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Thomas the Rhymer, Part Third


Scott's Notes on the Text

1. Ruberslaw and Dunyon are two hills near Jedburgh.

2. An ancient tower near Ercildoune, belonging to a family of the name of Home. One of Thomas's prophecies is said to have run thus:—

"Vengeance! vengeance! when and where?
On the house of Coldingknow, now and ever mair!"

The spot is rendered classical by its having given name to the beautiful melody called the "Broom o' the Cowdenknows."

3. Ensenzie—War-cry, or gathering-word.

4. Torwoodlee and Caddenhead are places in Selkirkshire, both the property of Mr. Pringle of Torwoodlee.

5. Quaighs—Wooden cups, composed of staves hooped together.

6. See Introduction to this ballad.

7. See, in the Fabliaux of Monsieur le Grand, elegantly translated by the late Gregory Way, Esq., the tale of the "Knight and the Sword." [Vol. ii. p. 3.]

8. Selcouth—Wondrous.

9. An ancient seat upon the Tweed, in Selkirkshire. In a popular edition of the first part of Thomas the Rhymer, the Fairy Queen thus addresses him:

"Gin ye wad meet wi me again,
Gang to the bonny banks of Fairnalie."


The Camelot Project Notes on Scott's Introduction
by N. M. Heckel

Note 1: Current scholarship contradicts Scott's attribution; Sir Tristrem's dialect may not even be Scottish. See the introduction to Alan Lupack's 1994 edition of the poem for an in-depth discussion of the poem's probable origins.

Note 2: T. F. Henderson notes in his 1932 edition (Edinburgh; London: Oliver and Boyd, 1932) of Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish order that "[t]he 'Thomas' referred to in Scott's quotation was Thomas of Brittany, author of an Anglo-Norman version of much earlier date than Sir Tristrem, and undoubtedly utilised by the author of Sir Tristrem, whether the Rhymer or not" (p. 127, note 1).

Note 3: Thomas the Rhymer, Part First and Part Second immediately preceed Part Third in Scott's The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Part First is the ballad now known as "Thomas the Rhymer" or "True Thomas" and can be found as Ballad 37 in Francis Child's monumental work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (5 volumes. Boston; New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1886-98). Part Second has a less certain origin, seeming to be a melding of a number of different prophecies attributed to Ercildoune and collected by Andro Hart, some of which appear in the introduction to Part Second (see pps. 490-500 of Minstrelsy). Scott is not clear on how Part Second came to be in the form in which it appears in his Minstrelsy; perhaps he himself was the poetic editor. Some annotated examples of the prophecies of Ercildoune can be found in Medieval English Political Writings, edited by James Dean (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996).

[Scott's Introduction]

Thomas the Rhymer was renowned among his contemporaries as the author of the celebrated romance of Sir Tristrem. [editor's note] Of this once admired poem only one copy is now known to exist, which is in the Advocates' Library. The editor, in 1804, published a small edition of this curious work; which, if it does not revive the reputation of the bard of Ercildoune, is at least the earliest specimen of Scottish poetry hitherto published. Some account of this romance has already been given to the world in Mr. Ellis's Specimens of Ancient Poetry, vol. i. p. 165, iii. p. 410; a work to which our predecessors and our posterity are alike obliged; the former, for the preservation of the best selected examples of their poetical taste; and the latter, for a history of the English language, which will only cease to be interesting with the existence of our mother-tongue, and all that genius and learning have recorded in it. It is sufficient here to mention, that so great was the reputation of the romance of Sir Tristrem, that few were thought capable of reciting it after the manner of the author—a circumstance alluded to by Robert de Brunne, the annalist:
"I see in song, in sedgeyng tale,
Of Erceldoun, and of Kendale,
Now thame says as they thame wroght
And in thare saying it semes nocht.
That thou may here in sir Tristhem
Over guests it has the steme.
Over all that is or was;
If men it said as made Thomas," &c.
It appears, from a very curious MS. of the thirteenth century, penes Mr. Douce of London, containing a French metrical romance of Sir Tristrem, that the work of our Thomas the Rhymer was known, and referred to, by the minstrels of Normandy and Bretagne. [editor's note] Having arrived at a part of the romance where reciters were wont to differ in the mode of telling the story, the French bard expressly cites the authority of the poet of Ercildoune:
"Plusurs de nos granter ne volent,
Co que del naim dire se solent,
Ki femme Kaherdin dut aimer,
Li naim redut Tristram narrer,
E entusché par grant engin,
Quant il afole Kaherdin;
Pur cest plai e pur cest mal,
Enveiad Tristram Guvernal,
En Engleterre pur Ysolt;
THOMAS ico granter ne volt,
Et si volt par raisun mostrer,
Qu'ico ne put pas esteer," &c.
The tale of Sir Tristrem, as narrated in the Edinburgh MS., is totally different from the voluminous romance in prose, originally compiled on the same subject by Rusticien de Puise, and analyzed by M. de Tressan; but agrees in every essential particular with the metrical performance just quoted, which is a work of much higher antiquity.

The following attempt to commemorate the Rhymer's poetical fame, and the traditional account of his marvellous return to Fairy Land, being entirely modern, would have been placed with greater propriety among the class of Modern Ballads, had it not been for its immediate connection with the first and second parts of the same story. [editor's note]


WHEN seven years more were come and gone,
   Was war through Scotland spread,
And Ruberslaw show'd high Dunyon 1
   His beacon blazing red.

