Tam Lin - Chords, Lyrics and Origins


Tam Lin, like Matty Groves, is a Child Ballad (no 39 in this case - fourteen different versions of it are included).  It is set in the Scottish Borders (that is, on the Scottish side of the Scotland-England border).  Much of the action takes place in the forest of Carterhaugh, near Selkirk.  In the song, Tam Lin is an elf or fairy who makes a young girl pregnant (whether by magic or by other means is not clear).  The young girl, usually called Janet, falls in love with him, and ultimately saves him from being sent to hell.  So you could say that it all works out pretty well for Tam Lin.  Tam Lin was included in The Complaynt of Scotland, which was published in 1549, so it is as old as the hills.  The best known recording of Tam Lin is by the folk-rock group, Fairport Convention.


Em         D                          G    Em                            D                   Em
I   forbid you maidens all             that wear gold in your hair

                     D                          G  Em                           D                  Em
To travel to   Carterhaugh,              for young Tam Lin is there.

                        D                            G    Em                            D                      Em
Them that go   by Carterhaugh,              but they leave him a pledge

                    D                               G  Em                        D                     Em
Either their    mantels of green             or else their maidenhead.


I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carter Haugh, for young Tam Lin is there.

Them that go by Carter Haugh, but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantels of green or else their maidenhead.

Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to Carter Haugh as fast as go can she.

She doth pull the double rose, a rose but only two
And up then came young Tam Lin, says lady pull no more.

And why come you to Carter Haugh without command from me
I'll come and go, young Janet said, and ask no leave of thee.

Janet tied her kirtle green a little bit above her knee
And she's gone to her father as fast as go can she.

Then up spoke her father dear, and he spoke meek and mild
Well 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 halls shall get the baby's name.

For if my love were an earthly knight, as he is an elfin grey
I'll 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 Carter Haugh as fast as go can she.

Oh tell to me Tam Lin she said, why came you here to dwell
The Queen of Fairy's 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 am feared it is myself.

But tonight is Halloween and the fairy court rides
Those that would let true love win, At Miles' Cross they must hide.

First let pass the horses black and let pass the brown
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down.

For I ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown.

They will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
Hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby's father.

And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
Hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child.

And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
Cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight.

And 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 fairy queen, an angry queen was she
Who betide her ill-farr'd 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 eye and turned him to a tree.

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