Tam O'Shanter "Nursing Her Wrath To Keep It Warm"

Robert Burns

"Nursing Her Wrath To Keep It Warm"

Context: "Tam O'Shanter" is a poem about one poor Scotsman's adventures with Satan's crew, on a night when he is making his way home after an evening of drinking at a tavern. As the epigraph from Gawin Douglas says, it is a tale of "Brownyis and of Bogilis full." The poem describes how Tam O'Shanter, who failed to take the advice offered by his good wife, Kate, always gets drunk when he goes to market-day in the town of Ayr. On one such night the boozing Scotsman canters out of Ayr toward his home, mounted on his faithful horse, Meg. As he approaches Alloway Kirk, he sees it blazing with light, and he stops to watch the unholy crew dance hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels to the Devil's music. Tam is particularly entranced by the appearance and dancing of a young, pretty, and quite shapely witch in a short skirt. Without thinking of the consequences, Tam calls out his admiration of her dancing, at which the whole devilish crew take out after him. He spurs Meg and barely escapes by racing the horse across the bridge over the River Doon, which, being running water, stops the spirits' and witches' pursuit. The quotation, from the first verse paragraph, tells how men gather on late afternoon, as the market-day ends, to sit and drink together, little thinking of the distance home or the wrath of their wives who are kept waiting:

When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors, neebors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
An' folk begin to tak' the gate;
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An' getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles,
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.