Scottish Poetry Selection
- The Biter Bit

Here is a humorous story about a church official who had an inflated idea of his own importance - and contributed to his own downfall! It was written by George Fortune (1898-1982). George Fortune served in France in World War 1, in the Royal Scots. His working life was spent with the Health Department in St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. His other main interests besides composing old-style Scottish verse, were golf, music, and woodworking.

The Biter Bit

When Tam was gettin' on in years
   (Oor beadle, first amang his peers)
He had ae meenister in tears
   Wi' bossy weys: he was, nae error,
What ye micht ca' a haly terror.

When Tam was in his blackest mood,
   Naethin' that Rev'rend did was good,
Tam could, in facy be doonricht rude.
   The elders tried tae calm him doon,
But Tam could be a rale thrawn loon.

On Sabbath oot o' vestry arch
   Tam wad come in stately march,
His sabbath sark sae stiff wi' starch.
   An'wi' the richt releegious looks,
Wad cairry in the Haly Books.

A second time at Rev'rend's back,
   Tam wad soond doon self-same track
Watchin' the puir man didna slack:
   An' gin he did, that man o' God
Wad get frae Tam a wee bit prod.

Up poopit steps lay Rev'rend's way,
   An' tae mak shair he didna stray
Tam wad bang door as if to say,
   "Noo, dae your job - an dinna dare
Until it's dune, come oot o' there!

But let's just bide a wee an' ling'r,
   For ae day when Tammas gaed his ding'r
He let the sneck on his fing'r.
   Then, sad tae say, jist by that door,
Oor Tam forgot the place - an' swore!

That sweer-word Tam let oot in style,
   It rasped the silence like a file;
Yet meenister was seen tae smile.
   He kent at last his oor had come,
He noo had Tam aneath his thumb.

An' sae it cam aboot by chance
   Tam's lapse the sermon did enhance;
That meenister took up his stance
   An' was he on the ba'? He was,
That congregation heard a' its flaws.

That Rev'rend man had got up steam
   Tae talk that day upon the theme
O' sweerin' an' o' man's esteem.
   O' illustrations he had ample,
Wi Tam's, of course, the perfect sample.

The pairish seethed an' squirmed a bit
   But couldna weel mak much o' it,
For was't no' there in Haly writ?
   An tho' it pit him in his place
Oor Tam survived the loss o' face.

Alas, for Rev'rend's sweerin' blast,
   His fire gaed doon, it didna last.
The elders murmurred - an yin asked,
   "His sermons noo are dull an' plain,
Should Tam no' check his thoom again?"

Meaning of unusual words:
beadle = parish officer
rale thrawn loon = real stubborn lad
sark = shirt
gin = if
poopit = pulpit
bide a wee = stay a short time
gaed his ding'r = went hard at it
sneck = door latch,
kent = knew
gaed doon = went down

Return to the Index of Scottish Poetry Selection

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

Separator line