Kate o Shanter's Tale

Kate o Shanter's Tale
an extract

Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read,
Ilk man and mother's son, take heed:
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o'er dear,
Remember Tam o'Shanter's mare.

ay, ye
ah waant a wurd wi ye

juist poppt in, duid ye
oan the wey hame fae wurk, wur ye
juist poppt in
fur a wee blether, wus it
a cheerie chinwag, eh
a quick hiya boys tae the smithie an the millar, eh no
an a wee hauf o hevvie juist
tae keep juist
tae keep ye gaun, like

bit juist the ane tho
ay, juist the ane
an a wee ane, mind
juist the wee, wee, wee, weeiest ane
an then ye'r awa hame
sulky sullen dame an aa that, ken
gaitherin her broos, sae she is
ay, juist the ane
gaitherin stoarm, ken
nursin hur wrath, whit
ay, juist ane but
ay, nae bather
oh, ay

well, dinnae gie's it, shanter
juist dinnae gie's it

ye cam in here
fowre in the bliddy moarnan
an ye wur buckled
couldnae staun
couldnae speak
haverin a load ay keech, sae ye wur
tellin us how you'd juist goat back
fae a ceilidh wi the deevil
an how come you'd seen viv lumsden's belly button

a bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum, sae ye ur

Matthew Fitt

from Kate o Shanter's Tale and other poems (Edinburgh: Luath, 2003)

Extract reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Matthew Fitt

Matthew Fitt is a poet and educator, working in the field of Scots language education. 

Read more about this poet
About Kate o Shanter's Tale

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2004. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2004 was Hamish Whyte.

Editor's comment: 
A tour de force – energetic, witty, funny, clever and, like Burgess's poem, a female take on a famous (male-centred) story. It helps to know the Burns original but it can be enjoyed on its own.

Author's note: 
'Kate o Shanter's Tale' isna ma best poem. Whit a thing tae say, eh. Here it's bein includit in an on-line Tap-Twinty o Scottish poetry and aw I can say is, it isnae ony guid. Am I a self-deprecatin wee Scottish gadgie or whit?

But 'Kate' is far fae the brawest piece I've written. I feel awfie proud o maist o ma poems but 'Kate' has an unco position in ma hert, a wee bit like I imagine the original fictional Kate had in Tam's. I think, nearly twinty year since its creation (aye, that's how auld this thing is), I'm comin tae unnerstaun how I hae sic ambivalence towards this three-page monologue.

It began wi a fragment - 'An ye were buckled'. Words uttered by a friend of mine, Pete Carroll from Alloa in Central Scotland. He wis recoontin the nicht afore when a bourach o neebors had been oot on the randan in Edinburgh, me amang them, and had come hame shooglie and shauchlie and nane o us very sober. The neist mornin Pete, juist as heids were stertin tae lift aff pillaes and the livin deid rose oot o the lang hames o their beds, wis fair enjoyin lettin everybody ken exactly how fou they had been. When he had run throu the leet o shame, there wis yin body that still hadnae been lowsed fae Morpheus' blootered embrace. At last, appearin at the door as peeliewally as daith, Pete Carroll roared oot at yon puir sowel in triumph, 'An ye were buckled'.

The line stuck. Owre the neist puckle o days I had it in ma heid gaun roon and roon. I could neither dae onythin wi it nor get it oot o ma thochts. It wisnae until I wheeched roon the gender o the speaker and tried listenin tae the line in a female voice that I dunted intae the idea o pittin thir words intae the mooth o that unsung heroine o Scots Literature, Mrs Kate o Shanter. Pete Carroll, a computer studies student at Napier College, wis transformed intae an eighteenth century gudewife wi a drunken eejit for a gudeman and a cuddie eternally lossin and regrowin its tail.

The poem is a guid-gaun rant, a voice that taks its subject by the scruff o the breeks and bowffs its heid aff the flair a wheen times. I enjoyed writin it. It wis rair fun mixter-maxterin the eighteenth and twintieth centuries by flingin in kebabs and chips and it seemed richt tae mix and mell Burns' words in wi ma ain. I wisnae ettlin tae climb on Rabbie's shooders, juist tae celebrate in the twintieth century the images he wrocht intae life twa hunder year afore.

It's mibbe the energy that comes poorin oot through the pores o this poem. Mibbe it's juist the big bad words, as ma auld auntie used tae caw swearin (I hope no). Mibbe folk like it because it gies a voice tae an intriguin character that in 'Tam o Shanter: A Tale' is kept at the elba o aw the action. The thing is, although I still love readin it oot tae audiences, I dinna think there's enough poetry til it tae mak it worth batherin wi mair than yince. In spite o that, it is read at Burns' Suppers aw roond the planet and remains the maist weel-kent thing I've written.