Scottish myths 3


Robert Burns (1759-1796) the Bard of Ayshire, national poet of Scotland and Internationally celebrated, was born in Alloway, South Ayrshire. He was the eldest of seven children. The cottage where he was born was built by his father, a self educated farmer. The cottage is now the 'Burns Cottage Museum'.
His father, William, sold the cottage and rented a 70 acre farm where 'Rabbie' grew up. The family was poor and the work was hard. The ploughing and manual labour physically effected Robert who stooped at an early age and suffered from a weak constitution.
He was partly educated by his father, partly by a John Murdoch who taught Latin, French and mathematics up until 1768 when Murdoch left Alloway. Burns resumed his education at home before being sent to Dalrymple Parish School for the summer of 1772. Then he had to return for the harvest as a full time farm labourer until 1773, after which he studied with Murdoch for only three weeks of grammar, French and Latin.

In 1774, he was only 15 years old, yet he was still labouring the Mount Oliphant farm. At about this time he started writing his first poetry and songs. In 1775 he completed his education care of a tutor at Kirkoswald.

His life was turbulent and he was not a fortunate farmer, but he had many love affairs, which also caused him many problems.
He accepted a job as a slave trade accountant in Jamaica, which inspired him some years later to write The Slave's Lament. But he never obtained the necessary funds to actually go to Jamaica, which, considering his personal views, was perhaps just as well.

Ironically when his professional situation improved and his writing began to be more widely appreciated, his health started to fail. His views favouring the French revolution, also lost him friends. He was only 37 years old when he finally died in Dumfries.

Robert Burns was an accomplished poet and lyricist in English as well as Scottish. One of his best  poems was Tam o'Shanter in which there are some magnificent lines. No doubt the poem was based on a Scottish legend.

As a resumé, one stormy night Tam o' Shanter has the misfortune of interrupting a witches' dancing spree in the Church graveyard of Alloway. They were waking the dead with their dancing to the eerie strains of horn and bagpipes. When Tam, bewitched himself, foolishly bellows out his appraisal, they scream and fly after him. Although terrified, Tam manages to remount his old grey mare Maggie, and ride for his life.
There was one witch he called 'Cutty Sark' (short shirt). She being the most rapid of them all, manages to catch up with Tam just as he is about to reach the river Doon bridge. She catches the mare's tail but the water of the Doon prevents her from continuing, and the old mare Maggie, although then tailless, manages to carry her master across the bridge to safety.
Here's the entire poem in its Scottish dialect. 
For the translation click here.

The Brig' o' Doon (by Brian McDonnel)

Tam o'Shanter

When chapmen billies° leave the street,        °peddlars
And drouthy neibors, neibors meet,

As market days are wearing late,

An' folk begin to tak the gate; 

While we sit bousing at the nappy,°                °drinking-ale

And getting fou and unco happy,

We think na on the lang Scots miles,

The mosses, waters, slaps,° and styles,           °gaps
That lie between us and our hame,

Where 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! had'st thou but been sae wise, 

As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice! 

She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,°         °rogue
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;°     °babbler
That frae November till October, 

Ae market-day thou was nae sober; 

That ilka melder,° wi' the miller,                      °corn-grinder
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;°                 °silver (money)
That every naig was ca'd a shoe on,°                °every horse was shod
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on; 

That at the Lord's house, even on Sunday, 

Thou drank wi' Kirkton Jean till Monday. 

She prophesied that late or soon, 

Thou would be found deep drown'd in Doon; 
Or catch'd wi' warlocks° in the mirk,               °male witches
By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,°                °makes me weep
To think how mony counsels sweet, 

How mony lengthen'd, 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,°                    °a blazing hearth
Wi' reaming swats,° that drank divinely         °foaming tankards
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny, 

His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony; 

Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither;°                   °brother
They had been fou for weeks thegither! 

The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter 
And ay 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 drown'd himsel' amang the nappy! 

