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Tam Samson's Elegy

Has auld Kilmarnock seen the Deil? Or great Mackinlay thrawn his heel? Or Robertson again grown weel, To preach an' read? "Na, waur than a'! cries ilka chiel, "Tam Samson's dead!" Kilmarnock lang may grunt an' grane, An' sigh, an' sab, an' greet her lane, An' cleed her bairns, man, wife, an' wean, In mourning weed; To Death she's dearly pay'd the kane, Tam Samson's dead! The Brethren, o' the mystic level May hing their head in woefu' bevel, While by their nose the tears will revel, Like ony bead; Death's gien the Lodge an unco devel; Tam Samson's dead! When Winter muffles up his cloak, And binds the mire like a rock; When to the loughs the Curlers flock, Wi' gleesome speed, Wha will they station at the cock? Tam Samson's dead! He was the king o' a' the Core, To guard, or draw, or wick a bore, Or up the rink like Jehu roar, In time o' need; But now he lags on Death's hog-score Tam Samson's dead! Now safe the stately Sawmont sail, And Trouts bedropp'd wi' crimson hail, And Eels, weel kend for souple tail, And Geds for greed, Since, dark in Death's fish-creel, we wail Tam Samson's dead! Rejoice, ye birring Paitricks a'; Ye cootie Moorcocks, crousely craw; Ye Maukins, cock your fud fu' braw Withoutten dread; Your mortal Fae is now awa; Tam Samson's dead! That woefu' morn be ever mourn'd, Saw him in shooting graith adorn'd, While pointers round impatient burn'd, Frae couples free'd; But och! he gaed and ne'er return'd! Tam Samson's dead! In vain Auld age his body batters, In vain the Gout his ancles fetters, In vain the burns cam down like waters, An acre braid! Now ev'ry auld wife, greetin, clatters "Tam Samson's dead!" Owre mony a weary hag he limpit, An' aye the tither shot he thumpit, Till coward Death behind him jumpit, Wi' deadly feid; Now he proclaims wi' tout o' trumpet, "Tam Samson's dead!" When at his heart he felt the dagger, He reel'd his wonted bottle-swagger, But yet he drew the mortal trigger, Wi' weel-aimed heed; "Lord, five!" he cry'd, an' owre did stagger - Tam Samson's dead! Ilk hoary Hunter mourn'd a brither; Ilk Sportsman youth bemoan'd a father; Yon auld gray stane, amang the heather, Marks out his head; Whare Burns has wrote, in rhyming blether, "Tam Samson's dead!" There, low he lies, in lasting rest; Perhaps upon his mould'ring breast Some spitefu' muirfowl bigs her nest To hatch an' breed: Alas! nae mair he'll them molest! Tam Samson's dead! When August winds the heather wave, And sportsmen wander by yon grave, Three volleys let his memory crave, O' pouther an' lead, Till Echo answer frae her cave, "Tam Samson's dead!" Heav'n rest his saul whare'er he be! Is th' wish o' mony mae than me: He had twa fauts, or maybe three, Yet what remead? Ae social, honest man want we: Tam Samson's dead! The Epitaph Tam Samson's weel-worn clay here lies Ye canting zealots, spare him! If honest worth in Heaven rise, Ye'll mend or ye win near him. Per Contra Go, Fame, an' canter like a filly Thro' a' the streets an' neuks o' Killie; Tell ev'ry social honest billie To cease his grievin'; For, yet unskaithed by Death's gleg gullie. Tam Samson's leevin'!


Eileen McCallum
David Hayman

About this work

This is an elegy by Robert Burns. It was written in 1786 and is read here by Eileen McCallum.

Themes for this elegy


Selected for 14 August

Tam Samson, the dedicatee and subject of today's poem was a mason in the Kilmarnock Lodge' of which Burns was an honorary member. Burns's good friend and drinking companion was a 'seeds-man' and the family firm continued to run its nursery well into the second half of the twentieth century. Out shooting wild fowl with the poet, Samson had expressed a desire to be buried on the moor. His companion obliged him with the hope that when, 'August winds the heather wave', a hunters' salute would be fired over his grave. In fact he was laid to rest in the Laigh Kirk-yard under Burns's epitaph. This had been one of the Bard's many mock epitaphs, performed in the supposed deceased’s all too lively presence! Samson had insisted that Burns add the reassuring stanza that confirmed at the elegy's conclusion: Tam Samson's livin!

Donny O'Rourke

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