Sunday, October 21, 2018

Halloween - Burns


By Robert Burns, 1785

The following poem will, by many readers, be well enough understood; but for the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions of the country where the scene is cast, notes are added to give some account of the principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to the peasantry in the west of Scotland. The passion of prying into futurity makes a striking part of the history of human nature in its rude state, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, if any such honour the author with a perusal, to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened in our own.-R.B., 1785

Halloween [1]

Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
The simple pleasure of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.
-- Goldsmith --

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans [2] dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze, [fields]
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the cove [3], to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin' clear, [meandering]
Where Bruce [4] ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks, [nuts; pull their stalks]
And haud their Halloween [hold]
Fu' blythe that night. [merrily]

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat, [trim]
Mair braw than when they're fine; [gaily appareled]
Their faces blithe, fu' sweetly kythe, [appearing]
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin';[loyal; kind]
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs, [spruced up; love knots]
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi' gabs, [bashful; gossipy]
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin' [Compel]
Whyles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail, [cabbage plot]
Their stocks [5] maun a' be sought ance; [must; once]
They steek their een, and graip and wale, [shut their eyes; grope and [choose]
For muckle anes and straught anes. [large; straight]
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift, [half-witted]
And wander'd through the bow-kail,
And pou't, for want o' better shift, [pulled]
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow't that night. [So bent]

Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane, [full of earth; none]
They roar and cry a' throu'ther; [pell mell]
The very wee things, todlin', rin, [very; run]
Wi' stocks out owre their shouther; [over their shoulder]
And gif the custoc's sweet or sour. [center of the cabbage stalk]
Wi' joctelegs they taste them; [a folding knife]
Syne cozily, aboon the door, [And then comfortably; above]
Wi cannie care, they've placed them [gentle]
To lie that night.

The lasses staw frae 'mang them a' [stole away from; all]
To pou their stalks of corn [6]: [in Burns' time, means any grain]
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses; [shrieked]
But her tap-pickle maist was lost, [top of the ehat stalk; almost]
When kiutlin' in the fause-house [7] [cuddling; opeing in a grain stack]
Wi' him that night.

The auld guidwife's well-hoordit nits [8], [well-hoarded]
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads' and lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side, [lovingly]
And burn thegither trimly; [together]
Some start awa, wi' saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie [fireplace]
Fu' high that night.

Jean slips in twa wi' tentie e'e; [two; careful eye]
Wha 'twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel:
He bleez'd owre her, and she owre him, [blazed]
As they wad never mair part; [more]
Till, fuff! he started up the lum, [chimney]
And Jean had e'en a sair heart [sore]
To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie; [burned; prudish]
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt, [sulked]
To be compared to Willie;
Mall's nit lap out wi' pridefu' fling,
And her ain fit it brunt it; [own foot]
While Willie lap, and swore by jing, [leapt]
'Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min',
She pits hersel and Rob in; [puts]
In loving bleeze they sweetly join, [blaze]
Till white in ase they're sobbin'; [ash; hissing]
Nell's heart was dancin' at the view,
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't: [look]
Rob, stowlins, prie'd her bonny mou', [stealthily; kissed; mouth]
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't, [snuggly; nook]
Unseen that night.

But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea'es them gashin' at their cracks, [talking and joking]
And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks, [gropes in the dark for the cross beams]
And in the blue-clue [9] throws then,
Right fear't that night.

And aye she win't, and aye she swat, [wound; did sweat]
I wat she made nae jaukin', [didn't dally]
Till something held within the pat, [kiln]
Guid Lord! but she was quakin'! [quaking]
But whether 'was the Deil himsel, [Devil]
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en', [beam-end]
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talkin'
To spier that night. [inquire]

Wee Jennie to her graunie says, [grannie]
"Will ye go wi' me, grannie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass [10]
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:" [got from]
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt, [such a puff of smoke]
In wrath she was sae vap'rin', [so agitated]
She notice't na, an aizle brunt [hot cinder]
Her braw new worset apron [brand; worsted]
Out through that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face! [slang term for a girl]
I daur you try sic sportin', [dare]
As seek the foul thief ony place, [seek the Devil, any}
For him to spae your fortune. [prophecy]
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright, [many a one]
And lived and died deleeret [insane]

On sic a night.
"Ae hairst afore the Sherra-moor, [One harvest; battle of Sherriffmuir, 1715]
I mind't as weel's yestreen -- [well been yesterday]
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure [young girl]
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat, [summer; cold and wet]
And stuff was unco green; [corn or grain; too wet]
And aye a rantin' kirn we gat, [harvest home]
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.

'Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen, [reaper who takes the lead]
A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi' wean, [with child]
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed [11], I mind it weel, [well]
And he made unco light o't;
But mony a day was by himsel,
He was sae sairly frighted [sorely]
That very night.'

Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck, [fighting]
And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck; [sow]
For it was a' but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock, [goodman; reached; bag]
And out a hanfu' gied him; [gave]
Syne bade him slip frae 'mang the folk, [Then told him slip from]
Some time when nae ane see'd him, [no one]
And try't that night.

He marches through amang the stacks,
Though he was something sturtin; [timorous]
The graip he for a harrow taks. [dung fork]
And haurls it at his curpin; [drags his horse crupper behind him]
And every now and then he says,
'Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, and draw thee
As fast this night.'

He whistled up Lord Lennox' March
To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
He was say fley'd and eerie: [frightened]
Till presently he hears a squeak,
And then a grane and gruntle; [grain and grunt]
He by his shouther gae a keek, [shoulder; peep]
And tumbled wi' a wintle [somersaulted]
Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu' desperation!
And young and auld came runnin' out
To hear the sad narration;
He swore 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw, [hobbling]
Or crouchie Merran Humphie, [hunchbacked]
Till, stop! she trotted through them
And wha was it but Grumphie [the sow]
Asteer that night! [Astir]

Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen, [would have; gone]
To winn three wechts o' naething; [12] [winnow; a hoop used for winnowing]
But for to meet the Deil her lane, [alone]
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits, [few]
And two 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, [gentle twist]
And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca' [calls out the name of Satan]
Syne bauldly in she enters: [The boldly]
A ratton rattl'd up the wa', [rat]
And she cried, L__d, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a', [a gutter at the bottom of a dung hill]
And pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
Fu' fast that night;

They hoy't out Will wi' sair advice; [urged; strong]
They hecht him some fine braw ane; [promised; handsome one]
It chanced the stack he faddom'd thrice [13] [fathomed]
Was timmer-propt for thrawin'; [propped with timber against the wind]
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak, [timber full of knots]
For some black grousome carlin; [old woman]
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke, [let fly an oath]
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin' [shreds came peeling]
Aff's nieves that night. [Off his fists]

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittling; [lively]
But, och! that night amang the shaws, [small woods]
She got a fearfu' settlin'!
She through the whins, and by the cairn, [prickly evergreen bushes; gorse]
And owre the hill gaed scrievin, [swiftly]
Whare three lairds' lands met at a burn [14] [lords'; stream]
To dip her left sark-sleeve in, [shirt]
Was bent that night.

Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays, [waterfall; rivulet]
As through the glen it wimpl't;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays; [bank]
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't; [eddy]
Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes, [disappeared; hillsides]
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.

Among the brachens, on the brae, [ferns]
Between her and the moon,
The Deil, or else an outler quey, [stray young cow]
Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool! [almost leapt out of her chest]
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit; [lark's]
but mist a fit, and in the pool [lost her footing]
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit, [Over her ears she fell]
Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies [15] three are ranged,
And every time great care is ta'en',
To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
Sin' Mar's-year did desire, [Since Earl of Mar's rebellion, 1715)
Because he gat the toom dish thrice, [empty]
He heaved them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi' merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary; [know]
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter'd sow'ns [16], wi' fragrant lunt, [cooked oats; steam]
Set a' their gabs a-steerin'; [mouths watering]
Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt, [whiskey]
They parted aff careerin'
Fu' blythe that night.

1: Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands; particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold a grand anniversary,.-R.B.

2: Certain little, romantic, rocky, green hills, in the neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis.-R.B.

3: A noted cavern near Colean house, called the Cove of Colean; which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed, in country story, for being a favorite haunt of fairies.-R.B.

4: The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick.-R.B.

5: The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a "stock," or plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells-the husband or wife. If any "yird," or earth, stick to the root, that is "tocher," or fortune; and the taste of the "custock," that is, the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to give them their ordinary appellation, the "runts," are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house are, according to the priority of placing the "runts," the names in question.-R.B.

6: They go to the barnyard, and pull each, at three different times, a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the "top-pickle," that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed anything but a maid.-R.B.

7: When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet, the stack-builder, by means of old timber, etc., makes a large apartment in his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind: this he calls a "fause-house."-R.B.

8: Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.-R.B.

9: Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and darkling, throw into the "pot" a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a new clue off the old one; and, toward the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, "Wha hauds?" i.e., who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse.-R.B.

10: Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjungal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.-R.B.

11: Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed, harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat now and then: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true love, come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder, and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "Come after me and shaw thee," that is, show thyself; in which case, it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and say: "Come after me and harrow thee."-R.B.

12: This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors, and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which in our country dialect we call a "wecht," and go through all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door and out at the other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue, marking the employment or station in life.-R.B.

13: Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a "bear-stack," and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time you will catch in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow.-R.B.

14: You go out, one or more (for this is a social spell), to a south running spring, or rivulet, where "three lairds' lands meet," and dip your left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake, and, some time near midnight, an apparition, having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it.-R.B.

15: Take three dishes, put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand; if by chance in the clean water, the future (husband or) wife will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered.-R.B.

16: Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the Halloween Supper.-R.B.

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