‘Oh Tam Lin
If I had known of this night’s deed
I would have torn out your two grey eyes
And put back in two eyes of tree.’
So said the faerie queen that night on the road
when I quenched my love in the peat pool,
but that was not the end of it.
For winter nights, the Sithe shriek round the house,
calling down the chimney like a black wind
plucking the slates away, ‘Come back, Tam Lin!
You who gave a girl a rose from the briar bush!
The heart’s fire dwindles. Do you remember Elf-hame?
And my love, my love throws back the blanket,
and I grip his arm as I gripped the red-hot iron
in unflinching hands.
‘Tam Lin, can you bear to grow old?
Do you remember the land of young apples?
What have you lost, what have you gained, Tam Lin,
but aches and agues, toothlessness and death?’
howl the voices down the chimney.
bring a night of storm, and all
my paternosters cannot turn them away.
‘Come wind, come rain,
beat on this house until the lintels weep,
beat on this house until the candles quiver
and cold draughts whip under the door and blow
over the floor, cross-currents of unease.
Let him feel mortal!’
I could bear
Only, my youngest boy came in today
with a rose in his hand. ‘Who gave you that?’ said I.
‘O mother,’ said he, ‘a lady in the brakes
of Carterhaugh. Her kirtle green as grass,
with silver chains that tinkled as she walked.’
‘Your son shall come with me, Janet,
In yon green hill to dwell.
Your son shall be my knight, Janet,
And he shall serve me well.
‘His eyes shall be of wood, Janet,
Cut from an alder tree,
And you may keep Tam Lin, Janet,
For he’s too old for me.’
It’s a hard price.
I would rather have died in giving birth to him.
I would rather my love rose and went out to them.
Oh Queen of Fays –
if I had known of this day’s deed
I would have let your knight, Tam Lin,
ride down to hell on his milk-white steed.
Copyright Katherine Langrish 2011
Picture credit: Thomas Rhymer and the Queen of Faerie (detail) - Joseph Noel Paton, 1821 - 1901