Listen In — The Last Epistle to Tammus

© 1996 - 2024
This recording is of a discussion of the Borders poem The last Epistle to Tammus by J. B. Selkirk.
The Scots transcription uses the traditional literary conventions described in Wir Ain Leed, it is a transcription of what was said, not an attempt at phonetic accuracy and may differ from that of the author.

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Recording used courtesy of and hosted by the School of Scottish Studies Archive.

These verses o J. B. Selkirk stert whan things war gey bad in the Borders. Wark wis kin o scarce, and if ye war lucky enough tae hiv wark ye got gey little recompence for teirin yer guts oot afore the cock crawed the late at nicht. Ah weel, that wis the chance for the emmigration agents, ower thay come and thay got in amang the Robsons, and the Scotts and the Elliots and aw the hard wirkin Border breed and thay tell thaim the grandest story aboot a laund flowin wi milk and hinnie ower the sea. Ay, ay, oh ay, thay only got tae wirk twa oors a year, ye ken, ye mak a fortune and come back tae thair beluvit Border laund. Oh, weel, the twa heid o thaim teuk the bait and awa thay went, ay, this in ane o thaim writin tae his pal in Selkirk tellin him the sad sad story o thair disillusionment, and whit the blankety-blank thay wad dae wi the immigration agent if thay got a haud o him, if thay haed him roond the neck. And he, he gets on aboot the auld days, he says, heh, he says:

Ye mind o fishin, you and me
We haed been catchin twa or three
Amang the rocks ahint Brigend.
Whan, reachin ower, wi extrae bend
A slippit on a muckle stane,
And broke, ye mind, ma collar-bane.
A'v niver been laid up sin syne.
Nor yet afore, that A can mind.

Than he gets on aboot the auld ploys awa at the heid o Ettrick yonder, and he mentions the auld kirkyaird, ye ken? Aboot three and a hauf mile abuin Tushielaw whaur aw the celebrities are laid tae rest, ye ken? Tibbie Shiels and Doctor Boston and Willie Philip and James Hogg, ay, ay, he gets on aboot yon bieldy corner yonder and he says in thae twa grand lines, he says, yon bieldy corner whaur

A wad rather lie within the year
Than be Methuselah oot here.

And he tells aboot bein no sae weel, and he went tae the doctor and o coorse the doctor bein a Scots doctor wis a verra discernin chap, ay he diagnosed the tribble richt awa, that a guid ane, diagnosed, eh? Ay, diagnosed the tribble richt awa, whit's wrang wi you ma man, he says, ye're hameseek. He says, the only cure for that is back tae whaur ye belang in the Borders sae he writin tae his pal in Selkirk tellin him the gled news that he's comin hame, heh, he says:

A'm better fettelt, no sae yallae,
That doctor chield's a cliver fallae.

Oh, and he's leukin forrit tae comin hame and than he tells, he describes the laund o his adoption in thae grand lines o J. B. Selkirk's, he says:

The kintra here's a perfect staw,
It's no the least like oors ava;
A level plain withoot a bend on't,
Wi nae beginnin and nae end on't;
As faur as the ee can leuk upon,
The land's as flat as a baurleyscone.
The watter tae, sae douf and dule,
No here a stream and thare a puil;
Until ye test it wi a straw,
Ye haurdly ken it rins ava.

and than, in these glorious verses, the picture that's been in his mind's eye, aw the years he's been awa frae the Borders, he says;

Ah, Tam! gie me a Border burn
That canna rin withoot a turn,
And wi its bonnie babble fills
The glens amang oor native hills,
Hou men that ance have kenned aboot it
Can leeve thair efterlifes 'ithoot it,
A canna tell, for day and nicht
It comes uncawed for tae ma sicht.
A see't this moment, plain as day,
As it comes bickerin ower the brae,
Atween the clumps o purple heather,
Glistenin in the simmer wather,
Syne divin in belaw the grund,
Whaur, hidden frae the licht and sun,
It gibbers like a deid man's ghost
That clamours for the licht it's lost,
Till out again the lowpin limmer
Comes dancin doun throu shine and shimmer
At heidlang pace, till wi a jaw
It jumps the rocky watterfaw,
And cuts sic cantrips in the air,
The pictur pentin man's despair;
A rowantree buss oot ower the tap o't,
A glessy puil tae kep the lap o't,
While on the brink the blue harebell
Keeks ower tae see its bonnie sel.
And sittin chirpin aw its lane,
A watter-waggie on a stane,
Ay, penter lad, thraw tae the wund
Your canvas, this is holy grund:
Wi aw its highest airts achievin,
The pictur's deid, but this is leevin.