Poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien

Discussions about the Professor's poetic verses from Middle-earth
Philipa
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Poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien

Postby Philipa » Wed Sep 14, 2005 12:23 am

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I Sit Beside the Fire and Think.

© Image Riv Res.
© Rabbit Ridge Art™.




Poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien

You and me – we know that land
And often have been there
In the long old days, old nursery days,
A dark child and a fair.
Was it down the paths of firelight dreams
In winter cold and white,
Or in the blue-spun twilit hours
Of little early tucked-up beds
In drowsy summer night,
That You and I got lost in Sleep
And met each other there –
Your dark hair on your white nightgown,
And mine was tangled fair?

You and Me
and the Cottage of Lost Play


Tolkien shared his love of language, tales and of verse. In LoTR every member of the Fellowship recites poems of love, loss, bravery or humorous tales. You don’t need to be a scholar to enjoy poetry. Please feel free to share your favorites.

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Merry
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Postby Merry » Sat Sep 17, 2005 12:58 am

You know, I have to admit that the first dozen or so times I read LOTR, I skipped most of the poetry. :oops: Now I love it! Anyone have a favorite Tolkien poem?
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Sat Sep 17, 2005 5:38 pm

That's a tough one, Merry. I like so many. But off the top of my head I love the Lament of the Rohirrim

Where now is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that is blowing?

There is so much sadness in it and it tells us so much about the Rohirrim with very few words. The way the rhyme carries through the first 4 lines, all ending in a question, then breaks when the answer comes is, I think, wonderful. I always hear a quieter, sadder voice speaking the second part. It's very haunting, I think.

I also have a soft spot for Treebeard's song about the Ent Wives:

Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!

I find it heartbreaking. Only Tolkien could bring such characters to life to the degree that I want to cry every time I read it.
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Sat Sep 17, 2005 6:53 pm

Merry, much like you, it took me several readings before I even noticed the pure quality of the poetry, (I was too busy devouring the story) and then...what a discovery!! I couldn't believe how much beauty it added to the story. If you stop and think about it...how much fiction is written too unclude this kind of poetry? Not just a rhyme or two, but things like The Lay of Leithian, or poetry in Elvish. I think that Tolkien is truly remarkable and almost one of a kind in that regard.

The one central theme that I see in almost all of the Middle-earth poetry is the idea of the "journey". It punctuates some Tolkien verse and is the complete content of others. So Merry, to answer your question...my favorites (yes I cannot settle on just one), are those that speak of journey, travel, discovery, and homecoming (or wishing for it). It seems that Tolkien takes us on these journeys to bring us the idea of the peace and warmth of coming home.

Thoughts?
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Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Sun Sep 18, 2005 1:40 am

I have always enjoyed the poetry in LoTR (and others) I think pathos is a large part of the dynamics of his subject in poems. From Sam's rough lament for Gandalf:

He stood upon the bridge alone
and Fire and Shadow both defied;
his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dum his wisdom died.


To Legolas's graceful account of Elvish poetry of the loss of Nimrodel:

An Elven-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of silver-grey.



But from the West has come no word,
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings Elven-folk have heard
Of Amroth everymore.
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Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:46 pm

I was so GLAD to see this thread. I LOVE Tolkien's poetry, especially his wonderful and varied rhythmic metres.

Those of you who know me as Chantal on WRoR are aware that my Middle-Earth-based creative writing centers around a young elven bard named -- Lindariel! As I have needed to create songs and spells for her, from time to time I have leaned upon some of the Professor's more obscure Middle-Earth poetry that was not featured in his primary writings, i.e., The Sil, The Hobbit, and LOTR.

I discovered two very beautiful poems on a website devoted to the detailed linguistic analysis of Tolkien's elvish writings. There, in addition to analyses of A Elbereth Gilthoniel and Namarie were the following beauties provided in Quenya and translated into Westron. I'll give the Westron translations here. Let me know what you think of these glorious discoveries. Also, if you happen to know where they originated among Tolkien's lesser-known writings, etc., or references to literary analyses/interpretations of these poems, I'd be grateful for the information!

Firiel's Song

The Father made the World for Elves and Mortals
and he gave it into the hands of the Lords: They are in the West.
They are holy, blessed, and beloved: save the dark one.
He is fallen. Melkor has gone from Earth: it is good.
For Elves they made the Moon, but for Men the red Sun,
which are beautiful. To all they gave in measure the gifts
of Ilúvatar. The world is fair, the sky, the seas,
the earth, and all that is in them. Lovely is Numenor.
But my heart resteth not here forever,
for here is ending, and there will be an end and the Fading,
when all is counted, and all numbered at last,
but yet it will not be enough, not enough.
What will the Father, O Father, give me
in that day beyond the end when my Sun faileth?


