> Joseph Taylor > Songs > Sprig o' Thyme
> Anne Briggs > Songs > Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
> Trevor Lucas > Songs > I Sowed the Seeds of Love
> June Tabor > Songs > Let No Man Steal Your Thyme / The Seeds of Love

Sprig o' Thyme / The Bunch of Thyme / Let No Man Steal Your Thyme / Come All You Garners Gay / (I Sowed) The Seeds of Love

[ Roud 3 ; G/D 6:1180 ; Ballad Index K167 , R090 , DTthymep , FSWB163 ; VWML CJS2/9/1 , CJS2/9/3359 , RoudFS/S160616 ; Bodleian Roud 3 ; Mudcat 24409 ; trad.]

A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams English County Songs Everyman's Book of English Country Songs Marrow Bones Garners Gay The Everlasting Circle Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Northumbrian Minstrelsy One Hundred English Folksongs Rhythms of Labour Songs of the Midlands Songs of the West The Seeds of Love Traditional Tunes Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland

The Seeds of Love, sung by the gardener John England, is the first folksong Cecil Sharp ever collected while he was staying with Charles Marson, vicar of Hambridge, Sussex, in 1903 [VWML CJS2/9/1] . Maud Karpeles wrote about this in her biography Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967):

Cecil Sharp was sitting in the vicarage garden talking to Charles Marson and to Mattie Kay, who was likewise staying at Hambridge, when he heard John England quietly singing to himself as he mowed the vicarage lawn. Cecil Sharp whipped out his notebook and took down the tune; and then persuaded John to give him the words. He immediately harmonised the song; and that same evening it was sung at a choir supper by Mattie Kay, Cecil Sharp accompanying. The audience was delighted; as one said, it was the first time that the song had been put into evening dress.

Joseph Taylor sang Sprig o' Thyme twice in 1908 on a wax cylinder recording for Percy Grainger; this was published in 1972 on the Leader album Unto Brigg Fair. The album's booklet commented:

Popularly felt to be (with its closely related analogue, The Seeds of Love) a distant relative of The Gardener—Child No. 219. The song has frequently been collected but was not it seems, a song that appeared saleable as far as the broadside printer was concerned.

Jean Ritchie sang Keep Your Garden Clean in 1952 on her Elektra album Singing the Traditional Songs of Her Traditional Kentucky Mountain Family. Edward Tatnall Canby wrote in the sleeve notes:

A version from the Ozark mountains of The Seeds of Love, [the] first English tune collected by Cecil Sharp, and a fascinating example of the ancient flower symbolism found in every art and literature. Thyme (not “time”) is the flower of youth and innocence; rue is for experience—sadder and wiser. The primrose is bright happiness—the willow the tree of weeping. A song most expressive of age-old, worldly-wise femininity.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang The Seeds of Love at home in Copthorne, Sussex, on 3 December 1955 to Peter Kennedy. His recording was released in 1976 on Maynard's Topic album of traditional songs from Sussex, Ye Subjects of England.

William Bartle of Wrestlingforth, Bedfordshire sang this song as Come All You Garners Gay on 19 August 1960; he was recorded by Fred Hamer. This track was included in 1989 on the EDFSS cassette of Hamer's field recordings, The Leaves of Life and in 1998 on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song.

Isla Cameron sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in 1960 on her and Ewan MacColl's Topic album Still I Love Him. This recording was included in 1964 on the Topic sampler Folk Songs: Topic Sampler No 1. A second recording on the 1962 Transatlantic album Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living was reissued in 2006 on the British and Irish folk anthology, Anthems in Eden.

Cyril Tawney sang The Seeds of Love in 1962 on his HMV EP of songs from the West Country, Baby Lie Easy.

A 19 years young Anne Briggs sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963 where it was recorded by Bill Leader for the album Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 2. This track was later included on her compilation CD A Collection.

A home demo of 1966 by Sandy Denny—where she just sang the first verse of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme—was included on the cassette Together Again - The Attic Tracks Vol. 4.

Trevor Lucas sang I Sowed the Seeds of Love in 1967 on the soundtrack of Richard Rodney-Bennett's movie Far From the Madding Crowd (after the novel by Thomas Hardy) and on the BBC Radio LP Through Bushes and Briar.

Jacqui McShee sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in 1968 as the opening track of Pentangle's first album, The Pentangle. This track was included on a lot of anthologies, the best of them being Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock, issued in 1975. Karl Dallas noted in the accompanying booklet:

The first song Cecil Sharp ever collected, from a gardener called John England (!), was a variant of this song, in which flower symbolism is used in a manner reminiscent of Ophelia's mad speeches in Hamlet. (Shakespeare probably knew the song, since it is a good deal older than Sharp; it was first noted in 1689).

