Poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien

Discussions about the Professor's poetic verses from Middle-earth
Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:36 pm

I shall find it and have a listen :D .
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:03 pm

Mythopoeia

On September 19, 1931, C. S. Lewis invited J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to dinner at Magdalen College and after dinner they went for a walk. But not just a walk. Their talk that night was seminal, particularly for Lewis, who later cited that conversation as an important turning point in his conversion to Christianity. Their topic that night was the nature of myth. Lewis thought at the time that ‘myth’ was synonymous with ‘lie’ although, since he enjoyed mythology, he added that a myth was a lie “breathed through silver”. Tolkien contended that myths do not necessarily have to be false, that they still can function in the way myths do, even if they are true.

During the next several days, Tolkien composed the first version of the poem “Mythopoeia”, the title of which is a coined word from the Greek meaning ‘myth-making’. It is dedicated “To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’” and it is subtitled “Philomythus [myth-lover] to Misomythus [myth-hater]”. As far as I know, the only place where the poem is published legally is in the third edition of a short collection entitled Tree and Leaf (Harper Collins, 1988). (It may also be found on the ‘net—enough said!)

In the preface to this collection, Christopher Tolkien wrote that “Mythopoeia” is so closely related to part of the essay “On Fairy-Stories” that his father quoted fourteen lines from the poem in the essay. Both texts defend myth-making as not lying, obviously: at the time it was written, Tolkien was well immersed in the writing of his mythology and so the essay and the poem are something of a self-defense. But in the process, Tolkien reveals some deep truths about life, the world, and creativity.

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have turned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and Dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.


Image
'Theoden Lying in State', used by permission of marbretherese


Please join us for a discussion of “Mythopoiea”!
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
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all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:11 pm

Great introduction, Merry! I'm up for this and will read the poem over the weekend :D .
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Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:39 pm

I've had a chance to read this now and it's just wonderful. I can see why you want to talk about it, Merry. It's the heart of Tolkien and all that he cherishes, passionately put. I don't think anyone has argued better against the sterility of a factual approach being seen as the only valid way to understand the world:

I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that...


A lot of modern literature so beloved by critics is all about this dusty path of 'real life', whatever 'real life' is. For a lot of us 'real life' is full of imagination, hope and 'the light of suns as yet by no man seen' and .... that's the reality of it.

This is the essence of The Lord of the Rings:

They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

Wonderful!!!!

I had to look up Origo:

...except for kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.

I'm assuming (because it's capitalized), that he's referring to God. I've never come across the term before. There's this from Wikipedia :

In pragmatics, the origo is the reference point on which deictic relationships are based. In most deictic systems, the origo identifies with the current speaker (or some property thereof). For instance, if the speaker, John, were to say "This is now my fish", then John would be the origo, and the deictic word "my" would be dependent on that fact. Likewise, his use of the word "this" and "now" communicate his properties, namely his location and point in time.

Origo also means "beginning" in Latin. It is the root for the English word "origin" and occurs in the phrase fons et origo which means "source and origin (of)".


Another word is puzzling me - tifi :

Yet trees are not 'trees' until so names and seen
and never were so named, tifi those had been...

I'm using the on-line version so maybe it's an error?

Mind you, the line about trees is very quantum mechanics, isn't it? :wink: .
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Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Sun Jan 10, 2010 7:31 pm

I have two different collections with "Tree and Leaf" in them -- A Tolkien Miscellany and The Tolkien Reader -- but neither of these have Mythopoeia. I shall have to track it down on the 'net immediately and read. Until then, Iolanthe, thank you so much for your insights! I agree that the world and our existence is so much MORE than dry dusty fact -- and this comes from a person whose initial training was as a scientist, before my true nature as singer/pianist/actress/writer emerged!
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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 » Sun Jan 10, 2010 7:35 pm

Iolanthe, I left my copy of the poem at school, so I'll check 'tifi' tomorrow, but I think it is an error.

I loved the sarcasm in the 'denoting' line. It is a slap at the academic world, particularly analytic philosophers and, I presume, the linguists that base themselves in that philosophy. These people are interested only in words and symbols, as an internal system, not as referring to a real world, which they claim not to be sure exists. Come on! Really? Don't they go home to their families and houses in their cars, etc., when they end their day of proving there is no real world?

But my favorite line is something like this: I will not worship your Iron Crown, nor lay my own small golden scepter down. Go Tolkien!
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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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Postby Lindariel » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:30 am

I do believe "tifi" is a typo. It should be "till". I found the poem on several sites, some of them reproduce the typo, but on one associated with a university, I found the poem reproduced with this verse cited thusly,

"Yet trees are not 'trees,' until so named and seen -
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled . . ."

