The Poetry of the Fellowship {Guest Post}

September 21, 2012

Hullo, lovely readers of Shaylynn's equally lovely blog!  I'm Victoria from Raindrops and Moonlight, where I blog when I'm not busy daydreaming or drowning in English essays.  I'm a francophile, anglophile, bookaholic, and fangirl of various fandoms, including, of course, the immortal Tolkien.    A wizard is never late, as Shaylynn reminded me, but I must not be a wizard, because I am LATE in getting this in to her.  Thanks for your patience and for having me as a guest-poster in the first place, Shaylynn!

 I first read The Lord of the Rings as an almost-nine-year old bouncing along in the back of a trailer on a trip to Italy.  One of the things I remember most about that first reading - besides the way certain chapters made me crave mushrooms - is how much I loved the poetry.  I didn't even realize the genius of it at the time; it was just the first poetry that had ever really gotten across to me.

Part of poetry is atmosphere, creating a feeling, catching the mood of an experience. Tolkien was a master of that, among other things, and to this day I can't quite figure how he did it.  He didn't sacrifice content for atmosphere.  All the poems tell a tale, especially since most of them seem to be based on the ballad form - not surprising, with an author as interested in history as Tolkien was.

The first poem  I remember clearly was The Fall of Gil-Galad. I really don't know why that one stood out, and later I  re-read all the poems in FOTR and decided that, stylistically speaking, it's one of the less beautiful and memorable pieces.  I guess what really distinguishes it is the curiosity it raises as to what really happened to Gil-Galad:   

But long ago he rode away
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

   It's a bit mysterious and creepy.

A perfect example of Tolkien's poetical awesomeness is The Lay of Nimrodel,  which tells the tale of the elf maiden Nimrodel and the man she loved, Amroth, and how they both disappeared.  In true ballad fashion, most of Tolkien's  poetry-tales have somewhat sad or ambiguous endings, and this is no exception. I loved the silvery colors and the way it flows, just like the Nimrodel river by which Legolas sings it, and I even once tried to put it to music.  (In case you're wondering, I failed miserably.  I'm not much of a composer.)  I won't put down the whole thing here  - it would make this post reeeaaaally long[er] - but here are some bits.

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

 (I just love the descriptions here!  They're very simple, but they create the perfect image.)

The elven-ship in haven grey
Beneath the mountain-lee
Awaited her for many a day 
Beside the roaring sea.

From helm to sea they saw him [Amroth] leap,
As arrow from the string,
And dive into the water deep
As mew upon the wing. 

Seeee, it's so pretty.  Now go read the whole thing.  Or, check out a sung version here.  It is very pretty as well, though not the way I imagine the Lay being sung.  It's not elvish enough.

The Elves aren't the only ones with nice poetry, oh no precious.   The Hobbits have some great stuff, too, mostly written by Bilbo to old tunes.  What drives me crazy about this is that I'm nearly certain that, given Tolkien's propensity to draw inspiration from culture and history, he had a real tune in mind when he mentions that something had an old Hobbit tune.  The point is further proved by the fact that the source of one such song is obvious even to a reader who is not a literature/culture nerd.  I speak, of course, of the beloved Man in the Moon nursery-rhyme thing which Frodo so gracefully performed on top of the table at the Prancing Pony.  (Somebody really needs to make a Prancing Pony restaurant in real life.  They would serve things like meat pies and sausages and stew, and all the LOTR geeks in the world - and perhaps even normal people who  just like food - would love it.)

Anyway.  The best Hobbit-poem, in my most humble opinion, is the Walking-Song the hobbits sing on their first day of their Adventures.  "Bilbo Baggins had made the words, to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure."  This is definitely a wanderlust song ("though not, of course, without any mention of supper and bed"), very fitting for travelers and a bit torturing for any stuck-at-home travelers-at-heart.  

Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet, 
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
 Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
Let them pass! Let them pass!
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the moon or to the sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!

Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Trough shadows to the edge of night, 
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade, 
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!

Doesn't it make you just want to go explore an autumn forest or something?  With or without a pocket-handkerchief?  

I could go on forever, pointing out every bit of rhyme in the trilogy and beyond, but then you'll be sitting here till you have a long white beard like Gandalf's.  So I encourage you, even if you've read it a hundred times, to re-read that poetry and let the awesomeness sink in. 

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  1. ...It's like you're me. I, too read LotR at nine years of age, and I, too, was incredibly struck by the poetry. I have a huge amount of it memorized and actually recited some of it in my English Sterling Scholar interview. (Our states way of getting the academics the same accolades as the athletes.) Lovely post!

  2. I found this post really interesting as critics have been divided over the merits of Tolkien's poetry. Of course, the poetry is different for each of the cultures in Middle-earth. The alliterative verse of the Rohirrim seems to be generally accepted as good (and is, in fact, my favorite poetry in all of LotR), but you could probably explain the lesser merits of some poems as a result of their culture. The Oliphaunt verse, for example, is not stunning in a stylistic sense, but I love it for its simplicity.

    And, I thought I should point out for all the Tolkien fans out there that there are recordings of Tolkien reading excerpts from his work and singing some of the songs--so apparently he did have tunes in mind! I can't remember the exact contents as I lent my copy out long ago and never got it back. However, it's called the Tolkien Audio Collection and it's not hard to find a copy. You also get to hear Tolkien speak Elvish, which is really cool.


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