Wednesday 16 October 2013

If you were including Tolkien in an anthology of twentieth century poetry...

...which would you include?

I will kick-off with the two obvious, stand-out candidates:

1. "Three rings for the elven kings..." - I particularly relish its wonderful internal (within-line) rhymes/ alliterations. It is memorable, it has given phrases to the language.

2. "Where now the horse and rider?..." - Aragorn's heartbreakingly beautiful poem to epitomize Rohan.

In full:

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

So, these two. 

Any others?


Karl said...

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.

Samson J. said...

Where now the horse and rider?

Glad you included this yourself. It's my favourite; so good, so evocative it gives me shivers. (Sometimes I crack open LOTR just to read this one! Especially in the fall.)

It seems to me that I read one time someone's opinion that a hallmark of being a true Tolkien fan is that you don't skip the poetry...

Besides the one above, I know I do have another favourite, but I can't remember what it is, unless it's the lament for Boromir (my favourite character).

Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or starlight?

Well, another of my personal favourites, though I think a lot of people find it rather silly and embarrassing more than anything, certainly not worthy of any anthology, is

For it looks like the shin o' my nuncle Tim, As should be a-lyin' in graveyard!

That one always makes me laugh.

I'll see if I can remember what I'm trying to think of (above).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Excellent choice. In full (an epitaph to Theoden):

Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope he ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.

Tolkien seems here, and in the other Rohan poem I gave, to have made a powerful modern version of the alliterative Old English verse, made more acceptable to the modern ear by adding assonant couplets from the non-alliterating second stressed word in the second half line.

But the lament for Theoden ends with a double alliteration in both first and second half lines (of l) plus vowel alliteration within and across the half lines.

Very fine!

Samson J. said...

Anybody who suggests anything by Tom Bombadil will have earned a switch to the backside...

Karl said...

Yes, Theoden's epitaph is artfully composed, but I was thinking of Eomer's extemporaneous lines at the battle of the Pelennor Fields when he sees the black sails approaching and gives up hope:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

Karl said...

Cold be hand and heart and bone ...

When winter first begins to bite ...

Tall ships and tall kings, three times three ...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Sorry, I started out with that poem, then got carried away looking at other examples and drifted 'off topic'.

But it has the same structure as the other examples - mostly Old English type alliterative, but with a triplet of 'ing' line endings working rather like rhymes - then that last line with its vowels alliterating across the half line (wrath, fall).

In general, Tolkien's innovation (wrt OE poetry) is (I think) to use the line endings as another structure holding the poem together - as well as alliteration across half-lines.

I lack the understanding to analyze these things, but Tolkien spent his life analyzing sound changes - in his best poems, when he is fully in control, there is always something wonderful going on with the sounds of the words as they are formed in the mouth!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - of those three suggestions, I don't think the Barrow Wight verse is polished enough - its scansion too rough; 'when winter first...' is too close to a pastiche of Shakespeare - i.e the poem at the end of Love's Labours Lost - "When icicles hang by the wall".

'Tall ships and tall kings...' I find marvelously evocative, but too obscure in meaning for an anthology.

Also it strikes me as more like a nursery rhyme or folkloric maxim than a poem - the sort of 'garbled' folk wisdom which encodes something important but now forgotten. And indeed, nobody seems to know what the seven stars refer to.

JRRT Reader said...

I'm actually rather fond of Bilbo's Last Song, though I admit that it is arguably dependent on at some familiarity with The Hobbit an LotR in order to be understood. A short poem probably shouldn't require that sort of awareness of background context to be appreciated, though that's more of a theoretical objection rather than an intrinsic shortcoming of what I regard as a gem of work.

J. B. said...

I'm fully on board with "Three rings for the elven kings" "Where now the horse and rider?" and "Out of doubt, out of dark."

And like Samson, one of my personal favourites, which in fact brings me pure joy whenever I read it, is "Troll sat alone on his seat of stone..."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jables and SJ - I somewhat spoiled the troll song for myself as a teenager by composing a tune for it. It is not a good tune, but unfortunately it always comes into my head when I read it.

In fact Tolkien wrote this poem (when he was a Professor at Leeds University) to a well known folk tune, but if you don't already know I won't tell you which it is.

And there is a performance of it by JRRT himself - with (I think) a made-up tune.

Samson J. said...

And like Samson, one of my personal favourites, which in fact brings me pure joy whenever I read it, is "Troll sat alone on his seat of stone..."

Haha, glad to hear that. :)

@Bruce: one of the things I find was done well in Peter Jackson's films (probably because PJ was NOT directly involved...) is the setting of some of the poetry to music, whether exactly how Tolkien meant it to sound or not. I love Gandalf singing, "The road forever on and on..." - he sounds so contented...

Samson J. said...

And there is a performance of it by JRRT himself - with (I think) a made-up tune.

Gee, I don't care for it at all! Not the way I imagined it in my head...

Bruce Charlton said...

OKAY - I have found another poem which deserves inclusion: Gimli's song from the Mines of Moria:

The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone,
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.

The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin's Day.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

There hammer on the anvil smote,
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes' mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.

Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge's fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin's halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dum.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

Bruce Charlton said...

Analyzing the above - I don't know the name of the metre - obviously rhyming couplets, but the rhythm is:

Dum-DUM da da dum - DUM da da

The words that fall on the heaviest beat 'DUM' are the main words that carry the meaning of the poem.

Troels said...

I rather like Bilbo's song in Rivendell, “I sit beside the fire and think”