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Tam O’ Shanter and the Merry Masons
By William Harvey (sixth Editioh) (1960)

NOTE: If Captain Grose had never asked Robert Burns to contribute to his “Antiquities of Scotland,” and if Robert Burns had never produced “Tam o’ Shanter,” the following lines had never been written. Composed for the amusement of one or two “brothers of the mystic tie,” they are now committed to print because these good fellows were kind enough to say that the lines deserved a wider circulation. W.H.

When merry Masons meet at nicht
To crack about Masonic Licht,
An’ tell their tales wi’ pawky glee,
O’ what they say, an’ what they see,
When, wi’ the Compasses and Square,
They draw droll figures on the flure
Or paint the Canopy abune
Wi’ Sun an’ Stars an’ Quarter-mune;
Or curl their nose, or crook their lip,
Or twirl their thooms in Sign and Grip,
They mak’ puir bodies blink their een.
As Tam o’ Shanter did yestreen,
When sitting wi’ the Soutar haiverin’
In Willie White’s Masonic Taivern,
On’ thinkin’ nocht o’ Mells and Trowens,
He got an inklin’ o’ their doin’s.

Now Tam, though aye a blythsome carle
Weel-versed in wonders o’ the warl’,
Had never brocht himsel’ to join
The Brithers o’ the Rule an’ Line
At last, yestreen, as I have tauld—
The punch was het, the nicht was cauld—
Some cronies gathered for a dram,
An’ foremost o’ them a’ was Tam.
As ower a story they were laughin’,
Some chields burst in upon their daffin—
A core o’ Masons daft and crouse,
Wha’d held a lodge ayont the house
An’ preened upon some billie’s sark,
That sign they ca’ the Mason’s Mark;
What form it took no ane wad tell.
But aye they a’ thegither fell
To laughin’ owre their mystic ploy,
An’ hotched an’ giggled in their joy.

"Methinks,” quo’ Tam, " your wark the nicht
Has been connected wi’ the Licht?”
“’Deen that,” quo’ they, “an’ there he stands
Fresh frae King Solomon’s ain hands,
Levelled and Squared as you may see—
A very Prince o’ Masonry!
He has the airt o’ Fower Degrees,
Kens brawly how to Plumb his P’s
And Q’s, an’ be a brither fair
To ilka ane that’s on the Square.
A man—go search the world around—
A better man will not be found
As lang as he respects the Mark
That we have preen upon his sark.”
They joked again but Tam, somehoo—
Though geyly drunk he wasna fou—
Got in his pow that 'neath their laugh
Was, aiblins mair than idle chaff.
"God, lads," quo’ he, "I’m thinkin’ some
I’d like to join you on the Plumb,
An’ learn the Secrets o’ your trade.
An’ see juist how a Mason’s made;
Wha’ll tak’ my hand some canty nicht
An’ lead me to Masonic Licht?"

"I will,” said Rab, auld Scotland’s bard,
"I hold you, Tam, in high regard;
Your worth, I’ll pledge it in the Lodge,
An’ faith, guid Sir, if I’m a judge,
The Ballot will be clear for you
And in a crack we’ll hae you through."
Weel pleased to get the hand o’ Bums
Douce Tam o’ Shanter stood twa turns:
First whisky punch cam’ steaming hot,
Syne, reamin’ swats gaed round the lot.
In troth, inside the Masons’ Inn
Was never heard sic mirth and din;
Wi’ merry tales of Auld Lang Syne
They cracked o' Gavel, Plumb and Line;
Tauld how King Solomon was Sire
To a’ the weedow-wives in Tyre.
How Boaz kissed his loof to Ruth,
An’ Jachin was a wily youth;
How Hiram socht to mak’ folk dine
On Com wi’ Oil—to save the Wine;
An’ how, when kneelin’ at his prayers,
Some Cowans took him unawares.
An’ riped his pouches for the Mark,
Yet missed it preened upon his sark.