Shelagh McDonald recorded Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in March 1970 for her Album.

The Broadside sang The Sprig of Thyme on their 1971 album of Lincolnshire folk songs, The Gipsy's Wedding Day. They noted:

A fine version and one of many songs collected sixty-odd years ago by Percy Grainger from Joseph Taylor (of Saxby-All-Saints), whose gramophone discs issued by HMV in 1908 made recording history. The song has been filled out by John Conolly with verses from another version.

Oak sang the The Bunch of Thyme live at The Down River Folk Club, King William IV, Walthamstow on 19 December 1972, Oak's final gig. A recording of it was in included in 2003 on their Musical Traditions CD Country Songs and Music.

Barry Dransfield sang Seeds of Love in 1977 on his and his brother Robin's Free Reed album Popular to Contrary Belief and on their Free Reed anthology Up to Now.

Whippersnapper recorded The Seeds of Love in 1989 for their album Fortune. Incidentally, Whippersnapper's Dave Swarbrick played the fiddler at Barn Dance in the movie Far From the Madding Crowd.

June Tabor recorded Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in 1992 for her album Angel Tiger, and she sang The Seeds of Love live at the Electric Theatre, Guildford, on 13 March 2004. This recording was included in her 4 CD anthology Always.

Maggie Boyle sang Sprig of Thyme in 1992 on Steve Tilston's and her album Of Moor and Mesa. Their liner notes commented:

A deceptively pretty sexual parable, different versions of which are still widely sung in England and Ireland.

Sarah McQuaid sang an unusual version of Sprig of Thyme in 1997 on her first CD, When Two Lovers Meet. Her version can be found in the “Notes on the Songs” section of Sabine Baring-Gould's Songs of the West (1913); it was collected from Joseph Dyer of Mawgan in Pyder. Sarah McQuaid commented in her liner notes:

I learned this song, in thoroughly appropriate trad fashion, from my mother. There are a lot of songs in the Irish, English and Scottish folk traditions that are based on a similar theme, with thyme signifying innocence/virginity. However, I haven't come across this particular version anywhere else.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang The Sprig of Thyme in 1998 on their No Masters CD Hindsight with almost identical words as Joseph Taylor sang, acknowledging him in their sleeve notes. Sprig of Thyme is also on John Roberts & Tony Barrand's 1998 album of English folksongs collected by Percy Grainger, Heartoutbursts.

Chris Wood sang Seeds of Love in 1999 on his and Jean François Vrod's CD Crossing. He noted:

Taught to me by Martin Carthy, collected by W. Percy Merrick from Henry Hills of Lodsworth, West Sussex [VWML RoudFS/S160616] .

Terry Yarnell sang The Seeds of Love in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD A Bonny Bunch. He noted:

Much has been written on the mixing of this song and the sprig of thyme and also concerning its connections with The Gardener. (See The Everlasting Circle by James Reeves; The Seeds of Love by Stephen Sedley, and others). I think the flower symbolism can be listed once again:

RosePassionate love
VioletModesty
LilyPurity
PinkCourtesy
WillowUnhappy love
ThymeHope / activity
RueRegret / disdain
Hyssop   Humility / cleanliness

It was the very fine hexatonic tune that attracted me to this particular version of this lovely song.

Lauren McCormick and Emily Portman sang Seeds of Love in 2007 on their privately issued EP Lauren McCormick & Emily Portman.

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson sang Bunch of Thyme in 2010 on their Topic CD Gift. A live recording from the Union Chapel in November 2010 was released in the following year on the DVD and CD The Gift Band Live on Tour. They commented in the original album's liner notes:

This is one of those things that most traditional singers have a version of, and the verses are floating and shared by many different songs. A song like this sifts in through the top of your head over the years. We have no idea where we learned it.

This video shows Norma Waterson singing Bunch of Thyme, accompanied by Martin Carthy and Chris Parkinson, at the Royal Oak, Lewes on 18 March 2010:

Jon Boden sang I Sowed the Seeds of Love as the 17 February 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Steve Roud included The Seeds of Love in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Bella Hardy sang it a year later on the accompanying Fellside CD The Liberty to Choose.

Lady Maisery sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in 2013 on their CD Mayday. They commented:

Tales of love and loss will always resonate through time, and Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is part of a tradition of love songs which use heavy botanical symbolism to tell a story. It is another warning song, this time cautioning of the dangers of false lovers and we learnt it from a recording of Anne Briggs.