The Markirya Poem

Who shall see a white ship
leave the last shore,
the pale phantoms
in her cold bosom
like gulls wailing?

Who shall heed a white ship,
vague as a butterfly,
in the flowing sea
on wings like stars,
the sea surging,
the foam blowing,
the wings shining,
the light fading?

Who shall hear the wind roaring
like leaves of forests;
the white rocks snarling
in the moon gleaming,
in the moon waning,
in the moon falling,
the storm mumbling,
the abyss moving?

Who shall see the clouds gather,
the heavens bending
upon crumbling hills,
the sea heaving,
the abyss yawning,
the old darkness
beyond the stars
falling
upon fallen towers?

Who shall heed a broken ship
on the black rocks
under broken skies,
a bleared sun blinking
on bones gleaming
in the last morning?
Who shall see the last evening?


If you're interested in the linguistic analysis for these poems, you can find it at http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/firiel.htm and http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/markirya.htm .
Last edited by Lindariel on Fri Sep 23, 2005 11:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:56 pm

Lindariel, thanks for bringing these poems with you. I love the first one specially: as a Roman Catholic over a certain age ( :? ), I remember singing hymns in English that had been translated from the Latin. While the English translation is sometimes a little stilted by English standards, there was a certain thoughtful, odd loveliness to them that I associate with the holiness of being in church. The first poem has that quality.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Lindariel
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Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:30 pm
Location: The Hall of Fire, Imladris (otherwise known as Northern Virginia)

Postby Lindariel » Sat Sep 24, 2005 12:06 am

Merry, I too love the incredible spirituality of the first poem. As you know, in my writings, Lindariel and the elves call this poem The Great Question -- What is beyond Arda? What is beyond the End of Endings?

I find Tolkien's faith-system for Middle Earth VERY interesting because it is not based on superstition on the part of the believers. The ancient elves have actually seen and even lived among their gods and goddesses -- the Valar -- and the Valar themselves once existed in the presence of Eru Iluvatar, the One. So they are not passing down to later generations of elves and the men, dwarves, and other sentient creatures of Middle-Earth that followed a religion or faith based on superstition or prophecy or "divine inspiration." For them, their religion is fact, not faith.

What is uncertain for the elves, and for men as well, is what the future holds. For elves, the question is whether there is an existence for them beyond Arda. For men, the question is whether there is an existence for them beyond death, beyond "the confines of the world." There is also the question of whether indeed elves and men will be forever separated by their different fates in the "afterlife," or at some point after Arda ceases to exist, will they all be brought together once again by the One? Even the Valar do not know what will happen after Arda ceases to exist. This is the biggest question of all.

I find this endlessly fascinating, and Firiel's Song seems to me to outline a very important part of the "faith" of Middle Earth.

I enjoy the Markirya Poem for its astonishing imagery and for the marvelous rhythm of the short descriptive phrases -- "the white rocks snarling, in the moon gleaming, in the moon waning, in the moon falling, the storm mumbling, the abyss moving?" How very evocative!

The poem seems to be speaking about the sailing of the last White Ship to Valinor, but the final stanza is quite dark and thought-provoking. Could it instead be referring to the desperate sailing of Elendil's ships with the remnant of the Numenorean faithful as they escaped the drowning of Numenor? Did the author of the poem witness the sinking of one ship that was either too late in departing, or perhaps carrying those who were not faithful? There are many possible interpretations. Again, fascinating!

Thoughts?
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Merry
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Postby Merry » Sat Sep 24, 2005 5:54 am

I'm interested in your idea that religion for the people of M-e was fact and not faith, Lindariel. True, the elves knew for sure that the Valar existed. But after the big divorce, so to speak, their access to direct knowledge about the Valar disappeared. What the Valar wished for in the development of life on M-e, how they were acting, intervening or not in the affairs of M-e, whether the peoples of M-e were on their own against Morgoth and Sauron or whether they were going to get some help: all of these things became matters of faith. A phrase like 'May the Valar protect you' (does that actually appear in the book, or am I confusing it with the movies? :oops: ) or a hymn to Elbereth implies some knowledge and some faith, as I see it.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
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Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Sat Sep 24, 2005 3:15 pm

Thank you so much, Lindariel! I've printed out copies of those two poems to keep.

But my heart resteth not here forever,
for here is ending, and there will be an end and the Fading,
when all is counted, and all numbered at last,
but yet it will not be enough, not enough.
What will the Father, O Father, give me
in that day beyond the end when my Sun faileth?

