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Thomas the Rhymer Child #37 Rhymer’s Tower still stands in Earlston, Scotland, the ruins of the home of 13th century poet and soothsayer Thomas of Ercildoune. Collated from oral and literary versions, the ballad depicts his trip to Elflyn land and his initiation into the gift of prophecy.


As Thomas lay by Huntlie Bank,
He heard the thrush and the woodlark sing;
He heard the jay and the thistleccok,
Till all the wood about did ring.

Twas in a merry morn in may,
As in a pasture alone lay he;
He was aware of a lady bright,
Come riding down by the eildon tree.

Her shirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantle of the velvet fine;
At every lock of her horse’s mane,
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.

Thomas rose and doffed his hat,
And bowed him low down to his knee:
“All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For your peer on earth ne’er did see.”

“Leave off such words, Thomas” she says,
“That name does not belong to me,
I’m but the queen of a strange land,
Come out a-hunting, as you can see.

“O harp and carp, Thomas,” she says,
“O harp and carp, and go with me;
It’ll be seven years, Thomas, and a day,
Till you see man or a woman in your own country.

“O harp and carp, Thomas,” she says,
“O harp and carp along with me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your body I will be.”

“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That fable shall not frighten me;”
And he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

“Since ye have kissed my lips,” she says,
“Now Thomas you must go with me
And follow me for seven years,
Through weal or woe, as chance may be”

O she rode on, and Thomas ran,
Until they came to yon clear stream;
He’s casted off his cobbled shoes,
And waded the water up to the knee.

O she rode on, and Thomas ran,
Until they came to a garden green;
He put his hand up to pull the fruit,
For hunger he was like to swoon.

“Hold back your hand, Thomas,” she says,
“Hold back your hand, that must not be;
It was all that cursed fruit of thine,
Beggared man and woman in your country.

“But I have a loaf and a draught of wine,
And ye shall sit and dine with me;
And lay your head down in my lap,
And I will show thee wonders three.

“O see you not that narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few enquires.

“And see you not yon broad broad road,
Which lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven.

“And see ye not yon bonny road,
Which winds about the ferny brow?
That is the road to Elflyn Land,
Where you and I this night must go.

‘But Thomas, you must hold your tongue,
Whatever you may hear or see,
If you speak to any in Elflyn land,
You’ll never get back to your own country.”

She’s mounted on her milk white steed,
And she drew Thomas up behind
And every time that his bridle rang,
Her steed flew swifter than the wind.

O they rode on, and farther on,
And waded through rivers above the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the sighing of the sea.

Then they came on to a castle hall,
Where all was feasting and minstrelsy
And many there spoke unto Thomas,
But not one word to any spoke he.

O they rode on and farther on,
The steed went swifter than the wind,
Until they came to a desert wide,
And living land was left behind.

In dark, dark night with no starlight,
They waded through red blood to the knee;
For all the blood that’s shed on earth
Runs through the springs of that country.

O they rode on and farther on,
And they heard the soughing of the flood,
At last he said, “Full woe is me,
Almost I die for want of food.”

“Far out in yonder mountain grey,
Thomas, my falcon bulids a nest,
A falcon is an eagle’s prey,
Henceforth in no place may he rest.”

At last they came to a garden green,
And she pulled an apple from a tree:
Says “Take this for thy wages, Thomas,
It will give the tongue that cannot lie.

“Farewell True Thomas, I wend my way, I may no longer stand with thee
But even unto the world’s end, ye’ll never be betrayed by me.”

She left him by the Eildon tree,
Underneath that greenwood spray,
On Huntly bank, so merry to be,
Where birds do sing both night and day.



tags: folk Chicago


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