The Lay of Leithian

Discussions about the Professor's poetic verses from Middle-earth
Iolanthe
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The Lay of Leithian

Postby Iolanthe » Sun Mar 04, 2007 7:25 pm

The Lay of Leithian


Image

© Alan Lee


A sparkle through the darkling trees,
a piercing glint of light he sees,
and there she dances all alone
upon a treeless knoll of stone!
Her mantle blue with jewels white
caught all the rays of frosted light.

J.R.R. Tolkien


Tolkien wrote and re-wrote the tale of Beren and Lúthien many times but the Lay of Leithian, although unfinished, is his most epic and poetic account of the great love of the mortal Beren for the immortal elf maiden Lúthien, and of their terrifying quest to steal the Silmaril from Morgoth's crown so that he might win her hand.

At over 4,000 lines long it's the most detailed treatment of one of Tolkien's core stories - the one he regarded as a 'fundamental link' in his whole mythological cycle and certainly the one closest to his own heart.

The poem was posthumously published as two versions in 1985 in The Lays of Beleriand, the third volume of The History of Middle-earth
.

So - how many of you have read this work and what are your thoughts on it?
Last edited by Iolanthe on Mon Mar 05, 2007 12:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:50 pm

I'll start, since I just finished reading this for the first time! I'm not a big fan of poetry in general, nor am I accustomed to reading it, so I guess that explains why I have put this off for so long. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it so readable. I could read it at a pace that kept up with my desire to follow this story. Tolkien's ability to choose the perfect word for the perfect spot is really evident here.
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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 Mar 05, 2007 12:24 pm

I've just started it today and I find it more readable than I thought too :D . Although I am a big poetry fan I'm more at home with modern poetry and although it's 'modern' in that it was written in the 20's and 30's it isn't, or course, modern in style.

I'm trying to resist all the extensive notes and explanations about 'A' and 'B' versions for now because it's just making me :dizzy:. I think it will get in the way of my just enjoying it. Even the introduction had me :shock: and I had to read it twice :lol: .

I've only read the first two cantos so far and I love Tolkien's descriptive use of words. He paints such vivid imaginary pictures, especially when he describes Beren seeing the ghost of Gorlim beside the stagnant pool. Reading that I knew I would be completely gripped by the Lay.

I also love his description of Luthien (Canto 1 v. 30-40), listing all the beautiful things in nature that she surpasses 'the light upon the leaves of trees, the voice of water, more than these...' He's not comparing her to other elves but all that beautiful to behold.

I can also more hints of how Aragorn and Arwen parallel Beren and Luthien in LOTR. Somehow the echo of B and L had to be a part of that book. Beren is described 'As fearless Beren was renowned, a man most hardy upon ground...' (Canto 2 v. 329-330). Doesn't Gandalf call Aragorn the greatest hunter and most 'hardy' man of his age somewhere?
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Postby Iolanthe » Wed Mar 14, 2007 11:37 am

I've now read Canto 111 and 1V and I'm loving it :D . It's interesting how poetry can generate such a sense of awe, more so than prose. The whole description of Beren's decent into Thingol's halls (980 onwards) and their confrontation had me tingling!

I love the scathing way Beren puts down Thingol (1162 onwards) as being willing to sell his daughter for a jewel, however much Thingol thinks he won't suceed.

It's interesting that it is ok for Thingol himself - an elf - to fall in love with a much higher being, Melian the Maiar, but NOT ok in his eyes for a man to love an elf, a much smaller gap.

In Canto 111 I like the alliteration of 'From cavern pale the moist moon eyes...' (677) and also the lines of 155-156 describing Beren falling in love with Luthien:

And now his heart was healed and slain
with a new life and with new pain

It sums up the whole complexity of their love, it's future, and all love really...
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
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Merry
Varda
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Postby Merry » Thu Mar 15, 2007 2:20 am

Those are lines I would have picked out, too, Iolanthe. Just when the reader is horrified by Thingol's price for Luthien's hand, Beren comes back with all this attitude!

I think you said in another thread that you would read part of the Lay outloud for Tolkien Reading Day. I read parts of it aloud to myself during our long power failure, and it was really a pleasure!
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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
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Sat Mar 17, 2007 6:49 pm

I'm loving this even more the more I read.

Canto V

I'm very struck with the references to Beren's loneliness and Luthien's awareness that he has only her to think of him (1250-1255 and 1418-1419). No wonder she risks all to go and search for him, she not only loves him - he truly doesn't have anyone else in the whole world.

Luthien's magic is interesting. There seems to be more elven magic in this than in anything else I've read - more like a true fairytale than a myth - and I suppose hers is more powerful than any other 'elven maid's before or since' because she is Melian's daughter. I love her singing a song of 'long and tall' things to make her hair grow. More singing! We were talking about this on the essay thread and her magic is wrought through song :D . It's as though singing about things happening will make them happen in a way that mere words won't. It weaves a spell over the words. That whole description of her magic and her escape is wonderful.

Canto V1

v. 1640 Tolkien has rhymed 'steals' with 'Silmarils'. So.... should Silmarils be pronounced Silmareels? ;-k

It's nice to read about Nargothrond so soon after seeing Alan Lee's new painting of the entrance. A little coincidence that really pleased me :D .

There are lots of passages that show how poetry can really lift a narrative into the epic: Celegorm's challenge (1848 onwards) Felagund choosing to honour his oath (1898 onwards). I'm far more gripped by all this than I was reading the story in the Sil.

And it's interesting how Celegorm and Curufin won't let anyone go after the Silmaril. They would rather it stayed in Morgoth's crown. You'd have thought that anything was better than that and if they succeeded they would have a better chance of then gaining it for themselves.

You can tell by now that I'm going to rabbit on about every chapter, can't you :lol: ?
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
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Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Sat Mar 17, 2007 11:06 pm

Rabbit on: :lol: Rabbit on ahead, Iolanthe!

Those sons of Feanor really do come off badly in this: creeps!
0 x
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
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Fri Mar 23, 2007 5:16 pm

They do! They are far more unpleasant than I thought they were from reading the Sil. They've gone from being chained to a terrible oath to being downright evil, plotting and scheming with Celegorm as Curufin's stooge.
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Sat Mar 24, 2007 6:24 pm

I'm way ahead reading this now so am winding back a bit with comments. I absolutely love this bit:

Far-journeying Narog's leaping course
they followed till they found his source,
the flickering falls, whose freshlets sheer
a glimmering goblet glassy-clear
with crystal waters fill that shake
and quiver down from Irvin's lake,
from Irvin's mere that mirrors dim
the pallid faces bare and grim
of Shadowy Mountains neath the moon.

J.R.R. Tolkien

That really floats my boat. Tolkien alliterating with the best Anglo-Saxon poets :D .

I'm finding the encounter with Thû/Sauron interesting. He's referred to as the Necromancer (as in The Hobbit) and more often as a wizard. I guess Tolkien's idea of wizards changed somewhat when Gandalf came along :lol: . But in line 2055 Thû is referred to as having a 'sleepless eye of flame' so there is one idea of Sauron that stuck. And the poem says that men bowed to him as a god in 'after days' so the seeds of all the later mythology was being sown.

I was interested to read the whole section on the chanting of spells when Felagund and Thû battle with each other, we've been having conversations about singing and since then I've become more and more aware of it. Song is much, much more than relating a tale to music in this Lay, it's a mechanism for magic, an expression of the soul's delight, part of nature, a means of voicing courage and defiance. Definitely an essay there, Lindariel :wink: .
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...


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