Hi Janice ! Do you remember the day we spent in Alloway, the native village of Robert Burns? Quite an unforgettable day indeed but sadly enough it was the last but one day of our 2012 trip around Scotland…
We arrived in Alloway at about midday on 30 September. The weather could have been worse but we were happy to be dressed waterproof. Since our first trip to Scotland, in 2000, we’ve learned our lessons
It was pouring rain when we visited the auld kirkyard but… to see the old church and the very ancient graves under a bright sun and a blue sky would not have been exactly the kind of luminosity we were looking for! Such a place requires a gloomy atmosphere. The weather had suddenly turned so bad that in a few minutes we found ourselves alone in the churchyard. No witches, no ghosts either… but something tells me that if you really want to fall upon one of those weird creatures you’ll have to be there in the middle of the night
As we had never had the opportunity to see the places related to Robert Burns in our previous trips, we wanted to see as many of them as possible this time and more especially in Alloway. Iain and Margaret who live not far away in Dumfries & Galloway and whose love and knowledge of the poet is great had given us, the day before, precious information about the poet and the best places to visit in the area.
We had a quick (and delicious) Scottish snack in the Museum restaurant but we didn’t visit the museum itself for we wanted to see a lot of places in the afternoon: the Auld Kirk and Kirkyard, Robert Burns cottage, the river Doon and the famous old Brig o’ Doon bridge, the Burns Monument and Gardens. We also had to find accommodation for the night in Dumfries where we intended (wishful thinking) to go and see the famous Globe Inn, Robert Burns’s house and the poet’s final resting place but that’s another story
We enjoyed very much our visit of Robert Burns Cottage but we particularly loved the walk which had led us from the Museum to the cottage along the ‘Poet’s Path’, a thematic walkway which runs parallel with Alloway Street.
A wooden bridge leads to the Poet’s Path which then winds its way through a pleasant green area planted with trees and lined with a series of weathervanes illustrating the most striking scenes of ‘Tam O’Shanter‘.
Below is a very good introduction of this famous long narrative poem. I’ve found it on the very interesting website of Alexandria Burns Club (‘Founded 1884 – Number 2 in the Burns Federation’)
‘Tam o’ Shanter‘ is a wonderful, 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. It is populated by several unforgettable characters including of course Tam himself, his bosom pal, Souter (Cobbler) Johnnie and his own long suffering wife Kate, “Gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm”. We are also introduced to Kirkton Jean, the ghostly, “winsome wench”, Cutty Sark and let’s not forget his gallant horse, Maggie.
The tale includes humour, pathos, horror, social comment and in my opinion some of the most beautiful lines that Burns ever penned. For example, “But pleasures are like poppies spread, You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed; Or like the snow falls in the river, A moment white–then melts for ever”
I’ve tried to associate our photos of the weathervanes with the scenes described. It’s funny to see how our pictures reflect the changes of the Scottish sky, sometimes quite appropriately .
I’ve deliberately chosen the English version for my extracts of the poem. It’s easier to understand it for a first reading though of course it can’t reflect the original music of the text. As far as I’m concerned I’ve made use of my English-French dictionary quite a number of times when reading the poem . The whole of the original text together with its English translation can be found on the Alexandria Burns Club website.
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.(..)
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.
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 hung 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.(..)
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. (..)
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 Tam 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,
Tam 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. (..)
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.
I definitely like these weathervanes! What a nice and expressive work of art! Janice’s photo of Tam and poor Maggie is my favourite one! What a shot!
Who shall be our poet now…
Be artists forever associated with the great poet…
Your turn Janice I know you’re preparing a video with the photos we’ve taken during that wonderful day in Alloway and I’m looking forward to seeing it!
So, à bientôt.