Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Be an Honest Puck

I like folk music. It's simplicity, it's story telling properties, it's importance within the oral tradition are all appealing. This post is about another traditional folk song.

Fairies are a big deal in the traditions of Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. Shakespeare, Drayton, Alexander Pope, and Sir Walter Scott all wrote about them. There are countless myths and stories concerning fairies that have been passed down through folk traditions for centuries.

The Ballad of Tam Lin is one of these traditional tales.
Stephanie Law's Tam Lin
The tale is of a character named Tam Lin, who is able to either steal from, or impregnate any maid who comes across his path in the forest of Carterhaugh (somewhere in the Cheviot Hills along the Scottish/English border). When a girl named Janet (or Margaret) returns to the forest to find an herb to end her pregnancy, Tam Lin reappears to her and tells her his story of being held in bondage by the Fairy Queen. He tells her how she can set him free.

There have been many versions of the story written lyrically and set to music. Most well known are the versions by Frankie Armstrong, Cast Iron Filter, Fairport Convention, and Anne Briggs.

Below are the lyrics used by Fairport Convention, which is the first version of the song I heard as a kid.
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 buy 
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 I'll 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”

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