Josienne Clarke sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in 2014 on her and Ben Walker's CD Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang Sprig of Thyme in 2014 on their CD Snapenotes. They noted:

The origin of this song is thought to be derived from a poem by Mrs Fleetwood of Habergham Hall, near Burnley. She died in 1703. She wrote it to console herself when, in 1689, her husband's extravagances finally led to the loss of the family estate. Although there are many versions of this song all over Britain, this has to be my favourite. From Modern Songs and Ballads of Lancashire, published in 1866.

Andy Turner sang The Seeds of Love both solo and with Magpie Lane as the 16 May 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Rosie Upton sang The Seeds of Love in 2014 on her CD Basket of Oysters. She noted:

Another song learnt from my grandmother who in turn learnt it from her mother. This is very similar to a version collected by Cecil Sharp from Joseph Alcock [VWML CJS2/9/3359] of Sibford Gower, the next village to Brailes just over the border in Oxfordshire. I wouldn't have dared ask my grandmother if the understood the symbolism!

Kirsty Potts sang The Seeds of Love on her 2015 album The Seeds of Life. She commented in her liner notes:

I learnt this from the singing of Stephanie Norgard and Eileen Conn and their gem of an album Leaves So Green—Traditional English Songs (1998) after I saw them perform at Dartmoor Folk Club in 2001. I have varied the tune slightly in my own way of singing it.

Chris Foster sang The Seeds of Love in 2017 on his CD Hadelin. He noted:

The first folk song Cecil Sharp collected was sung by John England at Hambridge, Semerset in 1903. Sixty years later, it was one of the first songs I learned, off an E.P. by Cyril Tawney, when I signed up for the big folk music scare at Yeovil Folk Club. Now, just over a hundred years after it was collected, I've revisited the song, having not sung in since the 1960s.

Melrose Quartet sang The Seeds of Love on their 2017 CD Dominion. They commented in their liner notes:

A collection of less well-known versions of this archetypal gardener-as-lover song, based around a melody collected by Ella Mary Leather in Wembley, Herefordshire.

Bob and Gill Berry sang Sprig of Thyme on their 2018 WildGoose CD Echoes of Alfred, where they noted:

This song is widely popular and is generally sung as a sweet ditty. We see it as a more despairing style of song with some great herb lore depicting the frailties of the human condition. This version was collected by Alfred Williams from David Sawyer with the first verse by George W. Gardiner from Mary A. (Polly) Gurd in the Tisbury Workhouse.

Zoë Wren sang Let No Man Steal Your Thyme on her 2019 EP Inspired and on her 2020 album Reckless River.

Edgelarks sang The Seeds of Love on their 2020 CD Henry Martin. They noted:

It’s quite intimidating to tackle the original English folk song. We decided to keep it simple, and then enjoyed experimenting with backing vocals to recreate the sounds of our buzzing summer garden outside. The words of the last verse, with their message of hope and regeneration, felt like the perfect ending for this record.

Lyrics

Joseph Taylor sings Sprig o' Thyme Coope Boyes & Simpson sing Sprig o' Thyme

Once I had a sprig of thyme.
It prospered by night and by day;
Till a false young man came a-courting to me,
And he stole all me thyme away.

Once I had a sprig of thyme.
It prospered be night and be day;
Till a false young man came a-courting to me,
And he stole all me thyme away.

Thyme it is a precious thing,
And thyme it-e-will grow on,
And thyme it'll bring all things to an end,
And so does my thyme grow on.*

Oh, thyme it is a precious thing,
And thyme it will grow on,
And thyme it'll bring all things to an end,
And so does me thyme grow on.

The gardener was standing by.
I bid him choose for me.
He chose me the lily, aye, the violet and the pink,
But I really did refuse them all three.

The gardener was standing by.
And I asked him choose for me.
And he chose me the lily, aye, the violet and the pink,
Ah, but surely I refused them all three.

Oh, thyme it is a precious thing,
And thyme it will grow on,
And thyme it'll bring all things to an end,
And so does me thyme grow on.

It's very well drinking ale,
And it's nice to have a drop of wine,
But it's far better sitting by the young man's side**
That gain-ed this heart of mine.

And it's very well a-drinking ale,
And it's nice to have a drop of wine,
Ah, but I like sitting by the young man's side
That's gain-ed this heart of mine.

Oh, thyme it is a precious thing,
And thyme it will grow on,
And thyme it'll bring all things to an end,
And so does me thyme grow on.

* second recording 'our thyme ...'
** second recording 'But I like sitting by the young man's side ...'

Anne Briggs sings Let No Man Steal Your Thyme June Tabor sings Let No Man Steal Your Thyme

Come all you fair and tender girls
That flourish in your prime, prime,
Beware, beware, if you're good and fair
Let no man steal your thyme, thyme,
Let no man steal your thyme.

