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Stories Feed the Soul

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The Thing about Poetry

Stories can be long meandering works of prose.  Details, of course, make the story interesting, bring it to life.  But how do you find a story’s bones, the core of its being?

Take, for instance, the Scottish folktale of Janet and Tam Lin.  It’s a story I fell in love with the first time I heard Heather Forest perform her version of it using song as a vehicle.

In learning to tell “Janet and Tam Lin,” I looked for and found many versions.  In order to make a version of my own, I needed to discover the bones, the framework which would hold my version.

So I wrote a poem, distilling the story down to its essence.

Janet and Tam Lin

A poem

©Julie Moss 2016

Restless, Janet rode out that day

Letting her horse wander at will

When it stopped she looked about

Realizing she was at forbidden Carterhaugh.

Forbidden because of what might befall.

 

But Janet, she was not afraid.

She plucked a yellow rose from beside

The well; then plucked another.

Suddenly seated beside her was Tam Lin.

Handsome he was.  Is being here a sin?

 

He took her hand in his and led

Her into the forest to a mound soft with moss.

They lay together there on the softness.

With flowers Tam did her adorn.

Later Janet knew a babe was to be born.

 

Tam Lin was sad.  Janet asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I am to be sacrificed!” He held her to his heart.

“No!  What can I do to save you?

Who could sacrifice you – that’s mean!”

“Break the spell of the Fairie Queen.

 

“On All Hallow’s Eve be at Miles Cross by the well.

Watch as the horses go by.  Look for me.

Pull me from my mount.  Hold me fast.

Do not let go!  Stick to me as glue.”

Swore Janet, “This I will do.”

 

All Hallow’s Eve, Janet rode out

To the crossroad by the well.

She watched as horses passed by.

Riding where she could be seen, the Queen was bold.

Ahhhh! And there was Tam as he had told!

 

Janet flew to his side and pulled

Him down to the ground

On top of her he fell.  She

Covered him with her cloak of green.

Nothing of Tam was to be seen.

 

She felt him change….

Change to a beast with sharp claws and teeth.

Janet, she knew, Tam never would harm her.

He changed again, a hissing snake fangs dripping poison.

Janet, she knew, Tam never would harm her.

 

Once more the change – now hot molten lead.

Janet, she knew, Tam never would harm her.

Into the well they went. The water boiled.

When all was done there was Tam.

They rode away.  The spell broken.

 

From there I rebuilt the story hanging more details on the framework I had constructed.  The result is a much longer version of “Janet and Tam Lin.”

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2 Comments

  1. Vanita Moore on November 10, 2019 at 2:06 am

    I never thought of writing the bones as a poem. What a great idea and very well done.

    • Julie Moss on November 11, 2019 at 4:12 am

      Thanks Vanita! Good to hear from you.

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