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  • Halloween

    Posted by David Foster on October 31st, 2014 (All posts by )

    From the hag and hungry goblin
    That into rags would rend ye
    And the spirits that stand
    By the naked man
    In the Book of Moons, defend ye!

    That of your five sound sense
    You never be forsaken
    Nor wander from
    Yourself with Tom
    Abroad to beg your bacon

    The moon’s my constant mistress
    And the lonely owl my marrow
    The flaming drake
    And the night-crow make
    Me music to my sorrow

    I know more than Apollo
    For oft, when he lies sleeping
    I see the stars
    At mortal wars
    And the rounded welkin weeping

    With a host of furious fancies
    Whereof I am commander
    With a burning spear
    And a horse of air
    To the wilderness I wander

    By a knight of ghosts and shadows
    I summoned am to tourney
    Ten leagues beyond
    The wide world’s end
    Methinks it is no journey

    (Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn’t it? This is Tom O’Bedlam’s Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)


    6 Responses to “Halloween”

    1. Margaret Says:

      David, you’ve reminded me that the denouement of “Tam Lin” takes place on Hallowe’en:

      “And ance it fell upon a day
      A cauld day and a snell,
      When we were frae the hunting come,
      That frae my horse I fell,
      The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,
      In yon green hill do dwell.
      “And pleasant is the fairy land,
      But, an eerie tale to tell,
      Ay at the end of seven years,
      We pay a tiend to hell,
      I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
      I’m feard it be mysel.
      “But the night is Halloween, lady,
      The morn is Hallowday,
      Then win me, win me, an ye will,
      For weel I wat ye may.
      “Just at the mirk and midnight hour
      The fairy folk will ride,
      And they that wad their true-love win,
      At Miles Cross they maun bide.”

      * * *

      “They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,
      Into an esk and adder,
      But hold me fast, and fear me not,
      I am your bairn’s father.
      “They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim,
      And then a lion bold,
      But hold me fast, and fear me not,
      And ye shall love your child.
      “Again they’ll turn me in your arms
      To a red het gand of airn,
      But hold me fast, and fear me not,
      I’ll do you nae harm.
      “And last they’ll turn me in your arms
      Into the burning gleed,
      Then throw me into well water,
      O throw me in with speed.
      “And then I’ll be your ain true-love,
      I’ll turn a naked knight,
      Then cover me wi your green mantle,
      And hide me out o sight.”

    2. Margaret Says:

      And although this, like Tom o’Bedlam’s song, is not strictly a Hallowe’en poem, it has all the necessary ingredients:

      “Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
      What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
      Wi’ tippenny, we fear nae evil;
      Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!
      The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
      Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle,
      But Maggie stood, right sair astonish’d,
      Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
      She ventur’d forward on the light;
      And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!

      Warlocks and witches in a dance:
      Nae cotillon, brent new frae France,
      But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
      Put life and mettle in their heels.
      A winnock-bunker in the east,
      There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
      A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
      To gie them music was his charge:
      He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
      Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. –
      Coffins stood round, like open presses,
      That shaw’d the Dead in their last dresses;
      And (by some devilish cantraip sleight)
      Each in its cauld hand held a light.
      By which heroic Tam was able
      To note upon the haly table,
      A murderer’s banes, in gibbet-airns;
      Twa span-lang, wee, unchristened bairns;
      A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
      Wi’ his last gasp his gabudid gape;
      Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted:
      Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
      A garter which a babe had strangled:
      A knife, a father’s throat had mangled.
      Whom his ain son of life bereft,
      The grey-hairs yet stack to the heft;
      Wi’ mair of horrible and awfu’,
      Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.
      Three lawyers tongues, turned inside oot,
      Wi’ lies, seamed like a beggars clout,
      Three priests hearts, rotten, black as muck,
      Lay stinkin, vile in every neuk.

      As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
      The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
      The Piper loud and louder blew,
      The dancers quick and quicker flew,
      The reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
      Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
      And coost her duddies to the wark,
      And linkit at it in her sark!

      Now Tam, O Tam! had they been queans,
      A’ plump and strapping in their teens!
      Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flainen,
      Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!-
      Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
      That ance were plush o’ guid blue hair,
      I wad hae gien them off my hurdies,
      For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies!
      But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
      Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
      Louping an’ flinging on a crummock.
      I wonder did na turn thy stomach.

      But Tam kent what was what fu’ brawlie:
      There was ae winsome wench and waulie
      That night enlisted in the core,
      Lang after ken’d on Carrick shore;
      (For mony a beast to dead she shot,
      And perish’d mony a bonie boat,
      And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
      And kept the country-side in fear);
      Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
      That while a lassie she had worn,
      In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
      It was her best, and she was vauntie.
      Ah! little ken’d thy reverend grannie,
      That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
      Wi twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches),
      Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches!

      But here my Muse her wing maun cour,
      Sic flights are far beyond her power;
      To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
      (A souple jade she was and strang),
      And how Tam stood, like ane bewithc’d,
      And thought his very een enrich’d:
      Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
      And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main:
      Till first ae caper, syne anither,
      Tam tint his reason a thegither,
      And roars out, “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”
      And in an instant all was dark:
      And scarcely had he Maggie rallied.
      When out the hellish legion sallied.

      As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
      When plundering herds assail their byke;
      As open pussie’s mortal foes,
      When, pop! she starts before their nose;
      As eager runs the market-crowd,
      When “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud;
      So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
      Wi’ mony an eldritch skreich and hollow.

      Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin!
      In hell, they’ll roast thee like a herrin!
      In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
      Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!
      Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
      And win the key-stone o’ the brig;^1
      There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
      A running stream they dare na cross.
      But ere the keystane she could make,
      The fient a tail she had to shake!
      For Nannie, far before the rest,
      Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
      And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
      But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
      Ae spring brought off her master hale,
      But left behind her ain grey tail:
      The carlin claught her by the rump,
      And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

      Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
      Ilk man and mother’s son, take heed:
      Whene’er to Drink you are inclin’d,
      Or Cutty-sarks rin in your mind,
      Think ye may buy the joys o’er dear;
      Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.”

    3. Margaret Says:

      Exit question: why is everybody who’s tormented on Hallowe’en named Tom?

      “Poor Tom’s a-cold.”

    4. David Foster Says:

      “why is everybody who’s tormented on Hallowe’en named Tom?”

      …maybe a psychological connection with “Tomcat”?

    5. Margaret Says:

      Given Tam Lin’s reputation, seems quite likely.

    6. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Harvest time…

      John Barleycorn Must Die: