Thomas The Rhymer - Ballads


Musicologists have traced the ballad, "Thomas the Rhymer", back at least as far as the 13th century. It deals with the supernatural subject matter of fairy-folk. The theme of this song also closely relates to another song, that of Tam Lin, which follows the same general topical lines. Its more general theme relates to temptation and mortal pleasures.

Several different variants of the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer exist, most having the same basic theme. They tell how Thomas either kissed, had sex, or slept with the Queen of Elfland and rode with her or was otherwise transported to Fairyland. One version relates that she changed into a hag immediately after sleeping with him, as some sort of a punishment to him, but returned to her originally beautiful state when they neared her castle, where her husband lived. Thomas stayed at a party in the castle until she told him to return with her, coming back into the mortal realm only to realize that seven years had passed. He asked for a token to remember the queen by; she offered him the choice of becoming a harper or a prophet and chose the latter option.

After a number of years of relating prophecy, Thomas bade farewell to his homeland and presumably returned to Fairyland, whence he has not yet returned.

The 14th century romance "Thomas of Erceldoune", with accompanying prophecies, clearly relates to the ballad, though the exact nature of the relationship is unclear. The romance survives complete or in fragments in five manuscripts, the earliest of which is the Lincoln codex compiled by Robert Thornton. The romance confirms the content of the ballad.

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