Kirk Alloway

Light and mirth and dancing provide a mystifying contrast to the overwhelming powers of nature. The speaker immediately reminds us that Tam is drunk:

The swats sae ream'd in Tammie’s noddle

Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle

The comical word choice of Tammie’s, noddle and boddle suggest a kind of carefree drunken courage. Tam is ready for adventure. Maggie is unwilling and one little descriptive touch - stood richt sair astonished adds an essential development to her character. She is a sensible, cautious animal, wiser than Tam.

The next lines contain a fine description of wild country dancing, interrupted in the middle by a ghoulish description of the sacrilegious use of the haly table. Tam spots, in quick succession, a range of horrific items, but it is the dance that holds his attention. Burns portrays the witches taking part in …hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels. Auld Nick is at the side in a winnock bunker- his role is vital only as musician.

Appropriate word choice captures the power of pipe music- screw'd and skirl alliterate to show a ferocious jollity and the building resonates in reply: Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. Here the alliteration and consonance of 'r' conveys the energy of the dance.

The description of the witches dancing captures their movement and wildness brilliantly. The dancing rhythm is conveyed in pairings of words – from amaz'd and curious to swat and reekit. There is alliteration on fun, fast and furious; repetition in The piper…The dancers… suggesting the coming and going of partners, followed by the simple and very effective line : They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit. Each figure of the dance is named separately, to indicate there is a sense of order amongst the wild movement.