Burns, Tam O’Shanter & Crambo-Jingle

Here’s my third and final post inspired by my recent holiday in Scotland. Towards the end of the trip we stayed in Ayr which is very close to Alloway, birthplace of Robert Burns and the setting for his poem Tam O’Shanter. We visited the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum which is on several sites in close proximity.


Tam on his horse Maggie, whose tail is torn off by a witch in Burns’s epic poem. This sculpture is in the grounds of Burns Cottage.

I had already bought a souvenir copy of Burns’s epic poem in a gift shop and realised that it made quite an impact on me when I was at school.

Certain sections sprang out at me. I love these vivid and humorous lines which refer to Tam’s long suffering wife Kate:

Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;

And these lines stuck in my mind too, much more gentle and philosophical:

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.

Burns Cottage, Alloway, where he lived as a child.

Burns Cottage, Alloway, where he lived as a child. You can see what kind of weather we had!

Inside Burns Cottage

Inside Burns Cottage

Inside Burns Cottage (where he was born and lived until he was seven), I saw printed on the wall the words “crambo-jingle, rhymes“. I headed for the internet and discovered that “Crambo” is a rhyming game. “Crambo-jingle” comes from these lines by Burns:

Amaist as soon as I could spell,
I to the crambo-jingle fell.

Hence the following poem, a pantoum:


When good poets meet and mingle,
up on hill or down in dingle,
may they always crambo-jingle,
whether grouped or paired or single.

Up on hillside, down in dingle,
or like small stones on the shingle,
whether grouped or paired or single,
high on horse with sound surcingle.

Scattering small stones on the shingle,
may their languages commingle.
High on horse with sound surcingle,
may their tongues and pencils tingle.

Languages will intermingle
when good people meet and mingle.
May our tongues and pencils tingle,
may we always crambo-jingle.

© Heather Wastie