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Burns Night - January 25th ; The story behind Tam O' Shanter ; Tam O' Shanter Part 5

And so here we are, January 25th. Burns Night.

We have been featuring Burns’ epic poem Tam O’ Shanter, today being the 5th and concluding part with a simplified English translation.

The story behind the poem is interesting.

This marvellously vivid piece of description, represents more fully than any of Burns' other poems the greatness of his imaginative gifts; and apart from songs and the Elegy on Captain Henderson is the only very notable example of his muse during the last nine years of his life.

Yet it owes its origin to mere accident.

The churchyard surrounding the ruined kirk of Alloway was the burial place of his father, and when Burns in 1789 met Captain Francis Grose while he was staying with Robert Riddell at the Friar’s Carse, when visiting Scotland to making drawings for his work on The Antiquities of Scotland, he suggested to Grose to insert a picture of the ruined kirk in his volume. But as no architectural interest attaches to the ruin, Grose only agreed to the request on condition that Burns should "furnish a witch story to be printed along with it". Apparently what Grose expected and Burns first intended was a witch story in prose, for he sent three samples from which Grose might chose; and it was only by a happy second thought that Burns found in one of the tales the theme for his immortal Tam o' Shanter.

Here is the Tam O’Shanter story in Burns's own prose: —

On a market-day in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Alloway kirkyard, in order to cross the river Doon at the old bridge, which is about two or three hundred yards further on than the said gate, had been detained by his business till by the time he reached Alloway it was the wizard hour between night and morning.

Though he was terrified with a blaze shining from the kirk, yet, as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced on his road.

When he had reached the gate of the kirkyard, he was surprised and entertained, through the ribs and arches of an old Gothic window, which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was keeping them all alive with the power of his bagpipe.

The farmer, stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood. How the gentleman was dressed tradition does not say, but that the ladies were all in their smocks: and one of them

happening unluckily to have a smock which was considerably short to answer all the purposes of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily burst out with a loud laugh, 'Weel luppen Maggy wi' the short sark!', and, recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of his speed.

I need not mention the universally known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream. Lucky it was for the poor farmer that the river Doon was so near, for notwithstanding the speed of the horse, which was a good one, when he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing vengeful hags were so close at his heels that one of them actually sprang to seize him; but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horses tail, which immediately gave way at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning; but the farmer was beyond her reach.

However the unsightly tailless condition of the vigorous steed was, to the last hour of the noble creature's life, an awful warning to the Carrick farmers not to stay too long in Ayr markets.

From Robert Burns' Poems, Edited by T.F. Henderson, published Heidelberg, 1906.

Illustration : Alloway Kirk from Grose's The Antiquities of Scotland

A Traditional Burns Supper; Tam O' Shanter Part 4

A traditional Burns Supper can be a formal dinner held on, or around, Burns Night. Guests normally dress in traditional Highland dress – the men in kilts or tartan trousers and the women in smart dresses or formal evening wear, perhaps with a dash of tartan. Burns himself did not wear tartan but now the night is something of an occasion. Families and friends might dress up and have something along the same lines, or have a quiet evening celebrating Scotland’s national poet and the universal themes he immortalised. Some elements will be common to each meal. Outside of the normal toasts, there may be a keynote speaker (at a big dinner this might be a celebrity or personality).

The Selkirk Grace :

This is a Scottish Prayer associated with Robert Burns. After the host’s words of welcome, when the guests are seated, this grace is said:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup:

A soup made with chicken with giblets, leeks, water, rice, bay leaf and seasoning.

(A vegetarian dish is offered also)

Other soups commonly on a Burns Night menu :

Scotch Broth (Soup of barley; lamb, mutton or beef, root vegetables; pulses)

Cullen Skink (Soup of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions)

Address To A Haggis

which begins:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

Haggis, Warm ‘n Reekin’, wi Champit Tatties Mashed Neeps and a Wee Dram

Haggis – traditionally made with a sheep's pluck and stomach-bag, the lungs and heart minced, the liver chopped; suet; oatmeal; onions; chopped parsley, herbs and seasoning, served with mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, presented with a small glass of Scotch whisky.

A vegetarian or vegan dish is always offered now of course.

Tipsy Laird

A classic trifle, made with whisky, Scottish raspberries, jelly and custard, with grated chocolate.

Oatcakes and Ayrshire Cheese ; A Tassie o’ Coffee and anither Wee Dram

The Immortal Memory :

The Immortal Memory celebrates Burns' enduring spirit, in a tribute to Robert Burns.

Ca’ the Yowes : a song, by Robert Burns. The chorus:

Ca' the yowes to the knowes,

Ca' them where the heather grows

Ca' them where the burnie rows,

My bonie dearie.

Tam O’ Shanter :

A recital of ‘Tam O’Shanter’– the epic poem in which Burns paints a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scotch town of Ayr in the late 18th century. where the speaker is expected to recite the poem from memory. First lines :

When chapmen 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,
And getting fou and unco happy,

A Toast to the Lassies :

These days this toast may be a humorous speech. It is treated as a highlight of the evening. The speaker is expected to praise the role of women in the world today. There will be some references to Burns work. It is about women and their influence and effect on men, perhaps alluding to some of those present.

The Reply or Toast to the Laddies:

Again, this toast is expected to be a highlight of the evening. A female guest will give her views on men. She has to think on her feet and reply to any specific points raised in the previous toast. Also she needs to be witty and humorous and not offensive. Done well, it is full of charm.

