IT IS a supernatural masterpiece bringing to life Satan’s frenzied jig in an Ayrshire churchyard, surrounded by a gaggle of warlocks and witches.
Now, more than two centuries after its publication, Scots have declared Tam o’ Shanter their favourite Robert Burns poem.
A poll of more than 1,000 people saw the epic work held up as the finest example of the Bard’s output, beating his other bestknown poems to the top spot.
Nearly a quarter of respondents decided the poem detailing a hellish scene in the grounds of the Auld Kirk of Alloway was their favourite.
The comically macabre 1790 piece, Burns’s only narrative poem, has long been regarded as one of the Bard’s most outstanding creations and has inspired generations of artists, writers and playwrights.
It relates the story of the inebriated protagonist happening upon a coven at the kirk where Satan leads a gaggle of warlocks and witches in a dance “till roof and rafters a’ did dirl”. Tam is pursued by the witches, but manages to reach the River Doon and make a narrow escape on his horse.
The poll, commissioned to coincide with Burns Night celebrations the world over, found that 23 per cent of people regarded Tam O’Shanter as their Burns poem of choice,
Second in the YouGov survey, was A Man’s a Man for A’ That, with 17 per cent of respondents rating the poem – famous for its liberal ideas of society in the 18th century – as their No 1 choice.
Following closely in third place is the Address to a Haggis, which 16 per cent of Scots declared their favourite.
Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs, said that, while she favoured another, less well-known Burns poem, the appeal of Tam o’ Shanter was plain to see.
She said: “Robert Burns is Scotland’s greatest cultural icon. The results from this poll show our national Bard still holds a special place in the nation’s heart.
“Tam o’ Shanter is considered by many as one of the best examples of narrative poem, while no Burns Supper would be complete without its vital ingredient – the Address to a Haggis.
“My personal favourite is Mary Morrison, a simple yet very romantic poem about longing.”
Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead, cited To a Mouse as her favourite and praised its strong and vivid imagery that continues to resonate. Admitting that being asked to select just the one poem was an “impossible choice”, she described the work as her “first favourite, best and dearest”.
She added: “At eight, I already loved that wee sleekit cow’rin tim’rous beastie being told, with perfect plain sincerity, ‘I’m truly sorry Man’s Dominion / has broken Nature’s social union’. A tiny trembling creature standing in for our whole laid-waste and abused planet.”
Towns and cities are gearing up for Burns Night, including the Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries, which will involve more than 2,000 performers.
Ms Hyslop added: “Burns remains the people’s poet and his legacy is of immense value to Scotland’s image abroad.
“His vast collection of work has inspired generations across the globe, and the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 is the perfect time to celebrate all that is great about our culture and creativity both past and present.”
• These are the four favourite Burns poems, chosen by a poll of more than 1,000:
1. Tam o’Shanter 23%
2. A Man’s a Man for A’ That 17%
3. Address to a Haggis 16%
4. My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose 14%
However, the highest percentage – 30 – chose “Don’t know”