“The Last Voyage of Eärendel” by J.R.R. Tolkien


Eärendil the Mariner, by Ted Nasmith
Eärendil the Mariner, by Ted Nasmith

This is the first poem written by Tolkien about the character of Eärendil, the famous voyager who in Middle-Earth mythology carried the morning star on his brow across the sky. Interestingly enough, the character’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Éarendel, a name associated with the star Rigel in Orion, which is a wandering star and the brightest of that constellation. Subsequently, it is an extremely important star for navigation, and makes a fitting inspiration for the name of Tolkien’s great seafaring man. But even apart from these associations the poem is immensely beautiful, a wonderful example of mythopoeia.

The Last Voyage of Eärendel

J.R.R. Tolkien

Eärendel arose where the shadow flows
At Ocean’s silent brim;
Through the mouth of night as a ray of light
Where the shores are sheer and dim
He launched his bark like a silver spark
From the last and lonely sand;
Then on sunlit breath of the day’s fiery death
He sailed from Westerland.

He threaded his path o’er the aftermath
Of the splendour of the Sun,
And wandered far past many a star
In his gleaming galleon.
On the gathering tide of darkness ride
The argosies of the sky,
And spangle the night with their sails of light
As the streaming star goes by.

Unheeding he dips past these twinkling ships,
By his wayward spirit whirled
On an endless quest through the darkling West
O’er the margin of the world;
And he fares in haste o’er the jewelled waste
And the dusk from whence he came
With his heart afire with bright desire
And his face in silver flame.

The Ship of the Moon from the East comes soon
From the Haven of the Sun,
Whose white gates gleam in the coming beam
Of the mighty silver one.
Lo! with bellying clouds as his vessel’s shrouds
He weighs anchor down the dark,
And on shimmering oars leaves the blazing shores
In his argent-timbered bark.

Then Éarendel fled from that Shipman dread
Beyond the dark earth’s pale,
Back under the rim of the Ocean dim,
And behind the world set sail;
And he heard the mirth of the folk of earth
And the falling of their tears,
As the world dropped back in a cloudy wrack
On its journey down the years.

Then he glimmering passed to the starless vast
As an isléd lamp at sea,
And beyond the ken of mortal men
Set his lonely errantry,
Tracking the Sun in his galleon
Through the pathless firmament,
Till his light grew old in abysses cold
And his eager flame was spent.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, pages 271-3

"On an endless quest through the darkling West..."
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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.

6 thoughts on ““The Last Voyage of Eärendel” by J.R.R. Tolkien”

  1. Elwing’s return to Earendil with the silmaril is one of my favorite moments in the Silmarillion. It’s so beautiful (and romantic). I’ve heard some people complain that there aren’t enough women in Tolkien, but they’ve clearly never read him thoroughly, because there are in fact many strong female characters. They may not be everywhere, but when they show up, they play incredibly key roles.

    Also, what does it mean that Rigel is a wandering star? I am only familiar with that term as a reference to the planets.

    1. It’s a gorgeous story, definitely. As for the wandering stars, my guess would be is that it’s a star whose position in the sky changes. Wikipedia says it’s an archaic term for a planet, so I guess that’s what it actually is.

  2. It seems Tolkien has less grander ideas about Earendil when he first borrowed the character. This poem, in comparison to the tales in the Silmarillion (read at least 10 times! lol!), it shows how his thought about Middle Earth developed into what it finally came to be after his death.

    I love his simplicity of rhyme, and words, and how he paints adventure without being gaudy. That’s hard to do these days.

    Still, I wonder what exactly was in his mind when he wrote this. The story seems to be an idle adventure. At least in its form here.

    Lovely!

    1. Part of the fun in reading the Unfinished Tales and the Books of Lost Tales is seeing how Tolkien’s mythology developed.

      To my mind, the poem seems more the expression of the tone, the emotion, and the intense yearning of the idea of this perpetual mariner forever seeking distant shores. Not much of a plot, perhaps, but the poetic expression of a myth. This makes sense to me, if Tolkien was first concerned with capturing his inspiration in words. The rest of the story may have developed only later. This is only a supposition, though — I don’t know what was in Tolkien’s mind, and I don’t recall what his son Christopher had to say about it.

      It is lovely, isn’t it? Really wonderful.

  3. Such poems have, in themselves, become a muse (apart from Tolkien himself) to me. It does so much to inspire the mind to countless inspirations.

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