> Steeleye Span > Songs > Thomas the Rhymer

Thomas the Rhymer / True Thomas

Steeleye Span: Thomas the Rhymer (Chrysalis 6155 024, Germany)

Thomas the Rhymer / The Mooncoin Jig
Steeleye Span

Chrysalis CHS 2026 (single, UK, February 1974)
Chrysalis 6155 024 (single, p/s, Germany, 1974)
Chrysalis CYK 5456 (single, New Zealand, June 1974)

Steeleye Span: Thomas the Rhymer (Chrysalis YK 5456 , New Zealand)

[ Roud 219 ; Child 37 ; Ballad Index C037 ; trad.]

Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas is a ballad about the medieval prophet Thomas of Ercildoune. He meets the Queen of Elfland who takes him away from earth for seven years, putting him through various rituals which no doubt instil his prophetic powers.

Carl Loewe set this ballad to music as Tom der Reimer (op. 135a, ca. 1860).

Ewan MacColl sang Thomas Rhymer in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume I. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl's Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. He also sang Thomas Rymour on his 1961 Folkways album of Child Ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1.

The latter album's notes commented:

Thomas of Erceldoune, the 13th Century poet, was author of a long poem describing a visit to Elfland and the supernatural events which took place there. The poem served as a basis for the 15th century romace which, in turn, probably provided the raw material for this ballad.

Child published 3 texts.

Learned from print

Steeleye Span released their recording of Thomas the Rhymer in 1974 in two different versions: a short one (3.14) with just five verses as a single with the B-Side The Mooncoin Jig and a long version (6.44) on the original Chrysalis UK release of their LP Now We Are Six. However, most reissues of this record contain the shorter single version of Thomas the Rhymer with the exception of the BGO CD reissue. See the notes to Now We Are Six for details.

Thomas the Rhymer was also re-released on several compilations, among others on Original Masters (on the LP the long, on the CD reissue the short version), on Spanning the Years (short version) and on A Rare Collection 1972-1996 (long version).

At least five live recordings of Thomas the Rhymer with several Steeleye Span line-ups are or were available:

  • from the Royal Opera Theatre in Adelaide, Australia in 1982 on their Australian-only LP On Tour,
  • from Perth Concert Hall in 1985 on their CD Gone to Australia,
  • from the Beck Theatre on September 16, 1989 on the video A 20th Anniversary Celebration,
  • a March 1997 live recording from a British tour was released as bonus track on Park Records' CD reissue of Sails of Silver,
  • and from The Forum, London on September 2, 1995 on their CD The Journey.

Steeleye Span recorded this song for a second time for their CD Present to accompany their December 2002 reunion tour.

Mary Macmaster sang True Thomas in 1991 on Sileas' cassette File Under Christmas and in 1995 on Clan Alba's eponymous and only CD, Clan Alba.

Ron Taylor sang Thomas the Rhymer on his and Jeff Gillett's 2006 WildGoose CD Both Shine As One. This track was also include in 2007 on the WildGoose anthology Songs of Witchcraft and Magic. They commented:

Thomas Rymour apparently lived in Ercildoune in the 13th Century, although the historicity of the journey described in this song is surely open to question. Published in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. This version was collated from various sources and Anglicised.

Alison McMorland sang Thomas Rhymer in 2010 on her and Geordie McIntyre's CD Where Ravens Reel.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Thomas Rhymer

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
A ferlie he spied wi' his e'e,
And there he saw a lady bright
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was o' the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o' the velvet fyne.
At ilka tett o' her horse's mane
Hung fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas he pull's aff his cap
And louted low down to his knee:
“All hail, thou mighty Queen o' Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.”

“O no, o no, Thomas,” she said,
“That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee.”

“Harp and carp, Thomas,” she said,
“Harp and carp along wi' me.
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your body I will be.”

“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me.”
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

“Now ye maun gang wi' me,” she said,
“True Thomas, ye maun gang wi' me.
And ye maun serve me seven years
Thro' weal and woe, as may chance to be.”

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She's ta'en True Thomas up behind.
And aye whene'er her bridle rung
The steed flew faster than the wind.

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

“Light down, light down now, True Thomas
And lean your head upon my knee,
Abide and rest a little space
And I will show you ferlies three.

“O see ye not yon narrow road
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho' after it but few enquires.

“And see ye not that braid, braid road
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho' some ca' it the road to heaven.

“And see ye not that bonny road
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where thou and I this night maun gae.

“But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue
Whatever ye may hear or see.
For if you speak word in Elfyn land
Ye'll ne'er get back to your ain countrie.”

Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu'd an apple frae a tree:
“Take this for thy wages, True Thomas
It will gi' ye the tongue that can never lie.”

“My tongue is mine ain,” True Thomas said,
“A guidly gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy or sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.

“I dought neither speak to prince or peer
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye.”
“Now hold thy peace,”, the lady said,
“For as I say, so must it be.”

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth
And a pair of shune of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Steeleye Span sings Thomas the Rhymer
(LP version)
Steeleye Span sings Thomas the Rhymer
(single version)

True Thomas sat on Huntley bank
And he beheld a lady gay
A lady that was brisk and bold
Come riding o'er the ferny brae

True Thomas sat on Huntley bank
And he beheld a lady gay
A lady that was brisk and bold
Come riding o'er the ferny brae

Her skirt 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

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap
And bowed him low down to his knee
“All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven
Your like on earth I ne'er did see.”

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap
And bowed him low down to his knee
“All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven
Your like on earth I ne'er did see.”

“No, no, Thomas,” she said,
“That name does not belong to me
I am the queen of fair Elfland
And I have come to visit thee.”

“You must go with me, Thomas,” she said,
“True Thomas, you must go with me
And must serve me seven years
Through well or woe, as chance may be.”

4× Chorus:
Hark and carp, come along with me,
Thomas the Rhymer

4× Chorus:
Hark and carp, come along with me,
Thomas the Rhymer

She turned about her milk white steed
And took Thomas up behind
And aye whenever her bridle rang
Her steed flew swifter than the wind

She turned about her milk white steed
And they rode faster than the wind
Until they came to a desert wide
And living land was left behind

For forty days and forty nights
They rode through red blood to the knee
And they saw neither sun nor moon
But heard the roaring of the sea

For forty days and forty nights
They rode through red blood to their knee
And they saw neither sun nor moon
but heard the roaring of the sea

And they rode on and further on
Further and swifter than the wind
Until they came to a desert wide
And living land was left behind

“Don't you see yon narrow, narrow road
So thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the road to righteousness
Though after it but few enquire.”

“Don't you see yon broad, broad road
That lies across the lily leaven?
That is the road to wickedness
Though some call it the road to heaven.”

“Don't you see yon bonny, Boone road
That lies across the ferny brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where you and I this night must go.”

“Don't you see yon bone, Bonn road
That lies across the ferny brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where you and I this night must go.”

4× Chorus

4× Chorus

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Thomas the Rhymer (NOT Steeleye Span).