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This English and Irish folk ballad was first documented in 1689, and has as many titles and sets of lyrics as you would expect of a folk song.

I encountered it in the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd. In the film, it is sung by Bathsheba (played by Carrie Mulligan) to a family gathering that includes plenty of preteen girls, as a pointed warning. Perhaps as a warning to the men at the table, as well. And then one of the men joins in. Perhaps he's been loved and cruelly abandoned?

Breach of Promise was developed as a legal concept to prevent this sort of thing happening once a couple was betrothed. But it could do nothing about the situation beforehand...

The movie version, sung by Carrie Mulligan, is here. But it's hardly the earliest recording one can find.

 


 

Come all you fair and tender maids
That flourish in your prime.
Beware, beware keep your garden fair.
Let no man steal your thyme;
Let no man steal your thyme.

For when your thyme is past and gone,
He’ll care no more for you,
And every place where your thyme was waste
Will all spread o’re with rue,
Will all spread o’re with rue.

Chorus
For woman is a branchy tree,
And man’s a clinging vine,
And from your branches carelessly
He’ll take what he can find,
He’ll take what he can find.

The gardener’s son was standing by;
Three flowers he gave to me
The pink, the blue, and the violet, too,
And the red, red rosy tree,
The red, red, rosy tree.

But I forsook the red rose bush
and gained the willow tree,
So all the world might plainly see
How my love slighted me,
How my love slighted me.

Chorus

Come all you fair and tender maids
That flourish in your prime.
Beware, beware keep your garden fair.
Let no man steal your thyme;
Let no man steal your thyme.


In case you want to look up the song on the internet, it is also known as "Maiden's lament", "The Sprig of Thyme", "The Seeds of Love," and "Garners Gay".

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