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Sawney Bean, legend of a cannibal - written in broad Scots dialect

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Below is the poem entitled Sawney Bean, legend of a cannibal - written in broad Scots dialect which was written by poet Thvia Stein. Please feel free to comment on this poem. However, please remember, PoetrySoup is a place of encouragement and growth.

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Sawney Bean, legend of a cannibal - written in broad Scots dialect

Thar was nae richt ae laddie sair
wha heft a cave 'side Galloway,
wi' nae jaiken he griftit dare
as he was nae tae lippen tae.

Ill-naitur'd  fishwife he haud in wi',
the twa 'greed tae gang the'gither.
She haud her tryst, an' haud her wheesht,
his ill-duin vext her wi' nae dither.

Wi' dirk in hand at howe o' nicht
in fu' ambush thay lay waitin',
skilt o' fecht an' breukin' neck
grantin' flesh for desecratin'.

Than brochten hame an' ne'er spill
tae weil wi' kale an' roastit wean,
for Clootie's gut,  ae meal an' yill
'afore wan cotchit Sawney Bean.

King James the fourth heard o't a'
an' sent oot four hunner men
tae scour the Heid an' gaither a'
o' Sawney's unco clan.

Tae Tolbooth Gaol, than aff tae Leith
whar nae mercy wad be seen
wi' sic brutality tae bequeath
at the quarterin' o' Sawney Bean.

Rough translation, not nearly as poetic!:

There was a crazy, angry man
who inhabited a cave near Galloway
with no skilled trade he dared to grift
and he was not to be trusted.

An ill-natured fishwife he gained in favor
and the two agreed to marry.
She kept her word and held her tongue,
his ill-doing did not bother her.

With dirk in hand at midnight
in full ambush they lay waiting,
skilled at fighting and breaking necks,
granted them flesh for desecration.

They brought it home with nothing wasted,
to mix with kale and roasted child.
For the devils gut, a meal and ale,
before the capture of Sawney Bean.

King James the fourth heard of it all
and sent out four hundred men
to scour the Head and gather all
of Sawney's notorious clan

To Tolbooth Jail, then off to Leith
Where no mercy would be seen
with such brutality to bequeath
at the quartering of Sawney Bean


nae richt- mentally unbalanced (literally 'not right')
heft- to settle or establish a dwelling place
nae jaiken- without a skilled trade or craft
griftit-to use dishonest or illegal methods for personal gain 
nae tae lippen tae-  not trustworthy
haud in wi'- obtained favor from
gang the'gither- unite as in marriage (literally 'go together')
haud her tryst- kept her word
haud her wheesht- kept her silence
ill-duin- wrong, perverse or ill-behavior (literally 'ill-doing')
howe o' nicht- midnight
Clootie- the Devil
ae meal an' yill-a traditional dish, served with whisky or ale, consumed at celebrations
unco- strange, notorious, extraordinary
quarterin'-  punishment by severing the hands and feet (and usually genitals) resulting in a fatal loss of blood.

Copyright © Thvia Stein

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  1. Date: 1/20/2013 5:50:00 AM
    Took a couple of readings (with help of the translation & glossary)... but it's worth reading and re-reading and... Wonderful, exquisite tale! Terry

  1. Date: 11/11/2010 11:40:00 AM
    You were born to write like Walter Scott and Bobby Burns, and the universe has a hole when you conform to other crowds. Powerful!

  1. Date: 11/3/2010 10:32:00 PM
    Congratulations on your fantastic win in the contest, Thvia! Love, Audrey

  1. Date: 11/1/2010 4:31:00 PM
    Congratulations on your win..Sara

  1. Date: 11/1/2010 12:53:00 PM
    An entertaining lesson for me in both history and the use of old Scottish (?), Thvia. Congratulations on you well-deserved win in Deb's contest! Love, Carolyn

  1. Date: 11/1/2010 5:17:00 AM
    Congratulations on this well deserved win, Thvia

  1. Date: 10/24/2010 9:21:00 AM
    how did I miss this one? This sure is a gem and so impressive! Enjoyed trying to read this one and I think this is definitely going to place high in Debbie's contest-- I've been trying to rack my brains how to write one for it-- this was just so cool, Thvia :) hugs nikko :)

  1. Date: 10/11/2010 4:35:00 PM
    interesting, excellent write, enjoyed, have a nice one...P.D.

  1. Date: 10/11/2010 12:42:00 PM
    Very impressive I must say. A excellent write, I throughly enjoyed this wonderful read. The Scots version was a bit cumbersome for me eventhough I have a bit in me, I still had trouble with the clear picture. I'm glad you put in the English version. Great write. Caryl

  1. Date: 10/10/2010 7:10:00 AM
    I actually liked the translation better, though the orig. was very poetic. This is an extrodinary piece, Thvia! I'm REALLY impressed! It could very well be the best one I've ever seen in this style. Well done!

  1. Date: 10/7/2010 7:30:00 AM
    that was so cool, thanks for the translation, I was going to run a copy to my mothers for translation till I got to that part.(she was born in Glasgow), I loved it

  1. Date: 10/7/2010 5:36:00 AM
    Thank you for sharing your outstanding poetry with us Thvia. Looks like a contest winner to me. May your days always be filled with inspiration. Love, Carol

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 5:18:00 PM
    Wowser!! Deb is going to love this one.....although I thank you kindly for your nice comment on mine, my own pales in comparison to this terrific effort! Wow! :)

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 9:54:00 AM
    Chris, you asked about the word 'gang', it simply means 'go' or 'to go'. It's used as a verb rather than a noun... I hope that helps. Thanks for your comment on my entry by the way, I had to really brush up for this piece!

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 9:44:00 AM
    Thvia, this is most excellent! Whoa, you outdid my own entry by a mile. Since you know so much about the dialect, can I ask you a question? When I used the word 'gang', I thought it was for 'going' this right?~Chris

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 6:17:00 AM
    A wonderful and thought provoking entry to the contest, Thvia

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 6:12:00 AM
    Removed! Ha, this was fun to research and write!

  1. Date: 10/6/2010 6:06:00 AM
    This is more than fine!!Just please leave your title withOUT the contest mention. Thanks so much! Light & Love