Monday, 31 October 2016

#Halloween #Robert Burns poem

Happy Hallowe'en to you!

Since beginning this blog, I've written each Halloween about different aspects of the Hallowe'en festival. Today, I'm harkening back to my teens when I studied some of Robert Burns poetry. I vaguely remember reading back then that Robert Burns' famous poem Tam O ' Shanter  (1790) wasn't his first attempt to portray the Eve of all Hallows. I studied Tam O' Shanter in depth for my O Grade, or maybe it was my Higher English Exam, and loved it but I didn't, at that time, read the earlier poem named Halloween.

In 1785, he wrote Halloween in 28 stanzas which gave an idea of what the folk of the parish just might be doing on the night of Halloween. It a great poem, though not in my opinion anything like as exciting as Tam O Shanter. Halloween is quite tricky to understand but I find reading it aloud helps me, even when the actual meaning is obscure because the poem refers to long lost agricultural practices. It's also one of his longer poems, so you need to have some time to absorb it!

BUT...this is where the internet is fabulous. There are a number of sites which do a great job of explaining Burn's poetry. I've copied the poem below from my own Collins (publisher) copy of the works of Robert Burns- the Souvenir Edition edited by James Barke- and have included his translations. But to give even clearer depth to the poem, and to add a huge amount to the translation of the poem, I suggest you click this link to read the Footnotes created by Burns himself. They're a fascinating read and a glimpse into the farming communities among whom he lived.
My Robert Burns plate

Halloween by Robert Burns

Upon that night, when fairies light
  On Cassilis Downans dance,                         Earl of Cassilis estate
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,                pastures
  On sprightly coursers prance;           
Or for Colean the rout is ta’en,                       road
  Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
  Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;
Amang the bonie winding banks,
  Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear;                 winding
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
  An’ shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, country-folks
  Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks,          nuts; pull their plants
  An’ haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.                         
The lasses feat an’ cleanly neat,                      spruce
  Mair braw than when they’re fine;               fair
Their faces blythe fu’ sweetly kythe               show
  Hearts leal, an’ warm, an’ kin’:                     loyal; kind
The lads sae trig, wi’wooer-babs                    love-knots
  Weel-knotted on their garten;                       garters
Some unco blate, an’ some wi’gabs                shy; talk
  Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin                       make; beating
Whyles fast at night.               Sometimes
Then, first an’ foremost, thro’ the kail,
  Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, an’ grape an’ wale         shut their eyes; grope; choose
  For muckle anes, an’straught anes.               big; straight
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,                  foolish; lost the way
  An’ wandered thro’ the bow-kail,                cabbage
An’ pow’t, for want o’ better shift,                pulled; choice
  A runt, was like a sow-tail,                           stalk
Sae bow’t that night.              bent
Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane,         mouldy
  They roar and’ cry a’ throu’ther;                   pell-mell
The vera wee-things, toddling, rin                  children; run
  Wi’ stocks out-owre their shouther;              upon; shoulder
An’ gif the custock’s sweet or sour,               if; pith
  Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;                       pocket-knives
Syne cosily, aboon the door,                           above
  Wi’ cannie care, they’ve plac’d them,          prudent
To lie that night.
The lasses staw frae ‘mang them a’,               stole
  To pu their stalks o’ corn;
But Rab slips out, an’ jinks about,                  dodges
  Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard an’ fast;
  Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;                             squealed
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
  Whan kiutlin in the fause-house                   cuddling
Wi’ him that night.
The auld guid-wife’s weel-hoordet nits          well-hoarded nuts
  Are round an’ round divided,
An’ monie lads’ an’ lasses’ fates
  Are there that night decided:
Some kindle couthie, side by side,                 cuddle comfortably
  An’ burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa wi’ saucy pride,
  An’ jump out-owre the chimlie                     fire-place
Fu’ high that night.
Jean slips in twa, wi’ tentie e’e;                      watchful
  Wha ‘twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
  She says in to herself:
He bleez’d owre her, an’ she owre him,         whispered
As they wad never mair part;
Till Fuff! he started up the lum,                      chimney
  And Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see that night.
Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
  Was burnt wi’ primsie Mallie;                       precise Moll
An’ Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt,                        huff
  To be compar’d to Willie:
Mall’s nit lap out, wi pridefu’ fling,               nut; leapt;
  An’ her ain fit, it burnt it;                             foot
While Willie lap, an’ swoor by jing,
  ‘Twas just they way he wanted
To be that night.
Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
  She pits hersel an’ rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
  Till white in ase they’re sobbin:                    ashes
Nell’s heart was dancing at the view;
  She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stownlins, prie’d her bonie mou,            by stealth; tasted; mouth
  Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,                           corner
Unseen that night.
But Merran sat behint their backs,                  Marian
  Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea’es them gashing at their cracks,          gabbing
  An’ slips out by herself:
She thro’ the yard the nearest taks,
  An’ to the kiln she goes then,
An’ darklins grapit for the bauks,                   In the dark; cross beams
  And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear’t that night.
An’ ay she win’t, an’ ay she swat—               wound; sweated  
  I wat she made nae joukin;                           bet; trifling
Till something held within the pat,
  Guid Lord! but she was quaking!
But whether ‘twas the Deil himsel,
  Or whether ‘twas a bauk-en’,                       beam-end
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
  She did na wait on talkin                 
To spier that night.                  ask
Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
  ‘Will ye go wi’ me, graunie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass,
  I gat frae uncle Johnie’:
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,                    puffed; smoke
  In wrath she was sae vap’rin,
She notic’d na an aizle brunt                          cinder burnt
  Her braw, new, worset apron                        worsted
Out thro’ that night.
‘Ye little skelpie-limmer’s-face!
  I daur ye try sic sportin,
As seek the Foul Thief onie place,                  Devil
  For him to spae your fortune:                       tell
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
  Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For minie a ane has gotten a fright,
  An’ liv’d an’ died deleeret,                          mad, delirious
On sic a night.
‘Ae hairst afore the Sherra- moor,                  harvest; Sherrifmuir
  I mind’t as weel’s yestreen—                       remember
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure                           young girl
  I was na past fyfteen:
The simmer had been cauld an’ wat,
  An’ stuff was unco green;                            grain; very
An’ ay a rantin kirn we gat,                            rollicking; harvest home
An’ just on Halloween
It fell that night.

