Halloween 2020—a drop of Robert Burns—to add a witchy spell to a confined lock-down generation saved only by Zoom. It was after experimenting with the descriptive French version:
that I re-discovered the frenetic rhythmic pace in English, like a horse galloping, which the gifted poet created and is fundamental to the power of the words:
Extracts from Tam O’Shanter
When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors neebors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bousin, at the nappy,
And gettin 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! had’st thou but been sae wise
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na 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 drown’d in Doon;
Ot catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.
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 forever;
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.
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