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Faerie Lore : Fairy Music : The Ballad of "Thomas The Rhymer"

Thomas Learmonth (c. 1220 – c. 1298; also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth), better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, was a 13th century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called "Erceldoune") , seems to be the protagonist of the ballad "Thomas the Rhymer" (Child Ballad 37 A/B/C).

His reputation for supernatural powers for a time rivalled that of Merlin. Thomas became known as "True Thomas" because he could not tell a lie. Popular lore recounts how he prophesied many great events in Scottish history,[5] including the death of Alexander III of Scotland.

Thomas' gift of prophecy is linked to his poetic ability, although it is not clear if the name Rhymer was his actual surname or merely a soubriquet. He is often cited as the author of the English Sir Tristrem, a version of the Tristram legend, and some lines in Robert Mannyng's Chronicle may be the source of this association.

He is also the probable source of the legend of Tam Lin (also called Tamlane, Tamlin, Tomlin, Tam Lien, Tam-a-Line, or Tam Lane), since this character was also raptured by the Queen of the Fairies. While this ballad is specific to Scotland, the motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is found throughout Europe in folktales.

Musicologists have traced the ballad, "Thomas the Rhymer", back at least as far as the 13th century. It deals with the supernatural subject matter of fairy-folk. The theme of this song also closely relates to another song, that of Tam Lin ( Child Ballad 39A ), which follows the same general topical lines. Its more general theme relates to temptation and mortal pleasures. Joseph Jacobs included a variant, "Tamlane", in More English Fairy Tales

Child took the threat to take out Tam Lin's eyes as a common folk precaution against mortals who could see fairies, in the tales of fairy ointment. Joseph Jacobs interpreted it as rather a reversal of the usual practice; the Queen of Faerie would have kept him from seeing the human woman who rescued him.

Several different variants of the ballad of Thomas Rhymer exist, most having the same basic theme. They tell how Thomas either kissed or slept with the Queen of Elfland and either rode with her or was otherwise transported to Fairyland.

One version relates that she changed into a hag immediately after sleeping with him, as some sort of a punishment to him, but returned to her originally beautiful state when they neared her castle, where her husband lived. Thomas stayed at a party in the castle until she told him to return with her, coming back into the mortal realm only to realise that seven years had passed. He asked for a token to remember the Queen by; she offered him the choice of becoming a harper or a prophet, and he chose the latter.

After a number of years of prophecy, Thomas bade farewell to his homeland and presumably returned to Fairyland, whence he has not yet returned.

There is also a 14th-century romance "Thomas of Erceldoune", with accompanying prophecies, which clearly relates to the ballad, though the exact nature of the relationship is not clear. The romance survives complete or in fragments in five manuscripts, the earliest of which is the Lincoln codex compiled by Robert Thornton. The romance confirms the content of the ballad

Hereby I post the collected versions issued for the first time on "THE ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH POPULAR BALLADS" by FRANCIS JAMES CHILD [1882-1898]

37A.1 TRUE THOMAS lay oer yond grassy bank,
And he beheld a ladie gay,
A ladie that was brisk and bold,
Come riding oer the fernie brae.
37A.2 Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantel of the velvet fine,
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
37A.3 True Thomas he took off his hat,
And bowed him low down till his knee:
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For your peer on earth I never did see.’
37A.4 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
And I’m come here for to visit thee.
* * * * *
37A.5 ‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
For ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weel or wae as may chance to be.’
37A.6 She turned about her milk-white steed,
And took True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
37A.7 For forty days and forty nights
He wade thro red blude to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.
37A.8 O they rade on, and further on,
Until they came to a garden green:
‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
37A.9 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
For a’ the plagues that are in hell
Light on the fruit of this countrie.
37A.10 ‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
And now ere we go farther on,
We’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
37A.11 When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
The lady sayd, re we climb yon hill,
And I will show you fairlies three.
37A.12 ‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
37A.13 ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
37A.14 ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
37A.15 ‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever you may hear or see,
For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
37A.16 He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were past and gone
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

37B.1 As Thomas lay on Huntlie banks-+-
A wat a weel bred man was he-+-
And there he spied a lady fair,
Coming riding down by the Eildon tree.
37B.2 The horse she rode on was dapple gray,
And in her hand she held bells nine;
I thought I heard this fair lady say
These fair siller bells they should a’ be mine.
37B.3 It’s Thomas even forward went,
And lootit low down on his knee:
‘Weel met thee save, my lady fair,
For thou’rt the flower o this countrie.’
37B.4 ‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she says,
‘O no, O no, that can never be,
For I’m but a lady of an unco land,
Comd out a hunting, as ye may see.
37B.5 ‘O harp and carp, Thomas,’ she says,
‘O harp and carp, and go wi me;
It’s be seven years, Thomas, and a day,
Or you see man or woman in your ain countrie.’
37B.6 It’s she has rode, and Thomas ran,
Until they cam to yon water clear;
He’s coosten off his hose and shon,
And he’s wooden the water up to the knee.
37B.7 It’s she has rode, and Thomas ran,
Until they cam to yon garden green;
He’s put up his hand for to pull down ane,
For the lack o food he was like to tyne.
37B.8 ‘Hold your hand, Thomas,’ she says,
‘Hold your hand, that must not be;
It was a’ that cursed fruit o thine
Beggared man and woman in your countrie.
37B.9 ‘But I have a loaf and a soup o wine,
And ye shall go and dine wi me;
And lay yer head down in my lap,
And I will tell ye farlies three.
37B.10 ‘It’s dont ye see yon broad broad way,
That leadeth down by yon skerry fell?
It’s ill’s the man that dothe thereon gang,
For it leadeth him straight to the gates o hell.
37B.11 ‘It’s dont ye see yon narrow way,
That leadeth down by yon lillie lea?
It’s weel’s the man that doth therein gang,
For it leads him straight to the heaven hie.’
* * * * *
37B.12 It’s when she cam into the hall-+-
I wat a weel bred man was he-+-
They’ve asked him question[s], one and all,
But he answered none but that fair ladie.
37B.13 O they speerd at her where she did him get,
And she told them at the Eildon tree;


37C.1 TRUE Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
A ferlie he spied wi’ his ee,
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.
37C.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.
37C.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.’
37C.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.
37C.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.’
37C.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.
37C.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.’
37C.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.
37C.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.
37C.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.
37C.11 ‘O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
37C.12 ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
37C.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.
37C.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.’
37C.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.
37C.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.
37C.17 Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
‘Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie.’
37C.18 ‘My tongue is mine ain,’ True Thomas said;
‘A gudely gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
37C.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.’
37C.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.

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