Tam Lin Balladry

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The Tale of Alice Brand

Comparison Source: Excerpt from "The Lady of the Lake"

cites: Selected poems of Sir Walter Scott


Alice Brand and her lover Richard are living in the woods as outlaws. During a battle over Alice, Richard had slain Alice's brother Ethert, and the pair now must make due in the woods to avoid the authorities. Meanwhile, the Elfin King plots against them, angered by the fact that they cut down trees under his protection and that they wear green, the faeries' color. The Elfin King sends one of his minions to curse the pair in retribution, choosing one who was once a mortal as he'd be immune to the sign of the cross. The minion goes forth and threatens Richard, saying Richard cannot banish him because Richard's hands are sinful from slaying Alice's brother. Alice instead steps forward and, being sinless herself, commands the monster to reveal who he is. The monster reveals that he was a mortal man injured in an immoral fight, leaving him at the mercy of the faeries, but he can be freed if a woman would bless him three times. Alice does so, and the monster transforms into her brother. Joyous, the trio return to their home.

Alice Brand

  1. Merry it is in the good greenwood,
    When the mavis and merle are singing,
    When the deer sweeps by, and the hounds are in cry,
    And the hunter's horn is ringing.
  2. "O Alice Brand, my native land
    Is lost for love of you;
    And we must hold by wood aud wold,
    As outlaws wont to do.
  3. "O Alice, 'twas all for thy locks so bright
    And 'twas all for thine eyes so blue,
    That on the night of our luckless flight
    Thy brother bold I slew.
  4. "Now must I teach to hew the beech
    The hand that held the glaive,
    For leaves to spread our lowly bed,
    And stakes to fence our cave.
  5. "And for vest of pall, thy fingers small,
    That wont on harp to stray,
    A cloak must shear from the slaughter'd deer,
    To keep the cold away.
  6. "Richard! if my brother died,
    'Twas but a fatal chance;
    For darkling was the battle tried,
    And fortune sped the lance.
  7. "If pall and vair no more I wear,
    Nor thou the crimson sheen,
    As warm, we'll say, is the russet grey,
    As gay the forest-green.
  8. "And, Richard, if our lot be hard,
    And lost thy native land,
    Still Alice has her own Richard,
    And he his Alice Brand. "
  9. 'Tis merry, 'tis merry, in good greenwood,
    So blithe Lady Alice is singing;
    On the beech's pride, and oak's brown side
    Lord Richard's axe is ringing.
  10. Up spoke the moody Elfin King,
    Who won'd within the hill
    Like wind in the porch of a ruin'd church
    His voice was ghostly shrill.
  11. "Why sounds yon stroke on beech and oak,
    Our moonlight circle's screen?
    Or who comes here to chase the deer,
    Beloved of our Elfin Queen?
    Or who may dare on wold to wear
    The fairies' fatal green?
  12. "Up, Urgan, up! to yon mortal hie,
    For thou wert christen'd man;
    For cross or sign thou wilt not fly,
    For mutter'd word or ban.
  13. "Lay on him the curse of the wither'd heart,
    The curse of the sleepless eye;
    Till he wish and pray that his life would part,
    Nor yet find leave to die."
  14. 'Tis merry, 'tis merry, in good greenwood,
    Though the birds have still'd their singing;
    The evening blaze doth Alice raise,
    And Richard is fagots bringing.
  15. Up Urgan starts, that hideous dwarf,
    Before Lord Richard stands
    And, as he cross'd and bless'd himself,
    "I fear not sign,"e; quoth the grisly elf,
    "That is made with bloody hands."
  16. But out then spoke she, Alice Brand,
    That woman, void of fear,
    "And if there's blood upon his hand,
    Tis but the blood of deer."
  17. "Now loud thou liest, thou bold of mood!
    It cleaves unto his hand
    The stain of thine own kindly blood,
    The blood of Ethert Brand."
  18. Then forward stepp'd she, Alice Brand,
    And made the holy sign,---
    "And if there's blood on Richard's hand
    A spotless hand is mine."
  19. "And I conjure thee, Demon elf
    By Him whom Demons fear,
    To show us whence thou art thyself,
    And what thine errand here?"
  20. "'Tis merry, 'tis merry, in Fairy-land,
    When fairy birds are singing,
    When the court doth ride by their monarch's side
    With bit and bridle ringing:
  21. "And gaily shines the Fairy-land---
    But all is glistening show,
    Like the idle gleam that December's beam
    Can dart on ice and snow.
  22. "And fading, like that varied gleam,
    Is our inconstant shape,
    Who now like knight and lady seem,
    And now like dwarf and ape.
  23. "It was between the night and day,
    When the Fairy King has power
    That I sunk down in a sinful fray,
    And, 'twixt life and death,was snatch'd away
    To the joyless Elfin bower.
  24. "But wist I of a woman bold
    Who thrice my brow durst sign,
    I might regain my mortal mold,
    As fair a form as thine."
  25. She cross'd him once, she cross'd him twice,
    That lady was so brave
    The fouler grew his goblin hue,
    The darker grew the cave.
  26. She cross'd him thrice, that lady bold
    He rose beneath her hand
    The fairest knight on Scottish mold,
    Her brother, Ethert Brand!
  27. Merry it is in good greenwood
    When the mavis and merle are singing,
    But merrier were they in Dunfermline grey,
    When all the bells were ringing.


  • A woman saves a man from the fairies
  • The man had been a captive of the fairies
  • A man is transformed by the fairies
  • The man reports that the fairy land is pleasant
  • The confrontation takes place in the fairies' woods
  • The man gives the woman instructions on how to save him
  • The fairies have royalty who commands the captive human


Sir Walter Scott was, apart from a writer, also a folklorist, and his book Ministrelsy of the Scottish border contains a chapter on the tale of Tam Lin and the themes of human interaction with faeries. His work with the tale surely inspired the above passage in his saga The Lady of the Lake, which clearly contains similar concepts to those seen in Tam Lin. As this story does not, in and of itself, constitute folklore, there is no deeper meaning neccessary to explain the resemblance.

Version Notes

Added to site: January 1998