‘Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,                chief harvester
  A clever, sturdy fallow;
His sin gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,                     pregnant
  That lived in Achmachalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
  An’ he made unco light’ o’t;
But monie a day was by himsel,                     out of his wits
  He was sae sairly frighted
That vera night.’
Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck,                    fighting
  An’ he swoor by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;                        sow
  For it was a’ but nonsense:                           all nonesense
The auld guidman raught down the pock,      reached; bag
  An’ out an handfu’ gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae ‘mang the folk,
  Sometime when nae ane see’d him,
An’ try’t that night.
He marches thro’ amang the stacks,
  Tho’ he was somethin sturtin;                       staggering
The graip he for a harrow taks,                       dungfork
And haurls at his curpin;                                 trails; crupper -harness strap
And ev’ry now and then he says,
  ‘Hemp-seed I saw thee,
An’ her that is to be my lass
  Come after me, an’draw thee
As fast this night.
He whistl’d up Lord Lenox’ March,
  To keep his courage cheery;
Altho’ his hair began to arch
  He was sae fley’d an’ eerie;                          scared; awe-stricken
Till presently he hears a squeak,
  An’ then a grane an’ gruntle;                        groan
He by his shouther gae a keek,                       looked over his shoulder
  An’ tumbl’d wi’ a wintle                              summersault
Out- owre that night.
He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
  In dreadfu’ desperation!
An’ young an’ auld come rinnin out,
  An’ hear the sad narration:
He swoor ‘twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,            halting
  Or crouchie Merran Humphie—                   hunchbacked
Till stop! she trotted thro’ them a’;
  An’ wha was it but grunphie                                    the pig
Asteer that night?                   Astir
Meg fain was to the barn gaen,
  To winn three wechts o’ naeathing;              winnow
But for to meet the Deil her lane,                   alone
   She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,                        shepherd; a few; nuts
  An’ twa red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
  In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.
She turns the key wi’ cannie thraw,                twist
  An’ owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’,
  Syne bauldly in she enters;
A ratton rattl’d up the wa’,                             rat
  An’ she cry’d, L-d preserve her!
An’ ran thro’ midden-hole an’ a’,
  An’ pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour
Fu’ fast that night.
They hoy’t out Will, wi’ sair advice;              urged
  They hecht him some fine braw ane;            promised
It chanc’d the stack he faddom’t thrice,                   
  Was timmer –propt for thrawin;                   against; bending
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak                     twisted
  For some black gruesome carlin;                   beldam –old wifie
An’ loot a winze, an’ drew a stroke,               cried out a curse; and made a hit
  Till skin in blypes cam haurlin                       shreds
Aff’s nieves that night.           Off his fists
A wanton widow Leezie was,
  As cantie as a kittlin;                                     lively; kitten
But och! That night, amang the shaws,          woods
  She gat a fearful’ settlin!
She thro’ the whins, an’ by the cairns,
  An owre the hill gaed scrievin;                     went careering
Whare three lairds’ lands met at a burn,         stream
  To dip her left sark-sleeve in
Was bent that night.
Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,              Now; the stream falls
  As thro’ the glen it wimpl’t;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays,             cliff
  Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t;                           eddy
Whyles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
  Wi’ bickerin, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,              hid
  Below the spreading hazel
Unseen that night.
Amang the brachens, on the brae,                   ferns
  Between her an’ the moon,
The Deil, or else an outler quey,                     Young cow out in the open
  Gat up an’ gae a croon;
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hood;          leaped; sheath
  Near lav’rock-height she jumpit,
But mist a fit, an’ in the pool
  Out-owre the lugs she plumpit
Wi’ a plunge that night.
In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
  The luggies three are ranged;
And ev’ry time great care is taen
  To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock’s joys
  Sin Mar’s-year did desire,                             1715
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,              empty
  He heav’d them on the fire
In wrath that night.
Wi’ merry sangs, an’friendly cracks,
  I wat they did na’ weary;                             think
An unco tales, an’ funnie jokes—                   wondrous
  Their sports were cheap an’ cheery:
Till butter’d sow’ns, wi’ fragrant lunt,           steam
  Set a’ their gabs a- steerin;                            tongues; wagging
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,                    liquor
  They parted aff careerin
Fu’ Blythe that night.

 SlĂ inthe! 

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