Tam Lin

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

=all' ê toi prôtista leôn genet' êugeneios,
autar epeita drakôn kai pardalis êde megas sus;
gigneto d' hugron hudôr kai dendreon hupsipetêlon.=

Odyssey, IV. 456-8.

The Text here given is from Johnson's Museum, communicated by Burns. Scott's version (1802), The Young Tamlane, contained certain verses, 'obtained from a gentleman residing near Langholm, which are said to be very ancient, though the language is somewhat of a modern cast.' --'Of a grossly modern invention,' says Child, 'and as unlike popular verse as anything can be.' Here is a specimen:--

'They sing, inspired with love and joy,
Like skylarks in the air;
Of solid sense, or thought that's grave,
You'll find no traces there.'

A copy in the Glenriddell MSS. corresponds very closely with the one here printed, doubtless owing to Burns's friendship with Riddell. Both probably were derived from one common source.


The Story.--Although the ballad as it stands is purely Scottish, its main feature, the retransformation of Tam Lin, is found in popular mythology even before Homer's time.

A Cretan ballad, taken down about 1820-30, relates that a young peasant, falling in love with a nereid, was advised by an old woman to seize his beloved by the hair just before cock-crow, and hold her fast, whatever transformation she might undergo. He did so; the nymph became in turn a dog, a snake, a camel, and fire. In spite of all, he retained his hold; and at the next crowing of the cock she regained her beauty, and accompanied him home. After a year, in which she spoke no word, she bore a son. The peasant again applied to the old woman for a cure, and was advised to tell his wife that if she would not speak, he would throw the baby into the oven. On his carrying out the old woman's suggestion the nereid cried out, 'Let go my child, dog!' tore her baby from him, and vanished.

This tale was current among the Cretan peasantry in 1820. Two thousand years before, Apollodorus had told much the same story of Peleus and Thetis (Bibliotheca, iii. 13). The chief difference is that it was Thetis who placed her son on the fire, to make him immortal, and Peleus who cried out. The Tayl of the yong Tamlene is mentioned in the Complaint of Scotland (1549).

Carterhaugh is about a mile from Selkirk, at the confluence of the Ettrick and the Yarrow.

The significance of 34.3, 'Then throw me into well water,' is lost in the present version, by the position of the line after the 'burning gleed,' as it seems the reciter regarded the well-water merely as a means of extinguishing the gleed. But the immersion in water has a meaning far deeper and more interesting than that. It is a widespread and ancient belief in folklore that immersion in water (or sometimes milk) is indispensable to the recovery of human shape, after existence in a supernatural shape, or vice versâ. The version in the Glenriddell MSS. rightly gives it as the last direction to Janet, to be adopted when the transformations are at an end:--

'First dip me in a stand o' milk,
And then a stand o' water.'

For the beginning of Tam Lin, compare the meeting of Akin and Lady Margaret in Elmond-wood in Young Akin.


TAM LIN

1.
O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

2.
There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad,
Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.

3.
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.

4.
When she came to Carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel'.

5.
She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, 'Lady, thou's pu' nae mae.

6.
'Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
And why breaks thou the wand?
Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?'

7.
'Carterhaugh, it is my ain,
My daddie gave it me;
I'll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
And ask nae leave at thee.'
... ... ...

8.
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.

9.
Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ba',
And out then cam' the fair Janet,
Ance the flower amang them a'.

10.
Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then cam' the fair Janet,
As green as onie glass.

11.
Out then spak an auld grey knight,
Lay o'er the castle wa',
And says, 'Alas, fair Janet, for thee
But we'll be blamed a'.'

12.
'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.'

13.
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.'

14.
'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.

15.
'If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wadna gie my ain true-love
For nae lord that ye hae.

16.
'The steed that my true-love rides on
Is lighter than the wind;
Wi' siller he is shod before,
Wi' burning gowd behind.'

17.
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's awa' to Carterhaugh,
As fast as she can hie.

18.
When she cam' to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel'.

19.
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.

20.
'Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonie babe
That we gat us between?'

21.
'O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,' she says,
'For's sake that died on tree,
If e'er ye was in holy chapel,
Or christendom did see?'

22.
'Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to bide,
And ance it fell upon a day
That wae did me betide.

23.
'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.

24.
'And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a tiend to hell;
I am sae fair and fu' o' flesh,
I'm fear'd it be mysel'.

25.
'But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

26.
'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.'

27.
'But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Amang sae mony unco knights
The like I never saw?'

28.
'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.

29.
'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.

30.
'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 takens I gie thee,
Nae doubt I will be there.

31.
'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.

32.
'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.

33.
'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.

34.
'And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed;
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in wi' speed.

35.
'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.'

36.
Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did gae.

37.
About the middle o' the night
She heard the bridles ring;
This lady was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.

38.
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.

39.
Sae weel she minded whae he did say,
And young Tarn Lin did win;
Syne cover'd him wi' her green mantle,
As blythe's a bird in spring.

40.
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.'

41.
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 ta'en awa' the bonniest knight
In a' my companie.

42.
'But had I kend, Tam Lin,' she says,
'What now this night I see,
I wad hae ta'en out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o' tree.'

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