A New Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer

A Pagan Almanac for August 7 & 8, 2012

Lunar Cycle: Tenth day of the full Moon
Tenth day of the waning Moon (this is how the Athenians did it; since the Moon was waning, they counted down. Perfectly logical.)

Athens: Hekatombaion 20
Hekatombaion 21: The Great Festival of Athena begins

Martyred on August 7, 1661:
Margaret Bryson and Elspeth Blackie of Edinburgh.

They died in our name. Let us remember theirs

William Blake wrote:
As all men are alike in outward form, so (and with the same infinite variety) all are alike in the Poetic Genius.
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I edited the 22-page Scots-English version in David Laing’s 1826 Early Popular Poetry of Scotland and the Northern Border (edited in 1895 by W. Carew Hazlitt; London: Reaves and Turner, 2 vols., 1895) down to this size. It seemed to contain material unknown to Walter Scott, whose version has always been one of my favorite poems, and a few elements of which I retained. Let me emphasize that everything here, all the “witchy” language, is what I found in the Scots-English original. This was published in The Witches Trine, vol. 1, no. 6, 1972

As I roamed out this Andrew’s day
So lusty belled the oriole
That as on Huntlie banks I lay
It made the woods around me toll.

And there a lady rode with hounds;
Her hair hung down like gold spun fine.
Though storm clouds held the sky in siege,
That lady rode in bright sunshine.

A skirt she wore of the grass-green silk;
Around her tossed a velvet cape.
From every tuft of her horse’s mane
Bells rang down like silver grapes.

She raised a ram’s horn to her lips;
A tune she blew of memory.
A while she blew; a while she sang;
She met me by the Holydun tree.

In courtesy to her I knelt,
And feared my heart would burst in three.
I bold rose up and seized her hand:
“O Queen of Heaven, take pity on me!”

“Nay, Heaven’s Queen I’m not,” she laughed,
“For I never took so high a degree.
It is of Elfland I am Queen,
And I ride here after my wild fee.”

“Of love, my lady, thou art full wise;
Whatsoever thus ask of me,
Lest all my games from me be gone,
Lady, let me lie by thee!”

“Man, thou shalt serve me seven years,
Through weal or woe, as may chance to be,
For if thou dare to have thy will,
Sure of thy body I will be.”

“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never dampen me.”
Then down she lit, and down we lay,
All underneath the Holydun tree.

And when we rose, her clothes were rags;
Her hair wound grey around her head.
“How art thou faded in the face,
And all thy body like the lead!”

She said, “Take leave of sun and moon,
For this night thou must go with me.”
And in the hill a gate appeared
All underneath the Holydun tree.

She drew me up on her dappled steed,
And we rode in beneath the tree,
And we saw neither sun nor moon,
But we heard the roaring of the sea.

O where we rode both dumb and blind
No man of Middle Earth has seen;
Three days I heard the sighing flood
Until we came to a garden green.

Here fruit hung ripely from the trees;
Nightingales caroled from their nests.
Flutterbies gaily flit about,
And thrushes sang, would have no rest.

For fault of food I was near faint.
I seized an apple with my hand.
“Nay, do not take of that and eat,
Else never again see thy ain land.

“True Thomas, as I name thee now,
Light down and lean against my knee,
And I’ll show thee three stranger sights
Than ever saw man of thy country.

“O see thee not yon narrow road
So thick beset wi’ thorn and briar?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few inquire.

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

“And see thee not yon bonny road
That winds the hills to yon castle bright?
Those shining towers are mine to rule,
And thou and I ride there this night.”

Again I saw she was fair and good
As sunshine on a summer’s day.
Her hounds were filled with fresh deer’s blood
As to her castle she led the way.

There ladies knelt in courtesy,
And harp and fiddle there we found,
Guitar and pipes and psaltery,
All mingling in amazing sound.

Knights were dancing three by three;
The hall was filled with games and play;
A hart was turning in the fire,
And ladies sang in rich array.

“Thomas, buskin up thy feet.
It is three days since thy stay begun,
Yet thou hast paid thy fee in full:
In thy land seven years are done.

“Tomorrow the lord of all this land
Among this folk will choose his fee.
Thou art a strong and handsome man:
I know full well he would choose thee.

“Body and soul thou hast served me well;
Thou shalt not be betrayed by me.”
She drew me up on her dappled steed.
She brought me back to the Holydun tree.

In sorrow I gazed upon her face.
“Then shall I never again see thee?
O give me some token, my lady love,
That I may know I spoke with thee.”

She pulled an apple down from a branch,
And said, “This token I give to thee,
To tell the wise wherever thou go
That of our chase this was the fee.

“Harp or carp, or go where thou wilt,
Thou shalt never speak evil of me,
And when thou lie on Huntlie banks,
Then, if I may, I’ll come to thee.

“Thy tongue be weal, thy tongue be woe,
Thy tongue be chief of minstrelsy:
Whether thou spell, or tales wilt tell,
No lie shall ever be spoken by thee.”

“O lady, nay, my tongue is my ain!
A goodly gift thou would give to me!
How may I either buy or sell
At any fair where I might be?

“How may I speak to prince or peer,
Or hold any tryst with a fair lady?”
“Now, hold thy tongue, True Thomas,” she said,
“For as I say, so must it be.”

She blew her horn to draw her hounds,
And as on Huntlie banks I lay,
She rode from me in bright sunshine.
We parted thus, on Andrew’s day.