The opening stanza captures the atmosphere at the end of a busy market day. The first six lines create the sense of relaxed relief that follows a working day, but an ominous turning point comes in Line 7,
We think na on… splitting the stanza in two.
The narrator then provides a list of the obstacles, put out of Tam's mind because he has been drinking, between the inn and home.
The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles.
There follows a portrait of the archetypal neglected and indignant wife, which shows a disconnection between the carousing male and the sober, reliable, isolated female.
Gathering her brows like gathering storm is a simile which foreshadows the weather ahead.
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm reminds us metaphorically of her responsible role in looking after the children and home, but transforms this into a picture of her as a symbol of vengeance.
The narrator returns to
honest Tam before gleefully repeating an entire lengthened, sage advice from Kate - he is a
blethering, blustering, drunken blellum. The combination of alliteration, onomatopoeic heavy sounds and assonance convey her magnificent dismissal of him as a clumsy and self-deluding oaf. There follows her grim prophecy about his fate, which puts the idea of
warlocks and the
auld, haunted kirk of Alloway into our minds.
The tavern scene is memorable in itself. Its flowing feminine rhymes help to show this alcohol-fuelled evening racing along. The triumphant description of Tam’s friendship with Souter Johnny,
They had been fou for weeks thegither comes at the scene’s mid point and sums up the drunken, comradely mock-heroic mood.
The second half is full of hints of dramatic irony as we doubt the sincerity of the landlady’s
favours secret, sweet and precious and the landlord’s
ready chorus of laughter. Believing this is genuine friendship is as foolish as ignoring the growing storm, which Tam does.
Next comes wonderful use of juxtaposition and contrast. Care is personified as a cautious companion who gives up trying to influence Tam and the word choice of
victorious underline the sense of carefree celebration. However, as if remembering his moral duty, the speaker provides a list of similes in ‘poetical’ English, rather than Scots, advising that pleasures pass quickly:
the rainbow’s lovely form/Evanishing amid the storm.
The tone changes suddenly with the fateful metaphor:
Nae man can tether time nor tide
The hour approaches Tam maun ride
Tam together and there is a feeling of monosyllabic doom of
Tam maun ride.