Is There For Honest Poverty : a song, by Robert Burns.

"A Man's a Man for A' That", also known as "Is There for Honest Poverty" is a 1795 song by Robert Burns famous for its expression of support for the principle of equality for all people. The first verse :

Is there for honest Poverty

That hings his head, an' a' that;

The coward slave - we pass him by,

We dare be poor for a' that!

For a' that, an' a' that.

Our toils obscure an' a' that,

The rank is but the guinea's stamp,

The Man's the gowd for a' that.

Vote of Thanks and anither Wee Dram

Auld Lang Syne

“To The Lassies” Robert Burns (Burns Night 25 January); Tam O' Shanter Part 3

Today we are sharing the third part of Tam O’Shanter and Burns Supper thoughts.

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns. Burns Night is Monday 25th January.

Anyone can host one. It can be a small gathering of family and friends. Or it can be organised on a much grander scale with strict ceremonial tradition.

Once Burns Suppers were ‘men only’. Things have changed and now such clubs and suppers are fewer in number. The ‘men only’ was modelled on a format followed by the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club, a men-only debating society, co-founded by Burns in 1780.

The first Burns Supper was a memorial dinner with nine guests. It was held in the poet’s birthplace of Alloway, in July 1801, where they enjoyed a dinner of haggis and sheeps’ head. “The Address to the Haggis was read, and every toast was drank by three times three.”

It was a clergyman – the Rev. Hamilton Paul – later the author of an 1819 edition of The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns with A Life Of The Author who organised what was the forerunner of the Burns supper we know today.

Robert Burns however, preferred the company of women to men. Had he attended one of these first celebrations he may have looked at his silver pocket-watch and wondered when the female guests would arrive.

“The finest hours that e’er I spent were spent amang the lasses, O’.”

Burns loved women, penning some of his finest verse for the "lassies". Without them his volumes of poetry would have been considerably thinner. He wrote the poem, ‘The Rights of Women’ in 1792, in its day, innovative and groundbreaking. In the poem, written for Louisa Fontenelle, an actress who caught Burns’ eye when playing at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, he calls for respect for womankind. Fontenelle recited the poem at her benefit performance in November 1792.

Extract from “The Rights Of Women”:

There was, indeed, in far less polish'd days,

A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,

Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,

Nay even thus invade a Lady's quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;

Now, well-bred men - and you are all well-bred -

Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)

Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

“The Toast to the Lassies” is an essential speech at any Burns’ Supper. Together with the lassies’ reply, it performs a key part of the supper. “The Toast to the Lassies” now demands wit and entertainment, and adds hugely to the sense of occasion of the whole event.

Robert Burns ? Yes - we know Burns . . . .'Tam O'Shanter'. . . . but what does the poem mean? Part 2

Tam O'Shanter

We introduced this blog theme yesterday, explaining that in the past 10 months or so, we have missed the face-to-face interaction with our overseas customers. Many of our customers we have known for more than 25 years. These friendships are unusual in that many have been formed simply by meeting at trade shows – reinforced sometimes with only occasional visits to their country, or when they have visited us on our home ground.

Conversation has in recent years, of course touched on Brexit, but always there is some talk of Scotland – hopes and plans to visit. Often Robert Burns is mentioned, but even the best English speakers have difficulty in understanding his poetry. Burns' verse is written not only in the Scots language but also in the Scottish English dialect of the English language.

With so many 'on-line' gatherings planned, there are even more opportunities this year, for folk from beyond these shores to experience something of the work of Burns and gain some insight into how Burns is celebrated.

As Burns’ Night itself approaches, on 25th January, we offer some help with 'Tam O’ Shanter'. You can find below the second group of verses as written by Robert Burns, together with a translation in English which keeps the spirit of the work. We will share subsequent parts each day, concluding on the 25th. Stay posted!

'Tam O' Shanter' is Burns’ epic poem in which Burns presents a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scottish town of Ayr in the late 18th century. The poem features several characters : Tam himself, his friend Souter (Cobbler) Johnnie and Tam’s long suffering wife Kate. We meet Kirkton Jean, the ghostly, "winsome wench", Cutty Sark and Tam’s horse, Maggie.

Robert Burns ? Yes - we know Burns . . . .'Tam O'Shanter'. . . . but what does the poem mean?

Tam O'Shanter

In the past 10 months or so we have missed the face-to-face interaction with our overseas customers. Many of our customers we have known for more than 25 years. These friendships are unusual in that many have been formed simply by meeting at trade shows – reinforced sometimes with only occasional visits to their country, or when they have visited us on our home ground.

Conversation has in recent years, of course touched on Brexit, but always there is some talk of Scotland – hopes and plans to visit. Often Robert Burns is mentioned, but even the best English speakers have difficulty in understanding his poetry. Burns' verse is written not only in the Scots language but also in the Scottish English dialect of the English language.

As Burns’ Night approaches, on 25th January, we offer some help with 'Tam O’ Shanter'. You can find below the first verses as written by Robert Burns, together with a translation in English which keeps the spirit of the work. We will share the rest day by day. Stay posted!

'Tam O' Shanter' is Burns’ epic poem in which Burns presents a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scottish town of Ayr in the late 18th century. The poem features several characters : Tam himself, his friend Souter (Cobbler) Johnnie and Tam’s long suffering wife Kate. We meet Kirkton Jean, the ghostly, "winsome wench", Cutty Sark and Tam’s horse, Maggie.

As we approach the 25th of January we will post the complete poem and its translation day by day.

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