So sad! 'But yet it will not be enough, not enough.' Not enough if there is nothing beyond, if the elves fade and die with Arda and have nothing beyond it. It's a beautiful poem, I wish I could both read and understand it in the original Quenya.
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Sat Sep 24, 2005 8:16 pm

Iolanthe wrote: I wish I could both read and understand it in the original Quenya.


Alas, there is no Berlitz for Elvish. I'm surprised no one has thought of doing one. :lol:

The poems are lovely Lindariel. I hardly believe that Tolkien would have been lost if he didn't use poetry in his work. Indeed it looks as though all that he held dear (language, poetry and an agrarian way of life) was the heart of his work.
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Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Sat Sep 24, 2005 9:00 pm

Oh, Merry, I quite agree that there was still a HUGE element of faith involved in the "worship," if you will, of the Valar, especially after "the divorce." (Hee! That's really a very clever way of looking at the Doom of Mandos!) As you know, over at WRoR in the GS, our story is peppered with references to "we must have faith that the Valar will uphold us in this trial."

Nonetheless, the "religion" of Middle-Earth is still radically different from any of our "modern day" religions, because they know for a fact that their deities exist. There are ancient elves living among them -- Galadriel being the most prominent -- who once lived among the deities. If one desires more concrete proof, then at the Grey Havens, one can look into the palantir that communicates with the Undying Lands. Also, there are the Istari, who were sent as emissaries of the Valar to help counter Sauron.

But I do very much agree that the "facts" of their religion required great faith to maintain hope and belief, especially after the sundering. Also, those elves who never went to Valinor, and the men, dwarves, hobbits, and other sentient creatures who never went there, had to accept the accounts of firsthand witnesses like Galadriel, which is in itself an act of faith. But I maintain that our modern day religions are very different in that the very existence of our Deity (or deities) must be taken on faith alone -- the constructs of our major religions are entirely based on faith and the "divine inspiration" and prophecies received by our fellow fallible humans.

I just think it is very interesting that Tolkien created a "religion" for his world in which the question "Does God exist?" is not a factor. Of course, they are still free to wonder, "Does He/She (still) care?" Ahhhh . . . there's the rub!
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Merry
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Postby Merry » Sat Sep 24, 2005 9:51 pm

Yes, there's the rub! I imagine that more people have lost their faith over the question 'Does God care?' than the question 'Is s/he there?'

(Of course, there are some philosophers who maintain that the existence of a First Cause can be proven, although it is a leap of faith whether that being is the god of any particular faith or scripture. But I'm sure nobody wants to hear any more about that! :shock: )

I had thought about the wizards as evidence of the Valar, too. But I wonder how many people in M-e knew that the wizards were emissaries or Maiar? At least in LOTR, Gandalf is pretty oblique in his references to his mission and its parameters, speaking in the passive voice: 'I was sent back', etc. And with their mysterious non-interference clause, it seems that there was still lots of room for doubt.

It IS interesting that Tolkien created such a relationship with the divine in his world. Thanks--I had never thought about that before. I wonder about the significance of this. Maybe for him, the question of God's existence was beyond doubt.

Edited to say: Now that I read this, I fear that I have taken us way off topic. I apologize! Carry on with the poetry.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Lindariel
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:30 pm
Location: The Hall of Fire, Imladris (otherwise known as Northern Virginia)

Postby Lindariel » Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:45 am

Thanks, Merry! I don't think we really strayed at all off-topic, because of the issues of faith raised in Firiel's Song. But, by all means, let's move on to other poems!

To get back to the LOTR canon, my hands-down favorite poem is the exquisite Rivendell Hymn to Elbereth:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!


For a detailed linguistic analysis, please see http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/elbereth.htm , which is where I also got the following -- a direct translation provided by Tolkien in a reference they site as RGEO:72. Any ideas what that might be?

O Elbereth Star-Kindler
(white) glittering slants down sparkling like jewels
from [the] firmament [the] glory [of] the star-host!
To-remote distance far-having gazed
from [the] tree-tangled middle-lands,
Fanuilos, to thee I will chant
on this side of ocean, here on this side of the Great Ocean!

I LOVE this poem! I find the elvish running through my mind ALL THE TIME, sometimes just the beautiful words, but more often I hear it as I imagine it would be sung by a choir in Imladris, with four-part Renaissance-style polyphony. Just completely sublime! Such adoration . . . and such longing!
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Sun Sep 25, 2005 1:06 am

Your passion for Tolkien's poetry is really amazing Lindariel. I must say your knowledge is also astounding too. I think why I enjoy these poems are their referrences to the stars and oceans. I almost hesitate to post a poem because I have no genius comment to go with them. :lol: I will however, comb my books to find a favorite. :D
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