Then all by bonny Coldingknow, 2
   Pitch'd palliouns took their room,
And crested helms, and spears a-rowe,
   Glanced gaily through the broom.

The Leader, rolling to the Tweed,
   Resounds the ensenzie; 3
They roused the deer from Caddenhead,
   To distant Torwoodlee. 4

The feast was spread in Ercildoune,
   In Learmont's high and ancient hall:
And there were knights of great renown,
   And ladies, laced in pall.

No lacked they, while they sat at dine,
   The music nor the tale,
Nor goblets of the blood-red wine,
   Nor mantling quaighs 5 of ale.

True Thomas rose, with harp in hand,
   When as the feast was done:
(In minstrel strife, in Fairy Land,
   The elfin harp he won.)

Hush'd were the throng, both limb and tongue,
   And harpers for envy pale;
And armed lord lean'd on their swords,
   And hearken'd to the tale.

In numbers high, the witching tale
   The prophet pour'd along;
No after bard might o'er avail 6
   Those numbers to prolong.

Yet fragments of the lofty strain
   Float down the tide of years,
As, bouyant on the stormy main,
   A parted wreck appears.

He sung king Arthur's Table Round:
   The Warrior of the Lake;
How courteous Gawaine met the wound,
   And bled for ladies' sake.

But chief, in gentle Tristrem's praise,
   The notes melodious swell;
Was none excell'd in Arthur's days,
   The knight of Lionelle. 7

For Marke, his cowardly uncle's right,
   A venom'd wound he bore;
When fierce Morholde he slew in fight,
   Upon the Irish shore.

No art the poison might withstand;
   No medicine could be found,
Till lovely Isolde's lily hand
   Had probed the rankling wound.

With gentle hand and soothing tongue
   She bore the leech's part;
And, while she o'er his sick-bed hung,
   He paid her with his heart.

O fatal was the gift, I ween!
   For, doom'd in evil tide,
The maid must be rude Cornwall's queen,
   His cowardly uncle's bride.

Their loves, their woes, the gifted bard,
   In fairy tissue wove;
Where lords, and knights, and ladies bright,
   In gay confusion strove.

The Garde Joyeuse, amid the tale,
   High rear'd its glittering head;
And Avalon's enchanted vale
   In all its wonders spread.

Brangwain was there, and Segramore,
   And fiend-born Merlin's gramarye;
Of that famed wizard's mighty lore,
   O who could sing but he?

Through many a maze the winning song
   In changeful passion led,
Till bent at length the listening throng,
   O'er Tristrem's dying bed.

His ancient wounds their scars expand,
   With agony his heart is wrung:
O where is Isolde's lilye hand,
   And where her soothing tongue?

She comes! she comes!—like flash of flame
   Can lover's footsteps fly:
She comes! she comes!—she only came
   To see her Tristrem die.

She saw him die; her latest sigh
   Join'd in a kiss his parting breath;
The gentlest pair, that Britain bare,
   United are in death.

There paus'd the harp: its lingering sound
   Died slowly on the ear;
The silent guests still bent around,
   For still they seem'd to hear.

Then woe broke forth in murmurs weak:
   Nor ladies heaved alone the sigh;
But, half ashamed, the rugged cheek
   Did many a gauntlet dry.

On Leader's stream, and Learmont's tower,
   The mists of evening close;
In camp, in castle, or in bower,
   Each warrior sought repose.

Lord Douglas, in his lofty tent,
   Dream'd o'er the woeful tale;
When footsteps light, across the bent,
   The warrior's ear assail.

He starts, he wakes—"What, Richard, ho!
   Arise, my page, arise!
What venturous wight, at dead of night,
   Dare step where Douglas lies!"—

Then forth they rush'd: by Leader's tide,
   A selcouth 8 sight they see
A hart and hind pace side by side,
   As white as snow on Fairnalie. 9

Beneath the moon, with gesture proud,
   They stately move and slow;
Nor scare they at the gathering crowd,
   Who marvel as they go.

To Learmont's tower a message sped,
   As fast as page might run;
And Thomas started from his bed,
   And soon his clothes did on.

First he woxe pale, and then woxe red;
   Never a word he spake but three;—
"My sand is run; my thread is spun;
   This sign regardeth me."

The elfin harp his neck around,
   In minstrel guise, he hung;
And on the wind, in doleful sound,
   Its dying accents rung.

Then forth he went; yet turn'd him oft
   To view his ancient hall:
On the grey tower, in lustre soft,
   The autumn moonbeams fall;

And Leader's waves, like silver sheen,
   Danced shimmering in the ray;
In deepening mass, at distance seen,
   Broad Soltra's mountains lay.

"Farewell, my father's ancient tower!
   A long farewell," said he:
"The scene of pleasure, pomp, or power,
   Thou never more shalt be.

"To Learmont's name no foot of earth
   Shall here again belong,
And, on thy hospitable hearth,
   The hare shall leave her young.

"Adieu! adieu!" again he cried,
   All as he turned him roun'—
"Farewell to Leader's silver tide!
   Farewell to Ercildoune!"

The hart and hind approach'd the place,
   As lingering yet he stood;
And there, before Lord Douglas' face,
   With them he cross'd the flood.

Lord Douglas leap'd on his berry-brown steed
   And spurred him the Leader o'er;
But, though he rode with lightning speed,
   He never saw them more.

Some said to hill, and some to glen,
   Their wondrous course had been;
But ne'er in haunts of living men
   Again was Thomas seen.
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