Sunday 20 October 2013

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun - Tolkien's forgotten medieval supernatural poem


Written in 1930, published in 1945 in The Welsh Review

I had completely forgotten the existence of this poem - although it is listed in the bibliographies, and despite that I had (but some decades ago) read a description and critique in Paul Kocher's Master of Middle Earth - only in re-reading that book did I remember, and found an online (scanned, very slightly inaccurate) copy:

NOTE: I have placed a complete copy of the poem in the blog post above-

just in case the above web pages become unavailable or are deleted.

Aotrou and Itroun is a vivid, ballad-like and Christian tale, set in the Middle Ages in Brittany, concerning temptation, black magic, repentance, retribution.

As might be expected from Tolkien - the end is sad, but ultimately hopeful.   

It is a very good poem, I would judge (but after only a single reading) it is perhaps Tolkien's best long poem - and well worth reading both for its style and the content. 



Wm Jas said...

This is indeed very good, and I had never seen it before. Thanks for posting it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Glad to have your opinion. What surprised me when reading it was that I expected to become wearied by the metre - because couplets of any sort, but especially short couplets, usually drive me crazy with tedium after not-very-long. But somehow I didn't get fed up - and indeed found them better used than in almost anything else I can recall - with deft and refreshing variations.

I wonder if the title has anything to do with the poems obscurity - I have an aversion to titles when I can't pronounce or spell the names.

Like many writers, Tolkien was sometimes bad at naming his works - Smith of Wootton Major is another shocker.

Indeed the very worst title is one of his best works - the story ‘Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth’, translated as ‘The Debate of Finrod and Andreth’ - which I simply cannot remember - even though I am the only person ever to have published an analysis of it - so far as I know.

Wm Jas said...

I'm not usually a big fan of the rocking-horse Pegasus, either. Pope, for example, is much more quotable than readable. However, there a few poets who can do couplets well. Byron's Giaour (another unpronounceable name) is one example; the present verse by Tolkien is another.

The only thing that annoyed me about this poem was the repeated asides about "In Britain's land beyond the sea...." The first was good, but then they became too forced and self-conscious, interrupting the flow of the poem.

Another writer who couldn't name his works was Wodehouse. The titles are all easy to pronounce and spell, of course, but I can't for the life of me remember which story is which.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your site and especially this poem. As a married man and a father and Christian I can enjoy this poem on many levels. I have read this twice today it is moving and unfairly overlooked.


Deniz Bevan said...

Oh! Thank you for sharing this here! If I did read it it was year's ago, and I love rereading Tolkien pieces I've not read in ages.
Funny, about the titles - I sort of fall into the Tolkien camp on that one. The names Aotrou and Itroun sound so delightfully far off and vaguely Welsh that I love them even if I can pronounce them.