Tam Lin

Here’s another one of the Child Ballads reinterpreted by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer.

Here are the lyrics as Anais and Jefferson sing them:

Janet sits in her lonely room
Sewing a silken seam
And looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses green

And Janet sits in her lonely bower
Sewing a silken thread
And longed to be in Carterhaugh
Among the roses red

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go

She hadn’t pulled a rose, a rose
A rose, but only one
When then appeared him, young Tamlin
Says, “Lady, let alone”

“What makes you pull the rose, the rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you come to Carterhaugh
Without the leave of me?”

“But Carterhaugh is not your own
Roses there are many
I’ll come and go all as I please
And not ask leave of any”

And he has took her by the hand
Took her by the sleeve
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses green

And he has took her by the arm
Took her by the hem
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses red

There’s four and twenty ladies fair
Sewing at the silk
And Janet goes among them all
Her face as pale as milk

And four and twenty gentlemen
Playing at the chess
And Janet goes among them all
As green as any glass

Then up and spoke her father
He’s spoken meek and mild
“Oh, alas, my daughter
I fear you go with child”

“And is it to a man of might
Or to a man of means
Or who among my gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name?”

“Oh, father, if I go with child
This much to you I’ll tell
There’s none among your gentlemen
That I would treat so well”

“And, father, if I go with child
I must bear the blame
There’s none among your gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name”

She’s let the seam fall at her hell
The needle to her toe
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
As fast as she could go

And she is down among the weeds
Down among the thorn
When then appeared Tamlin again
Says, “Lady, pull no more”

“What makes you pull the poison rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you harm the little babe
That I have got with thee?”

“Oh I will pull the rose, Tamlin
I will break the tree
But I’ll not bear the little babe
That you have got with me”

“If he were to a gentleman
And not a wild shade
I’d rock him all the winter’s night
And all the summer’s day”

“Then take me back into your arms
If you my love would win
And hold me tight and fear me not
I’ll be a gentleman”

“But first I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild wolf
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your own true love”

“And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild bear
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your husband dear”

“And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear me not
And you will love your child”

At first he changed all in her arms
Into a wild wolf
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her own true love

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a wild bear
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her husband dear

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a lion bold
She held him tight and feared him not
The father of her child

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a naked man
She’s wrapped him in her coat so warm
And she has brought him home

Tam Lin is one of the most mysterious ballads in the tradition. Anais and Jefferson have chosen to omit a great chunk of back story – the story of how Tam Lin became a shape changer in the first place, as a result of an encounter with the Queen of Faerie. Anne Briggs sang an earlier version of the ballad which includes this story; you can read the lyrics she used here and you can listen to her version here.

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About Tim Chesterton

Family man, pastor, storyteller, musician, songwriter. E-mail me at timchesterton at outlook dot com
This entry was posted in Folk music, Music, Traditional Folk music. Bookmark the permalink.

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