Tam Lin Balladry

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Thomas the Rhymer

Source: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child.

Child Ballad Number: 37

cites: a 'Thomas Rhymer and Queen of Elfland,' Alexander Fraser Tyler's Brown MS., No I. b 'Thomas the Rhymer,' Campbell MSS, II, 83 c 'Thomas the Rhymer,' Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, II, 251, 1802, "from an copy obtained from a lady residing not far from Erceldoune, corrected and enlarged by one in Mrs Brown's MS."


Thomas is a young man who encounters a beautiful woman upon a white horse while he lounges on a bank. She reveals herself to be the Queen of Faeries and takes him up on her horse, after sealing his service with a kiss. They travel for a long time and when they stop he expresses hunger. She forbids him to eat other than the food and drink she offers him, and while they rest she explains where they are going. She shows him three paths, one beset with thorns which leads to heavan, one fair and lovely which goes to hell, and one green which leads to the faerie lands. She bids him to hold his tongue for seven years, and gives him clothing, and retains him among the faeries for those seven years.

Thomas the Rhymer

  1. True Thomas lay on Huntlie Bank,
    A ferlie he spied wi' his eye
    And there he saw a lady bright,
    Come riding down by Eildon Tree.
  2. Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
    Her mantle o the velvet fyne
    At ilka tett of her horse's mane
    Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
  3. True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
    And louted low down to his knee
    "All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
    For thy peer on earth I never did see."
  4. "O no, O no, Thomas," she said,
    "That name does not belang to me;
    I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
    That am hither come to visit thee."
  5. "Harp and carp, Thomas," she said,
    "Harp and carp along wi' me,
    And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
    Sure of your bodie I will be."
  6. "Betide me weal, betide me woe,
    That weird shall never daunton me;"
    Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
    All underneath the Eildon Tree.
  7. "Now, ye maun go wi me," she said,
    "True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
    And ye maun serve me seven years,
    Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be."
  8. She mounted on her milk-white steed,
    She's taen True Thomas up behind,
    And aye wheneer her bridle rung,
    The steed flew swifter than the wind.
  9. O they rade on, and farther on--
    The steed gaed swifter than the wind--
    Untill they reached a desart wide,
    And living land was left behind.
  10. "Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
    And lean your head upon my knee;
    Abide and rest a little space,
    And I will shew you ferlies three."
  11. "O see ye not that narrow road,
    So thick beset with thorns and briers?
    That is the path of righteousness,
    Tho after it but few enquires.
  12. "And see not ye that braid braid road,
    That lies across that lily leven?
    That is the path to wickedness,
    Tho some call it the road to heaven.
  13. "And see not ye that bonny road,
    That winds about the fernie brae?
    That is the road to fair Elfland,
    Where thou and I this night maun gae.
  14. "But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
    Whatever ye may hear or see,
    For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
    Ye'll neer get back to your ain countrie."
  15. O they rade on, and farther on,
    And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
    And they saw neither sun nor moon,
    But they heard the roaring of the sea.
  16. It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
    And they waded thro red blude to the knee;
    For a' the blude that's shed on earth
    Rins thro the springs o that countrie.
  17. Syne they came on to a garden green,
    And she pu'd an apple frae the tree:
    "Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
    It will give the tongue that can never lie."
  18. "My tongue is mine ain," True Thomas said;
    "A gudely gift ye was gie to me!
    I neither dought to buy nor sell,
    At fair or tryst where I may be.
  19. "I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
    Nor ask of grace from fair ladye:"
    "Now hold thy peace," the lady said,
    "For as I say, so must it be."
  20. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
    And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
    And till seven years were gane and past
    True Thomas on earth was never seen.


  • The Queen of Faeries has an interest in a mortal man
  • The mortal man is taken while in a green and lonely area
  • The Queen takes the man by taking him up on her horse.
  • The faerie horse is milk-white and has bells on the bridle.
  • A mortal man the Queen fancies has no choice but to serve her for seven years
  • The faeries have some greater knowledge of heavan and hell than humans.
  • The fate of the man is ultimatley in the hands of a woman.
  • Interaction with the faeries has strict rules of conduct and speech.
  • Some objects of the faeries are not to be touched by humans.


note: This analysis is only in reference to the above version of Thomas the Rhymer.

The clearest contrast between Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer is that the Faerie Queen in Thomas does not pose a threat to Thomas in any way beyond her ability to command. While Thomas is bound for seven years there is nothing to indicate that any harm comes to him at the end of that time but that he instead undergoes some form of education at the hands of the faeries. Thomas is assumed to retain some level of self control not seen in Tam Lin and thus there is no reason to rescue him. While there is some implied romance between Thomas and the Queen, it is not of the same nature as in Tam Lin.

This more civilized interaction with the faeries indicates that this story assumes that christianity had largely 'tamed' the faerie folk, as the Queen of faeries herself claims to be no equal to the Queen of Heaven (the virgin Mary) and in fact gives religious instruction of a sort. While the faeries still had some power over the mortals, the story implies that their harmful abilities had been removed by the christian religion to some extent. While the Faeries are still somewhat outside of the realm of the mortal world (their path is seperate from those that lead to heaven or hell), they have taken a more active interest in those two roads.

This tale also gives us a more interesting view on the life of a human with the faeries. We see Thomas receiving food and counsel from the Queen, and speaking with her throughout the story. in contrast, in Tam Lin the mortal man spends most of his time in the woods, and is only seen with the faeries when he is riding along somewhat passively with the faerie troop.

Version Notes

Added to site: previous to September 1997