The Sprig of Thyme

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The Sprig of Thyme, The Seeds of Love, Maiden’s Lament, Garners Gay, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme or Rue (Roud #3) is a traditional British and Irish folk ballad that uses botanical and other symbolism to warn young people of the dangers in taking false lovers. The song was first documented in 1689[1] and the many variants go by a large number of titles.


In one version of Maiden’s Lament,[2] the narrator tells her audience to keep their gardens fair and not to let anyone steal their thyme. Once, she had a sprig of thyme but a gardener’s son came with a red rose, a blue violet and some bitter rue. He stole the thyme and left only rue, with its "running root", growing in its place. Her parents were angry but she will cut the head off the rose and plant a willow for all to see. There is many a "dark and cloudy morn brings forth a pleasant day" and "there are fine boats sailing here".

In a version of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,[1] she wishes she were in her lover’s arms but she tells false men not to give her cause to complain about the grass underfoot being "trodden down" – in time, it will rise again.

In some versions of Garners Gay,[3] the narrator plucks up all rue and plants a sturdy oak in its place with the hope that it will grow strong and remain as true as the stars do to the sky.

Other plants are mentioned in other versions.


The representative symbolism is as follows:[4]

  • "Thyme" – virginity and, to an extent, time.
  • "Red Rose" – romantic love, lust or "wanton passion"
  • "Violet" – modesty
  • "Willow" – sorrow and despair
  • "Rue" – regret
  • "Oak" – strength, loyalty


  • Anne Briggs recorded a version of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (1963), which is included on A Collection
  • Jim Moray performed Seeds Of Love on his 2003 album Sweet England
  • Pentangle recorded "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" on their 1968 debut The Pentangle.
  • Shelagh McDonald recorded "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" on Album (1970); the song was re-released on 2005's Let No Man Steal Your Thyme.
  • Roberts and Barrand recorded "Garners Gay" on their 1983 Live at Holstein's!
  • Carey Mulligan performed a version of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme in the 2015 film adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd.
  • Foster and Allen recorded A Bunch of Thyme as a single in 1979 and released an album of the same name in 1980.
  • Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker recorded "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" on their 2014 album Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour.


Further reading[edit]

  • Reeves, James (1960) The Everlasting Circle. London: Heinemann; pp. 229–38

External links[edit]