Tam Lin

aliciagailes-tam-lin

Painting by  Alicia Gaile, over at https://aliciagaile.wordpress.com

For me, this 500+ yr old ballad, is perhaps the most breath-taking song ever to come from Scotland. A tale of a fairy named Tam Lin, and a mortal maiden. Consumed with grief at having been impregnated by the ‘Wild shade’ she attempts to rid herself of child by consuming the poison rose, but is stopped by her errant lover, who then confesses his love to her, and implores her to hold him tight, so that he may transform into the beasts of the forest, and that she must hold him tight, and fear him not, lest his love for her consume him before the transformation is complete. She does so, and holds him tight, until she finds a man once again in her arms. This version is a little nicer than the older arrangements, and strays from the source material considerably, yet is by far my favorite rendition. Lyrics alone don’t do the ballad justice, but nonetheless, here they are.

Janet sits in her lonely room
Sewing a silken seam
looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses green
And Janet sits in her lonely bower
Sewing a silken thread
Looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses red

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
And she’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go
She hadn’t pulled a rose, a rose
A rose, but only one
When then appeared him, young Tam lin
Says, “Lady, pull no more
What makes you pull the rose, the rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you come to Carterhaugh
Without the leave of me?”

“But Carterhaugh is not your own
Roses there are many
I’ll come and go all as I please
And not take leave of any”
So he has took her by the hand
Took her by the sleeve
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses green
And he has took her by the hand
Took her by the hem
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses red

There’s four and twenty ladies fair
Sewing at the silk
And Janet goes among them all
Her face as pale as milk
And four and twenty gentlemen
Playing at the chess
And Janet goes among them all
As green as any glass
Then up and spoke her father
He’s spoken meek and mild
“Oh, alas, my daughter
I fear you go with child
And was it to a man of might
Or to a man of peace
Or who among my gentlemen
Shall give the babe it’s name?”

“Oh, father, if I go with child
This much to you, I’ll tell
There’s none among your gentlemen
That I would treat so well
And, father, if I go with child
I must bear the blame
There’s none among your gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name”

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
She’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she could go
And she is down among the weeds
Down among the thorn
When then appeared Tam lin again
Says, “Lady let alone, pull no more
What makes you pull the poison rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you harm the little babe
That I have got with thee?”

“Oh I will pull the rose, Tam lin
I will break the tree
But I’ll not bear the little babe
That thou has got with me
If he were to a gentleman
And not a wild shade
I’d rock him all the winter’s night
And all the summer’s day”

“Then take me in your arms again
If you my love would win
But hold me tight and fear me not
I’ll be a gentleman
But first I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild wolf
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your own true love
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild bear
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your husband dear
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear me not
And you will love your child”

At first he changed all in her arms
Into a wild wolf
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her own true love
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a wild bear
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her husband dear
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a lion bold
She held him tight and feared him not
The father of her child

Last he changed all in her arms
Into a naked man
She’s wrapped him in her cloak so warm
And she has brought him home
She’s brought him home

This lyrical arrangement is based on the version by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

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Author: dioghaltas

Alba An Aigh, Soar Alba, Alba gu Brath. Wha sae base, as be a slave; let him turn an flee.

18 thoughts on “Tam Lin”

    1. It is, and definitely my favourite version, and though the older sources are just as evocative, they lack the more delicate and romantic edge in regards to Janet and Tam’s relationship.

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        1. Aye, thats actually one of the reasons why I prefer these version that centre around a more simple, and romantic relationship. It seems to hark back to a time when Celtic ballads and stories were set in a chivalrous landscape where men professed pain and emotion, and true love was as known to a warrior as warfare itself.

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              1. It’s a very good version, though it is clearly aimed at teen readers. I’ve been looking for other versions that stay as true to the original but with all the retellings out there this is surprisingly under-used.

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                1. I completely agree, which is why I would recommend Nigel Tranter’s; True Thomas. The plot essentially weaves historical figures and settings with that of fiction, to produce a biography of Thomas the rhymer; the man behind the ballad itself; parts romance, adventure, legend and fact.

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        1. Wow, that’s beautifully done. I like how you have kept it understated; grounded; especially the knight reining in his mount against the dark sky; rather than having filled it with fairy’s and magical motifs.

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            1. Not a problem. And I have to say, I really like how the knight gives of a poised, heroic bearing as he evidently went rushing into the forest, that is then slightly off set by his seemingly startled demeanor upon sighting the queen; a good use of subtle drama and poise. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

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