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"Fast And Furious"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: To persuade Captain Francis Grose (1731?–1791) to sketch Alloway Church, where Burns's father was buried, the poet promised to provide him with a versified ghost story to publish with the picture in Grose's Antiquities of Scotland (1791). He finished the poem in twenty-four hours and made an immortal masterpiece. Tam o' Shanter, lazy husband of the shrewish Kate, never came home after market until he had spent all his money in the town tavern, drinking with his crony the Shoemaker Johnny, and the tavern keeper and his ingratiating wife. However, on the day of the story, he finally decides at midnight to dare the furious storm and the night in which "a child might understand/ The Deil (devil) had business on his hand." He rides homeward on Meg, his grey mare, humming a Scotch song, till he comes within sight of Kirk Alloway, about which many frightening stories circulate. He remembers some of the dead people associated with the area. To his amazement, the church is ablaze with light. Too full of liquor to be frightened, because "Wi' usquebae, we'll face the devil," Tammie guides his horse in the direction of the church and cemetery. Here he sees "an unco sight." Warlocks and witches are dancing to the music of hornpipes, jigs, and reels, with Old Nick himself looking on. On the table before him, in place of holy relics, are bones of murderers, tomahawks, bloodstained "scymitars," and weapons used to commit many barbarous crimes. Here are the meanings of some of the dialectal words: Cleekit–joined hands; ilka carlin–every old woman; swat and reekit–sweat and steamed; Coost her duddies to the wark–stripped off her clothes; linket in her sark–danced in her chemise.

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;
They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!