes. He is still drunk, still upon his horse, just on the edge of the light, watching, amazed to see the place bedecked with many gruesome things such as gibbet irons and knives that had been used to commit murders and other macabre acts. The witches are dancing as the music intensifies and, upon seeing one particularly wanton witch in a short dress, he loses his reason and shouts, 'Weel done, cutty-sark!' ("cutty-sark": short shirt). Immediately, the lights go out, the music and dancing stops and many of the creatures lunge after Tam, with the witches leading. Tam spurs Meg to turn and flee and drives the horse on towards the River Doon as the creatures dare not cross a running stream. The creatures give chase and the witches come so close to catching Tam and Meg that they pull Meg's tail off just as she reaches the Brig o' Doon. A translated version of the poem in all it's glory is here: When the peddler people leave the streets, And thirsty neighbours, neighbours meet; As market days are wearing late, And folk begin to take the road home, While we sit boozing strong ale, And getting drunk and very happy, We don’t think of the long Scots miles, The marshes, waters, steps and stiles, That lie between us and our home, Where sits our sulky, sullen dame (wife), Gathering her brows like a gathering storm, Nursing her wrath, to keep it warm. This truth finds honest Tam o' Shanter, As he from Ayr one night did canter; Old Ayr, which never a town surpasses, For honest men and bonny lasses. Oh Tam, had you but been so wise, As to have taken your own wife Kate’s advice! She told you well you were a waster, A rambling, blustering, drunken boaster, That from November until October, Each market day you were not sober; During each milling period with the miller, You sat as long as you had money, For every horse he put a shoe on, The blacksmith and you got roaring drunk on; That at the Lords House, even on Sunday, You drank with Kirkton Jean till Monday. She prophesied, that, late or soon, You would be found deep drowned in Doon, Or caught by warlocks in the murk, By Alloway’s old haunted church. Ah, gentle ladies, it makes me cry, To think how many counsels sweet, How much long and wise advice The husband from the wife despises! But to our tale :- One market night, Tam was seated just right, Next to a fireplace, blazing finely, With creamy ales, that drank divinely; And at his elbow, Cobbler Johnny, His ancient, trusted, thirsty crony; Tom loved him like a very brother, They had been drunk for weeks together. The night drove on with songs and clatter, And every ale was tasting better; The landlady and Tam grew gracious, With secret favours, sweet and precious; The cobbler told his queerest stories; The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus: Outside, the storm might roar and rustle, Tam did not mind the storm a whistle. Care, mad to see a man so happy, Even drowned himself in ale. As bees fly home with loads of treasure, The minutes winged their way with pleasure: Kings may be blessed, but Tam was glorious, Over all the ills of life victorious. But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower, its bloom is shed; Or like the snow fall on the river, A moment white - then melts forever, Or like the Aurora Borealis rays, That move before you can point to their place; Or like the rainbow’s lovely form, Vanishing amid the storm. No man can tether time or tide, The hour approaches Tom must ride: That hour, of night’s black arch - the key-stone, That dreary hour he mounts his beast in And such a night he takes to the road in As never a poor sinner had been out in. The wind blew as if it had blown its last; The rattling showers rose on the blast; The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed, Loud, deep and long the thunder bellowed: That night, a child might understand, The Devil had business on his hand. Well mounted on his grey mare, Meg. A better never lifted leg, Tom, raced on through mud and mire, Despising wind and rain and fire; Whilst holding fast his good blue bonnet, While crooning over some old Scots sonnet, Whilst glowering round with prudent care, Lest ghosts catch him unaware: Alloway’s Church was drawing near, Where ghosts and owls nightly cry. By this time he was across the ford, Where in the snow the pedlar got smothered; And past the birch trees and the huge stone, Where drunken Charlie broke his neck bone; And through the thorns, and past the monument, Where hunters found the murdered child; And near the thorn, above the well, Where Mungo’s mother hanged herself. Before him the river Doon pours all his floods; The doubling storm roars throught the woods; The lightnings flashes from pole to pole; Nearer and more near the thunder rolls; When, glimmering through the groaning trees, Alloway’s Church seemed in a blaze, Through every gap , light beams were glancing, And loud resounded mirth and dancing. Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! (whisky) What dangers you can make us scorn! With ale, we fear no evil; With whisky, we’ll face the Devil! The ales so swam in Tam’s head, Fair play, he didn’t care a farthing for devils. But Maggie stood, right sore astonished, Till, by the heel and hand admonished, She ventured forward on the light; And, vow! Tom saw an incredible sight! Warlocks and witches in a dance: No cotillion, brand new from France, But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels, Put life and mettle in their heels. In a window alcove in the east, There sat Old Nick, in shape of beast; A shaggy dog, black, grim, and large, To give them music was his charge: He screwed the pipes and made them squeal, Till roof and rafters all did ring. Coffins stood round, like open presses, That showed the dead in their last dresses; And, by some devilish magic sleight, Each in its cold hand held a light: By which heroic Tom was able To note upon the holy table, A murderer’s bones, in gibbet-irons; Two span-long, small, unchristened babies; A thief just cut from his hanging rope - With his last gasp his mouth did gape; Five tomahawks with blood red-rusted; Five scimitars with murder crusted; A garter with which a baby had strangled; A knife a father’s throat had mangled - Whom his own son of life bereft - The grey-hairs yet stack to the shaft; With more o' horrible and awful, Which even to name would be unlawful. Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out, Sown with lies like a beggar’s cloth - Three Priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck Lay stinking, vile, in every nook. As Thomas 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 linked, Till every witch sweated and smelled, And cast her ragged clothes to the floor, And danced deftly at it in her underskirts! Now Tam, O Tam! had these been young girls, All plump and strapping in their teens! Their underskirts, instead of greasy flannel, Been snow-white seventeen hundred linen! - The trousers of mine, my only pair, That once were plush, of good blue hair, I would have given them off my buttocks For one blink of those pretty girls ! But withered hags, old and droll, Ugly enough to suckle a foal, Leaping and flinging on a stick, Its a wonder it didn’t turn your stomach! But Tam knew what was what well enough: There was one winsome, jolly wench, That night enlisted in the core, Long after known on Carrick shore (For many a beast to dead she shot, And perished many a bonnie boat, And shook both much corn and barley, And kept the country-side in fear.) Her short underskirt, o’ Paisley cloth, That while a young lass she had worn, In longitude though very limited, It was her best, and she was proud. . . Ah! little knew your reverend grandmother, That underskirt she bought for her little grandaughter, With two Scots pounds (it was all her riches), Would ever graced a dance of witches! But here my tale must stoop and bow, Such words are far beyond her power; To sing how Nannie leaped and kicked (A supple youth she was, and strong); And how Tom stood like one bewitched, And thought his very eyes enriched; Even Satan glowered, and fidgeted full of lust, And jerked and blew with might and main; Till first one caper, then another, Tom lost his reason all together, And roars out: ‘ Well done, short skirt! ’ And in an instant all was dark; And scarcely had he Maggie rallied, When out the hellish legion sallied. As bees buzz out with angry wrath, When plundering herds assail their hive; As a wild hare’s mortal foes, When, pop! she starts running before their nose; As eager runs the market-crowd, When ‘ Catch the thief! ’ resounds aloud: So Maggie runs, the witches follow, With many an unearthly scream and holler. Ah, Tom! Ah, Tom! You will get what's coming! In hell they will roast you like a herring! In vain your Kate awaits your coming ! Kate soon will be a woeful woman! Now, do your speedy utmost, Meg, And beat them to the key-stone of the bridge; There, you may toss your tale at them, A running stream they dare not cross! But before the key-stone she could make, She had to shake a tail at the fiend; For Nannie, far before the rest, Hard upon noble Maggie pressed, And flew at Tam with furious aim; But little knew she Maggie’s mettle! One spring brought off her master whole, But left behind her own grey tail: The witch caught her by the rump, And left poor Maggie scarce a stump. Now, who this tale of truth shall read, Each man, and mother’s son, take heed: Whenever to drink you are inclined, Or short skirts run in your mind, Think! you may buy joys over dear: Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

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  • Published 12.05.21
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