Bambazed wi' a’ their Mason lore,
Tam thocht it time to end the splore.
“Now, Rab," quo’ he, “I’ll hae to gang.
Or Kate may think my cornin’ lang,
And aiblins meet me wi’ a rung,
For Listening Ear and Silent Tongue
Were never attributes o’ hers.
Though, truth to tell, she micht be worse."

"Weel, Tam," says Rab, "a man that’s mairrit.
Maun guide his footsteps by the Skirrit—
That straucht, undeviatin' Line
Which Masons count a sacred sign—
An' though I say’t, I’d never keep
A husband frae his virtuous sleep;
But ere you leave our Circle, Tam,
Let’s souther friendship wi’ a dram—
Ae pairtin’ gless,” Bums cried in glee;
"Let’s drink it, chaps, wi’ three times three,
An’ show to Tam our high regard.
Count, Wardens, count!” cried Scotland’s Bard.

Dumfoundered, Tam o’ Shanter stood,
He thocht the chields had a’ gane wud.
First, wi’ a maist unchancy skirl,
They garred the very rafters dirl;
Syne, wi’ their loofs made fearsome play.
An’ roared, "Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!"

Weel mounted on his faithfu’ mare,
Wi’ thochts o’ Compasses and Square,
Tam took the road wi’ easy canter
Kennin’ that sune the farm o’ Shanter
Wad rise before him, an’ his dame
Wad smile, weel pleased to see him hame.
But long ere Tam got hame that nicht
I swear he saw Masonic Licht;
He fand the Point within the Centre
Which unenlightened dauma enter.

An’ learned whaur Masons first are made,
An’ how they follow out their trade
By Level steps, and Plummet actions,
Avoidin’ plots, and pleys, and pactions,
Syne climb the Steps—Three, Five an Seven—
To reach auld Hiram’s neuk in Heaven.
As canny on the mare gaed trottin’,
Tam mused—a’ worldly thochts forgotten—
On a’ the Mysteries divine
That linger round the Rule and Line:
How goats wi’ horns, an’ men wi’ rapes,
An’ monsters of unearthly shapes.
And officers wi’ sharpened swords,
Attended on the Masons’ words.
Thus musin’ at the Midnicht hour,
Tam saw afore him three or fower
Big, buirdly chaps—their leader, Rab—
Breenge at his mare, an’ mak' a grab
At him. "Come on, strip to the sark,
This nicht you’ll get the Mason’s Mark,”
They cried to Tam, "Hand owre your whip,
We’ll gie you now the Sign and Grip.”

Tam, naething laith, threw doun his bonnet.
Syne cuist his coat an’ vest upon it.
"My breeks?” quo’ he. "Ay! an’ your shoon!”
Nae suner said than a’ was dune.
“There, now, my lads,” says Tam, ”prepare
To yield the Secrets o’ the Square!”
But then to Tammy’s wonderment,
Ae deevil, slippin’ up ahent,
Played wallop wi’ a Tow, an’ said,
"Now Tammas, lad, coup heels owre head!”

Tam keekit at his naked shanks,
"God, chaps,” quo’ he, "nae idle pranks!
Fair homie now! Nae silly lark!
Tak’ tent! I’m only in my sark.”
“Ah Tam, ah Tam!” cried Robbie Burns,
"See how your ain mischief returns
Upon your head! The tither nicht,
Ise wad, you saw a pleasant sicht.
When Cutty Sark danced i’ the mirk
Of Alloway's ghaist-haunted kirk.
Now, Tam, for auld acquaintance sake,
Juist follow in fair Nannie’s wake,
An’ prove you’re naither stiff nor bowdie
By feenishin’ wi’ heels owre gowdie.”

