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Tam Lin


O I forbid ye, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair, To come, and gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tom-lin is there. There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh But they leave him a wad; Either their rings, or green mantles, Or else their maidenhead. Janet has kilted her green kirtle, A little aboon her knee; And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree; And she's awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie. When she came to Carterhaugh Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing But away was himsel. She had na pu'd a double rose, A rose but only tway, Till up then started young Tom-lin, Says, Lady, thou's pu' nae mae. Why pu's thou the rose, Janet? And why breaks thou the wand? Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh Withouthen my command? Carterhaugh it is is my ain, My daddy gave it me; I'll come and gae by Carterhaugh And ask nae leave at thee.' Janet has kilted her green kirtle, A little aboon her knee; And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree; And she's awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie. Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the ba, And out then cam fair Janet, Ance the flower amang them a'. Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the chess, And out then came fair Janet, As green as onie glass. Out then spak an auld grey knight, Lay o'er the castle-wa', And says, Alas, fair Janet for thee But we'll be blam'd a'. Haud your tongue, ye auld-fac'd knight, Some ill death may ye die, Father my bairn on whom I will, I 'll father nane on thee.' Out then spak her father dear, And he spak meek and mild, And ever alas, sweet Janet, he says, I think thou gaes wi' child. If that I gae wi child, father, Mysel maun bear the blame; There 's ne'er a laird about your ha, Shall get the bairn's name. If my Love were an earthly knight, As he's an elfin grey; I was na gie my ain true-love For nae lord that ye hae. The steed that my true-love rides on, Is lighter than the wind; Wi' siller he is shod before, Wi' burning gowd behind. Janet has kilted her green kirtle, A little aboon her knee; And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree; And she's awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie. When she came to Carterhaugh, Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel. She had na pu'd a double rose, A rose but only tway, Till up then started young Tom-lin, Says, Lady thou pu's nae mae. Why pu's thou the rose, Janet, Amang the groves sae green, And a' to kill the bonie babe, That we gat us between. O tell me, tell me, Tom-lin she says, For's sake that died on tree, If e'er ye were in holy chapel, Or Christendom did see.' Roxbrugh he was my Grandfather Took me with him to bide, And ance it fell upon a day That wae did me betide. Ance it fell upon a day, A cauld day and a snell, When we were frae the hunting come, That frae my horse I fell. The Queen o' Fairies she caught me, in yon green hill to dwell, And pleasant is the fairy-land But, an eerie tale to tell! Ay at the end of seven years, They pay a tiend to hell; I am sae fair and fu' o flesh I'm fear'd it be mysel. But the night is Halloween, Lady The morn is Hallowday; Then win me, win me, an ye will, For weel I wat ye may. Just at the mirk and midnight hour The fairie folk will ride, And they that wad their truelove win, At Miles Cross they maun bide.' But how shall I thee ken, Tom-lin, O how my truelove know. Amang sae mony unco knights The like I never saw O first let pass the black, Lady, And syne let pass the brown But quickly run to the milk-white steed, Pu ye his rider down: For I'll ride on the milk-white steed And ay nearest the town. Because I was an earthly knight They gie me that renown. My right hand will be glov'd, lady, My left hand will be bare; Cockt up shall my bonnet be, And kaim'd down shall my hair; And thae's the tokens I gie thee, Nae doubt I will be there. They'll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an ask and adder, But hald me fast and fear me not, I am your bairn's father. They'll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold; But hold me fast and fear me not, As you shall love your child. Again they'll turn me in your arms To a red het gaud of airn; But hold me fast and fear me not, I'll do to you nae harm. And last they 'll turn me, in your arms, Into the burning lead; Then throw me into well-water, O throw me in wi' speed! And then I'll be your ain truelove, I'll turn a naked knight: Then cover me wi' your green mantle, And cover me out o sight. Gloomy, gloomy was the night, And eerie was the way, As fair Jenny in her green mantle To Milescross she did gae. About the middle o' the night She's heard the bridles ring; This lady was as glad at that As any earthly thing. First she let the black pass by, And syne she let the brown; And quickly she ran to the milk-white steed And pu'd the rider down. Sae weel she minded what he did say And young Tom-lin did win; Syne cover'd him wi' her green mantle As blythe's a bird in spring. Out then spak the queen o Fairies, Out o' a brush o' broom; 'Them that hae gotten young Tom-lin Hae gotten a stately groom. Out then spak the queen o' Fairies, And an angry queen was she; Shame betide her ill-fard face, And an ill death may she die, For she's ta-en awa the boniest knight In a' my companie. But had I kend, Tom-lin,' she says, What now this night I see, I wad has ta'en out thy twa grey een, And put in twa een o' tree.

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Eileen McCallum

About this work

This is a song by Robert Burns. It was written between 1771 and 1779 and is read here by Eileen McCallum.

More about this song

Largely composed from older versions of the supernatural ballad, Burns's version of 'Tam Lin' appeared for the first time in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (1796). In the ballad a young maiden summons the fairy, Tom-lin, by plucking a flower (a recognisable feature of such tales). Tom-lin appears to her beside a well, commonly represented in supernatural tales as the entrance to the underworld, and takes her virginity.

Her consequent pregnancy prompts her to return to the scene of their encounter, and her demonstration of true love for her fairy lover lifts the 'queen o' Fairies' curse, restoring Tom-lin to humanity. The prominent use of 'green' imagery is another recognisable trope of supernatural folklore and balladry.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this song

superstition love regret

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