As bees flee hame wi' lades° o' treasure,            °loads
The minutes wing'd 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 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.                °devil

Weel mounted on his gray mare, 
A better never lifted leg- 

Tam skelpit° on thro' dub° and mire;               °splashed  °puddle
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;                    °goblins
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets° nightly cry.          °ghosts and owls

By this time he was cross the ford, 

Whare, in the snaw, the chapman smoor'd;°   °smothered
And past the birks and meikle stane,°               °the large stone
Whare drunken Chairlie brak 's neck-bane; 
And thro' the whins, and by the cairn,°       °through the brush by the stone pile
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;     °every chink
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! 

What dangers thou canst make us scorn! 

Wi' tippeny,° we fear nae evil;                         °twopenny ale
Wi' usquabae,° we'll face the devil!                 °whisky
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle, 

Fair play, he car'd na deils a boddle.°             °cared not a copper
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,                    °window-seat
There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast; 

A towzie tyke,° black, grim, and large,         °shaggy cur
To gie them music was his charge: 

He scre'd the pipes and gart them skirl,°     °made the bagpipes squeal
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.°-                     °rattle
Coffins stood round, like open presses, 

That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses; 

And by some devilish cantrip° slight,            °magic
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;°              °gallows-irons
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns; 

A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,°                     °rope
Wi' his last gasp his gab° did gape;                °mouth
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,°     °joined hands
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,°                        °till every hag sweated and reeked
And coost her duddies to the wark,°                 °cast off her clothes frantically
And linket at it in her sark!°                               °danced in her shirt

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:°          °fine
There was ae winsome wench and waulie,°         °jolly
That night enlisted in the core,°                             °company
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°                           °short shirt of linen
That while a lassie she had worn, 

In longitude tho' sorely scanty, 

It was her best, and she was vauntie,°                °vain, proud of it
Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie, 

That sark she coft° for her wee Nannie,             °bought
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,°            °fidgeted eagerly
And hotch'd° and blew wi' might and main;     °squirmed
Till first ae caper, syne anither, 

Tam tint° his reason a' thegither,                        °lost
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,°                        °fuss
When plundering herds assail their byke;°      °hive
As open pussie's° mortal foes,                            °the hare's
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° skriech and hollo.         °unearthly

Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin'!°       °reward
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 o' the brig;°                   °bridge
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;°                    °intent
But little wist she Maggie's mettle- 

Ae spring brought off her master hale, 

But left behind her ain gray 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 inclin'd, 

Or cutty-sarks run in your mind, 

Think! ye may buy joys o'er dear- 

Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.

                                                        Scottish myths 4                                                        
Scottish myths 2
Intro text © Mirino. Photo of The Brig' O' Doon by Brian McDonnell, with thanks. Other images by unknown artists. Sources- Collins Albatross book of verse, Wikipedia, with thanks. June, 2011


Saamaya said...

acccc... ma quant'è lunga questa poesia?!

senti, ma tu, invece, lo sapevi che al poeta di cui scrivi è stato intitolato un CRATERE di un vulcano sul pianeta Mercurio? Pensa te.

Mirino said...

È lunga ma superba.
Non so se puoi leggere in inglese ma Roberts Burns (poeta nazionale della Scozia, del XVIII secolo) aveva soli 37 anni quando è morto. Malgrado questo la sua opera è apprezzata dappertutto, e per causa, (forse perfino sul Mercurio..).

Saamaya said...

Amo la poesia ma così lunga e così inglese.. è troppo pure per me.

Mirino said...

Ho scritto un breve riassunto in inglese al di sopra la poesia che è basata su un mito scozzese.
Una notte tempestosa Tam o' Shanter (dopo aver bevuto un po' troppo con amici) vede streghe che ballano nel cimitero della chiesa di Alloway. Diventa incantato anche lui è dimenticandosi grida 'brava' a una strega ('Cutty Sark', che vuole dire camicia breve). Allora tutte le streghe e tutti i stregoni provano a catturare Tam o' Shanter che monta subito sul cavallo Maggie pour galoppare verso il ponte di Doon. Benché la strega Cutty Sark (più veloce di tutti gli altri) non possa traversare il fiume, riesce comunque a prendere la coda del cavallo. Nondimeno la perdita della coda, Maggie riesce a portare Tam o' Shanter a sicurezza. (scusi gli errori..)