"Weel, lads,” quo’ Tam, ”you’re nae-wise blate;
It’s guid for me the hour is late,
An' few folk on the road to see
Thir awfu’ pranks o’ Masonry;
But if it’s Hiram's wull, here gaes!
Juist stand atour—aside my claes—
Mak twa stroke on the road for swords,
And I’ll win a’ your Mason’s Words.”
They gied him room, an’ Tam begood;
Fegs! in a crack he drew a croud.
The mair he danced the mair it grew—
A queer, uncanny, eldritch crew.
Black witches cam’ frae every airt,
Some auld an’ dune, some trig an’ smart,
An’ foremost o’ the core, he saw
The limmers o’ Kirk Allowa!

Tam swat for shame — looked for his breeks
As Nannie wi’ the winsome cheeks
Cried, “Tam, I trow, your cutty sark
Will sune receive the Mason’s Mark,
An' mak’ you fit to haud the Plumb
Wi' Jubelo an' Jubelum.”

At Nannie's words Tam’s taes took fire,
”As sure as Hiram lived in Tyre,
An’ Solomon had twenty wives,
An’ Masons fret awa’ their lives
Because like sport they daurna hae,
I’ll dance,” he cried, “till skreich o’ day.”
Wi’ that he nodded to the witch,
An’ syne his feet began to itch
About the spot whaur strokes were crossed,
A single step Tam never lost,
But danced among the swords sae free
That even Nannie glowered in glee.
Frae Keelum Callum into Reel
Tam danced as though to please the deil;
He “hooched!” an’ gied his thooms a crack
The while his sark gaed ower his back,
For Tam, lost now to sense o’ shame,
Cared naither for his doup nor wame.
Each moment saw him fleeter whirl,
Each second saw him faster birl,
Each instant saw him in the wind—
Berfit before an’ bare behind—
Dose like a peerie on its point;
Then, like a lad wi’ double joint,
He lap his height, an’ wi’ a " Damn!”
Cried, "Rab, what think you now o' Tam."
Syne wi’ a breenge, to win the Square,
Gaed heels owre gowdie owre the mare.

That waukened Tam,
“Guid guide us a’!”
He gied his tousy head a claw,
Syne picked himsel' frae aff the stanes.
An’ fand a’ owre for broken banes,
Then cannily remounted Meg,
An’ made for hame what she could leg.

Now wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
Ilk man an’ mother’s son tak’ heed:
If e’er to Masonry inclined,
An’ Grips an’ Signs run in your mind;
If Hiram and the King o’ Tyre
Beget in you a grand desire
The true Masonic Licht to see
Shun a’ the wiles o’ barley bree:
In sober sense mak’ your advance—
Remember Tam o' Shanter's dance.


Ahent, behind
Aiblins, perhaps
Atower, aside
Ayont, beyond
Bambazed, mystified
Begood, began
Billie, brother, comrade
Bowdie, bent
Brawly, finely
Breeks, breeches
Breenge, spring at
Buirdly, stoutly built
Canty, happy, merry
Chaps, fellows
Coup, turn over
Cowans, masons not regularly apprenticed
Crack, converse
Crouse, lively
Cuist, cast
Cutty, short
Daffin, sport
Daft, merry
Dirl, rattle
Dose, spin
Doup, bottom
Eldritch, wild, hideous
Fair hornie, fair play
Fegs. faith (exclamation)
Garred, made
Geyley, rather
Ghaist, ghost
Glowered, gazed
Heels ower gowdie, somersault
Houched, shouted with delight
Hotched, shook with laughter
Ilka, every
Keekit, glanced at
Lap, leaped
Loof, palm
Mells, mallets
Neuk, corner
Pcerie, top
Pleys, quarrels
Pouches, pockets
Pow, head
Preened, pinned
Rapes, ropes
Reamin’, foaming
Riped, searched
Rung, stout stick
Shanks, legs
Skreich o’ day, dawn
Souther, cement
Splore, convivial party
Swat, sweated
Swats, new ale
Tak tent, beware
Thir, these
Thooms, thumbs
Tilher, other
Tousy, untidy
Tow, rope
Trowens, trowels
Wallop, to strike swiftly
Warne, belly
Wud, mad

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