Come all you fair and tender girls
That flourish in your prime, prime,
Beware, beware, keep your garden fair
And let no man steal your thyme, thyme,
Let no man steal your thyme.

For when your thyme it is past and gone
He'll care no more for you, you.
And every place where your thyme was waste
Shall spread all o'er with rue, rue,
Shall spread all o'er with rue.

For when your thyme is past and gone
He'll care no more for you, you.
For every place that your thyme was waste
Will all spread o'er with rue, rue,
Will all spread o'er with rue.

The gardener's son, he was standing by,
Three flowers he gave to me, me.
The pink, the blue and the violet too
And the red, red rosy tree, tree,
And the red, red rosy tree.

But I forsook the red rose bush
And gained the willow tree, tree,
That all the world may plainly see
How my love slighted me, me
How my love slighted me.

For woman is a branchy tree
And man a clinging vine, vine.
And from her branches carelessly
He takes what he can find, find,
He takes what he can find.

For woman is a lofty tree
And man's a clinging vine, vine,
And from her branches carelessly
He'll take what he can find, find,
He'll take what he can find.

(repeat first verse)

Trevor Lucas sings I Sowed the Seeds of Love June Tabor sings The Seeds of Love

I sowed the seeds of love
And I sowed them in the springtime,
In April, May and sunny June
𝄆 When small birds sweetly sing. 𝄇

I sowed the seeds of love,
I sowed them in the spring,
In April, May and in June likewise
𝄆 When the small birds sweetly sing. 𝄇

My garden was planted well
My flowers ev'rywhere;
Bot I had not the liberty to choose for myself
𝄆 Of the flowers growing there. 𝄇

My gardener he stood by,
I asked him to choose for me.
He chose me the violet, the lily and the pink
𝄆 But these I refused all three. 𝄇

My gard'ner was standing by;
And I asked him to choose for me.
He chose me the violet, the lily and the pink,
𝄆 But these I refused all three. 𝄇

The violet I forsook
Because it fades too soon.
The lily and the pink, I do really overthink,
And 𝄆 I vowed I'd wait till June. 𝄇

The violet I do not like,
Because it fades too soon.
The lily and the pink, oh, I really overthink,
𝄆 And so I will wait till June. 𝄇

In June there's the red rosebud,
And that's the flower for me,
I pulled and I plucked at the red rosy bush,
𝄆 Till I gained the willow tree. 𝄇

In June comes the red rosebud,
And that's the flower for me.
Oft times I have pulled at that red rosy bush
𝄆 Till I gained the willow tree. 𝄇

The willow, it will twist,
And the willow, it will twine,
I wish I was back in that young girl's arms,
𝄆 That once held this heart of mine. 𝄇

For the willow tree will twist
And the willow tree will twine.
Oft times I have wished myself back in that young man's arms
𝄆 Who once had this heart of mine. 𝄇

So come all you fine young men,
And don't leave me here to complain;
For the grass that has often been trampled underfoot,
𝄆 Given time, it will rise again. 𝄇

(Repeat first verse)

Sarah McQuaid sings Sprig of Thyme Melrose Quartet sing The Seeds of Love

In my garden grew plenty of thyme,
It would flourish by night and by day.
'Til along came a lad and he took all I had,
𝄆 Stole all my thyme away. 𝄇

And I was a damsel fair
But fairer I wished to appear,
So I bathed me in milk and I clothed me in silk
I 𝄆 put the sweet thyme in my hair. 𝄇

In June the red roses in bloom,
It was not the flower for me.
For I plucked the bud and it pricked me to blood
As 𝄆 I gazed on a willow tree. 𝄇

Now the willow tree it will twist
And the willow tree it will twine,
And I wish I were clasped in my lover's arms fast
𝄆 'Tis he that has stolen my thyme. 𝄇

And it’s very good drinking of ale
But it’s better for drinking of wine.
And I wish I were clasped in my lover’s arms fast
𝄆 ’Tis he that has stolen my thyme. 𝄇

I sowed the seeds of love,
It was all in the spring,
In April, May and in June likewise
𝄆 While small birds they do sing. 𝄇

My garden was planted well
With flowers everywhere;
But I hadn't the liberty to choose for myself
𝄆 The flowers that I loved dear. 𝄇

My gardener he stood by
And I asked him to choose for me.
He chose me the violet, the lily and the pink
𝄆 But those I refused all three. 𝄇

In June there's the red rosebud,
And that's the flower for me,
For often have I plucked at the red rose bud,
𝄆 Till I gained the willow tree. 𝄇

Come all you false young men,
Don't leave me to complain;
For grass that has often been trampled underfoot,
𝄆 Given time, it will rise again. 𝄇

Acknowledgements

Garry Gillard transcribed Joseph Taylor's version.