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The Ballad of Tame Lin

Young Tame Lin, or Tamlane*

The subject of the ballad Young Tam Lin, of which there are many versions, both in the Border country and in the Aberdeenshire, is perhaps tha most important of all the supernatural ballads because of the many fairy beliefs incorporated in it. The fullest version is No.39A in Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. At the beginning the king warns the maidens in his court not to go to Carterhaugh Wood, which is haunted by Young Tam Lin who exacts a pledge from every maiden who visits it, most likely her maidenhood. In site of his warning, his own daughter Janet goes to the well of Carterhaugh, summons Young Tam Lin by plucking a rose, and loses he maidenhood to him. The rest of the Ballad is so vivid and so full of important detail that it would be a pity only to summarize it.

Janet has kilted her green kirtle

A little aboon her knee,

And she has snooded her yellow hair,

A little aboon her bree,

And she is to her father's ha,

As fast as she can hie.

Four and twenty ladies fair

Were playing at the ba,

And out to them cam the fair Janet,

Ance the flower amang them a'.

Four and twenty ladies fair

Were playing at the chess,

And out then cam the fair Janet,

As green as onie the glass.

Out then spak an ault grey knight,

Lay oer the castle wa,

And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee

But we'll be blamed 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 none 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 neer a laird about ha

Shall get the bairn's name.

'If my love were an earthly knight,

As he's an elfin grey,

I wad 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 a snooded her yellow hair

A little aboon he bree,

And she's awa to Carterhaugh

As fast as she can hie.

When she cam to Carterhaugh,

Tam Lin was at the well,

And there she fand his steed standing,

But away was himself.

She had na pu'd a double rose,

A rose but only twa,

Till up then started young Tam 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 bonnie babe

That we gat us between?

'O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,' she says,

'For's sake that died on tree,

If eer ye was in holy chapel,

Or christendom did see?'

'Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,

Took me with him to bide,

Ad ance it fell upon a day

That wae did me betride.

'And 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.

'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 fairy folk will ride,

And they that wad their true-love win,

At Miles Cross they maun bide.'

'But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,

Or how my true-love 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 glovd, lady,

My left hand will be bare,

Cockt up shall my bonnet be,

And kaimd down shall my bonnet be,

And thae's the takens I gie thee,

Nae doubt I will be there.

'They'll turn me in your arms, lady,

Into an esk and adder;

But hold 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 ye shall love your child.

'Again they'll turn me in your arms

Into the burning gleed;

Then throw me into well water,

O throw me in wi speed.

'And then I'll be your ain true-love,

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 Miles Cross she did gae.

About the middle of the night

She 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;

But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,

And pu'd the rider down.

Sae weel she minded shae he did say,

And young Tam Lin did win;

Syne covered him wi her green mantle,

As blythe's a bird in spring.

Out then spak the Queen of Fairies,

Out of a bush o broom;

'Them that has gotten young Tam Lin

Has gotten a stately groom.'

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,

Out of a bush o broom;

'Them that has gotten young Tam Lin

Has gotten a stately groom.'

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,

And an angry woman was she;

'Shame betide her ill-far'd face,

And an ill death may she die,

For she's taen awa the bonniest knight

In a' my companie.

'But had I kend, Tam Lin,' she says,

'What now this night I see,

I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,

And put in twa een o tree.'

Here we have the summoning of a spirit by the breaking the branch of a tree sacred to him, the FAIRY RADE with its jingling bells at Hallowe'en, the time most sacred to the fairies, the fairy KNOWE, the TEIND to Hell - so characteristic of Scottish Fairyland - the rescue from Fairyland by holding fast, the SHAPE-SHIFTING of the captive, and the essential ill-will of the Fairy Queen.

Tamlin, Tamlane, Tam-a-Lin were names often given to a fairy, sometimes a page, sometimes a knight and sometimes a grotesquely comic character, as in the nursery rhyme:

Tam-Lin and his wife, and his wife's mother, They went over a bridge all three together; The bridge was broken, and they fell in; 'The devil go with all' says Tam-a-Lin. From K Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies with Ballad Text from F.J.Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

* The text in this document comes from R.J.Stewart's, The Living World of Faery, (1995,1999) Mercury Publishing Inc. Lake Toxaway, NC 28747

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