Song for Halloween: Tam Lin

(It’s a Halloween ballad about a pregnant lady.  How could I not?)

In ballads, a lot of women who fall pregnant kind of waste away and die of sorrow, saying uncomplimentary things about their lovers.  Not the heroine of “Tam Lin.”

Janet’s the type who goes someplace she’s specifically told not to go, gets in trouble for flower-picking, acts like she owns the place, and apparently hooks up with Tam Lin because by the time she gets home she’s visibly pregnant.  So she talks back to her father and returns to her lover.

But oh no!  Tam Lin is a captive of the very tricky queen of the fairies!  And he’s possibly going to be a human sacrifice on Halloween!  What’s a girl to do but hide at the crossroads, grab him off his horse, and hold onto him while he’s transformed into all kinds of beasts?  Luckily Janet is up to the task.

I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair 
To travel to Carterhaugh, for young Tam Lin is there.
None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge: 
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead.
Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee 
And she’s gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she.
She’d not pulled a double rose, a rose but only two 
When up there came young Tam Lin, says “Lady, pull no more.” 
“And why come you to Carterhaugh without command from me?” 
“I’ll come and go”, young Janet said, “and ask no leave of thee.” 
Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee 
And she’s gone to her father as fast as go can she.
Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild 
“Oh, and alas, Janet,” he said, “I think you go with child.” 
“Well, if that be so,” Janet said, “myself shall bear the blame
There’s not a knight in all your hall shall get the baby’s name.
For if my love were an earthly knight as he is an elfin grey 
I’d not change my own true love for any knight you have.” 
Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee 
And she’s gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she.
“Oh, tell to me, Tam Lin,” she said, “why came you here to dwell?” 
“The Queen of Faeries caught me when from my horse I fell 
And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to Hell.
I so fair and full of flesh and feared it be myself.
But tonight is Hallowe’en and the faerie folk ride
Those that would their true love win at Miles Cross they must bide. 
First let past the horses black and then let past the brown 
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down 
For I’ll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town 
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown.
Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake 
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby’s father.
And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold 
But hold me tight and fear not, and you will love your child.
And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight 
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight.” 
In the middle of the night she heard the bridle ring 
She heeded what he did say and young Tam Lin did win.
Then up spoke the Faerie Queen, an angry queen was she 
”Woe betide her ill-fought face, an ill death may she die.” 
“Oh, had I known, Tam Lin,” she said, “what this night I did see 
I’d have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree.”


4 thoughts on “Song for Halloween: Tam Lin

  1. Aaron Brown

    Love this song. Typo: “an I’ll death” –> “an ill death”. Also, I’ve seen the first part of that line with “her ill-farred face” (though I don’t know what that means).

  2. Saul

    The greatest folk-rock song ever – frequently played on Philly’s WMMR 93.3 in the 70s. Led me to buy dozens of Fairport and Richard Thompson albums.
    Thanks for the lyrics. Cheers.

  3. garzascreek

    Ill-farred (sometimes ill-faured) means unfavored looks, homely if not ugly, poorly made up as in an uncomely old woman with too much or misapplied makeup. It is also the correct lyric. Ill-fought makes no sense and is a mis-listening.



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