This make sense to me, although I would think The Professor would have used "'til" instead of "till" in this context. Interesting. This may be yet another typo. Does anyone have the edition of Tree and Leaf with the published poem?
Last edited by Lindariel on Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:44 am, 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.”

Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:41 am

I found the following paper on the poem Mythopoeia. What do you think?

http://www.polyoinos.de/tolk_stuff/myth ... short.html
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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 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 1:36 am

Lindariel, I've got the proper edition of Tree and Leaf, but I left it at school. (I left it at home when I needed it at school last week. Moral of the story: I need to carry the dang thing in my purse at all times!) I'll check it tomorrow.

Thanks for the very interesting link. The author is correct that 'Mythopoeia' is a statement of JRRT's metaphysics/ontology ('metaphysics' is an ancient word coined by Aristotle, meaning the study of what it is that makes something real or exist; 'ontology' is a more modern word meaning roughly the same thing). I'm not sure I agree with him that Tolkien's metaphysics is Platonic. I think it's more Aristotelian. Aristotle, of course, was Plato's student, and so Aristotelian philosophy includes much of what Plato thought. But Aristotle thought that the two levels of reality, the mental or spiritual and the physical, were both real and related to each other. And so Aristotle was also interested in science, but didn't think that it was the only method of discovering reality.

I don't think Tolkien was against the material world or science or even technology in themselves. It's just that he thought that they were limited in scope and had to be kept in their places. His very strong reaction, in 'Mythopoeia' and in general, was against the modern idea that this is all there is.
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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 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:43 am

I thought tifi might be 'till' - thanks Lindariel. I would also have thought 'til would be more correct, as in an abbreviation of 'until'.

Thanks also for the essay. They've got it in a nutshell here:

We than see that art and writing for him were expressions of other realities which are able to entertain, to teach, to give meaning to our real world and our lives. Thus these man-made realities are true and in a certain way real.


I find Weinreich's comments about the third stanza (which I had some trouble with) and the line 'Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen' really enlightening. It's impossible to be intelligent beings within this world without creating another level of reality through language at it's most basic - our response to how we feel about the things we see. How Tolkien this is, digging back to the root through words.

Merry - I also loved the line 'I will not worship your Iron Crown, nor lay my own small golden scepter down.' This is just why we love Tolkien so deeply, isn't it?

And there's another line I love - one for marbertherese :wink: - 'the large slow oddity of cows' :lol: .
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marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Mon Jan 11, 2010 1:43 pm

Yes, I like that line too, Iolanthe! but my favourite passage is:

The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.


I first read this poem some time ago - it's in my edition of "Tree & Leaf", presumably with some notes, which I must dig out and take a look at!
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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Postby Merry » Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:32 pm

Another great quote, marbretherese. I like how, through all of this, Tolkien both elevates our creative activities but doesn't do so absolutely: all the royal images are also made kind of relative to how some use this potential in a shoddy way.
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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 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:36 pm

I love the way he brings us back to the original meaning of disgraced with the hyphen, so that it's clear he means 'fallen' not caught out in some seedy political scandal!

I think Tolkien is considerably underrated as a poet - both comic and serious - because of his subject matter and his adherence to old forms of metre and style.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Jan 11, 2010 7:19 pm

Just a confirmation that the mistyped word is 'till'. I do correct my students when they use this word in this way. (I have to admit that sometimes Tolkien's grammar and punctuation do not seem correct to me. Pretty cheeky, don't you think? Clearly he is the expert. Still . . .)

I agree that Tolkien is underrated as a poet. It's always interesting to me that people who advocate for all kinds of freedoms, like freedom from the old strictures of poetry, soon turn into the oppressor when they are in power!
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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 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 8:09 pm

Very true - I'm a member of the Poetry Society and get the Poetry Review journal through them. There's not much place for traditional poetry styles there! The baby has gone out with the bathwater...

Interesting about 'till' - thanks for checking that out, Merry. He uses the full 'until' in the line above but looking in a very old Chamber's Dictionary that I have (undated but it must be from about the early 1900's) 'till' can also be used to mean 'to the time when...' so I've looked it up in my modern dictionary as well and it seems that till comes from the Old Norse 'til' and is Middle English (of course :lol: ). It then got changed to 'till (in the 18th) century, which made it look like an abbreviation of until - which it never was. It's always been a separate word. So it seems Tolkien was right!

You learn something every day!
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