Tolkien’s “Habbanan beneath the Stars”


[Excerpted from The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, pages 96 and 97. This is a very early poem of the Professor’s that clearly connects his mythology of Middle-Earth with some Christian and Catholic ideas. Christopher thinks the land of Habbanan might be Arda’s version of Purgatory, where the souls of Men might go after death. At any rate, it is a quite beautiful poem.]

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892—1973)

Habbanan beneath the Stars

Now Habbanan is that region where one draws nigh to the places that are not of Men. There is the air very sweet and the sky very great by reason of the broadness of the Earth.

In Habbanan beneath the skies
Where all roads end however long
There is a sound of faint guitars
And distant echoes of a song,
For there men gather into rings
Round their red fires while one voice sings –
And all about is night.

Not night as ours, unhappy folk,
Where nigh the Earth in hazy bars,
A mist about the springing of the stars,
There trails a thin and wandering smoke
Obscuring with its veil half-seen
The great abysmal still Serene.

A globe of dark glass faceted with light
Wherein the splendid winds have dusky flight;
Untrodden spaces of an odorous plain
That watches for the moon that long has lain
And caught the meteors’ fiery rain –
Such there is night.

There on a sudden did my heart perceive
That they who sang about the Eve,
Who answered the bright-shining stars
With gleaming music of their strange guitars,
These were His wandering happy sons
Encamped upon those aery leas
Where Gods’ unsullied garment runs
In glory down to his mighty knees.

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Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

2 thoughts on “Tolkien’s “Habbanan beneath the Stars””

  1. The Lost Tales are a treasure trove of beautiful poetry. Some of my all-time favorites come from those two books! The imagery alone takes my breath away: like this one!

    I know a window in a western tower
    That opens on celestial seas,
    And wind that has been blowing round the stars
    Comes to nestle in its tossing draperies.
    It is a white tower builded in the Twilight Isles,
    Where Evening sits for ever in the shade;
    It glimmers like a spike of lonely pearl
    That mirrors beams forlorn and lights that fade;
    And sea goes washing round the dark rock where it stands,
    And fairy boats go by to gloaming lands
    All piled and twinkling in the gloom
    With hoarded sparks of orient fire
    That divers won in waters of the unknown Sun —
    And, maybe, ‘tis a throbbing silver lyre,
    Or voices of grey sailors echo up
    Afloat among the shadows of the world
    In oarless shallop and with canvas furled;
    For often seems there ring of feet and song
    Or twilit twinkle of a trembling gong.

    O! happy mariners upon a journey long
    To those great portals on the Western shores
    Where far away constellate fountains leap,
    And dashed against Night’s dragon-headed doors,
    In foam of stars fall sparkling in the deep.
    While I alone look out behind the Moon
    From in my white and windy tower,
    Ye bide no moment and await no hour,
    But chanting snatches of a mystic tune
    Go through the shadows and the dangerous seas
    Past sunless lands to fairy leas
    Where stars upon the jacinth wall of space
    Do tangle burst and interlace.
    Ye follow Earendel through the West,
    The shining mariner, to Islands blest;
    While only from beyond that sombre rim
    A wind returns to stir these crystal panes
    And murmur magically of golden rains
    That fall for ever in those spaces dim.

    1. That’s a wonderful one, thanks! I didn’t remember that one. Which book is it from? (page number would also be nice too, so I can mark it for myself!) I’ll probably be featuring more of Tolkien’s poetry on this blog.

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