Song of the Entwives, by J.R.R. Tolkien

treebeard_by_jerry vandersteltSince finishing The Hobbit, I’ve been re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I finished Fellowship a month or so ago, and am now well into The Two Towers. It’s a lovely, enlightening read. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve read this book — most of my Tolkien-reading being spent among The Silmarillion and its spinoff tomes — and there’s so much that I’d forgotten. Like, for instance, how achingly slow the first two thirds of Fellowship is. If you love hobbit lore and fictional geography (and fortunately I do), then it remains interesting, but Tolkien takes an awful lot of time to get things moving. Part of this is because, I think, he wrote the trilogy after fans wrote to him asking for “more about hobbits,” and he started by giving them just that: every little detail about hobbits that he could come up with. I do sympathize with readers who quit after the first 100-150 pages of not much happening. The hobbits are very passive creatures. It makes sense for them to journey so leisurely, but it can be a hard read for the impatient among us. Fortunately, once the Fellowship leave Rivendell, the pace quickens, and we suddenly find ourselves amidst a genuinely exciting adventure.

Anyway, this is all just a lead in to share Treebeard’s song about the Entwives. If I hadn’t known that it would happen, I would’ve been surprised; Treebeard seems an awfully unlikely creature to sing a heart-tugging love song. And yet, here it is. A song about creatures we’ve never seen and can hardly imagine, and characters we’ve never met (but for one and only recently), which has little bearing on the plot before or after or any story significance beyond itself, and yet it breaks our hearts.

Treebeard sings about the Entwives to Merry and Pippin

Ent:
When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, and sap is in the bough;
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow;
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain-air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!
Entwife:
When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade;
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard ladi;
When shower and Sun upon the Earth with fragrance fill the air,
I’ll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.
Ent:
When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold;
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!
Entwife:
When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When Straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I’ll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best!
Ent:
When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay;
When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day;
When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain
I’ll look for thee, and call to thee; I’ll come to thee again!
Entwife:
When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I’ll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!
Both:
Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.
TN-Treebeard_and_the_Entmoot

Artists hearken; seek Poesy for inspiration!

Melodramatic title for this post aside, I really would love to see an artist’s interpretation of this poem by Donald T. Williams. I’m finally near the end of his book of theological and fantastical poetry entitled Stars Through the Clouds, published by Lantern Hollow Press, which I will indeed review in whole, but I wanted to share this one poem right now. It’s quite good, I think, and conjures a powerful, striking image that is just waiting for a visual interpretation.

A Parable for Demythologizers: To Rudolf Bultmann

Donald T. Williams

“We come with rusty hatchets to chop down
Old Yggdrasil, the mightiest of trees;
We come with buckets full of air to drown
Old Triton, ruler of the seven seas.

For we are Modern Men, the heirs of Time,
And won’t be ruled by anything that’s gone
Before. So if we think it more sublime
To exorcise Aurora from the dawn,

Then who is there who dares to say us nay?”
And so the desert wind swept through their minds
And found no obstacle placed in its way
To stop the stinging dust, the sand that blinds.

Blistered, parched, and withered, one by one,
They fell  beneath the branches of the Tree,
Succumbing to the unrelenting Sun
In cool, green shade beside the roaring sea.

“A Christmas Legend” by Frank Sidgwick

At the Dickens Fair  this year, I saw this poem performed with a brilliance that brought its every image and emotion to life. Reading the text by itself cannot, of course, deliver the same experience, but nonetheless it is a joy to read. I know nothing of this Frank Sidgwick, but his poem sounds like something Lewis might have written, or at least approved of.

[UPDATE: Mark Lewis, the performer I saw, has kindly provided a link to his recording of the poem. Listen to it here.]

It is about what happens when the wild Greek god Pan encounters the Christ Child on the first Christmas. I suspect, but am not sure, that it may allude to the reported death of Pan, which legendarily occurs at the time of Jesus’ birth. Yet apart from this bit of legend, the poem still has power. When a created being, however mysterious and magnificent, meets its Creator, what can it do, but weep? Tears of joy or of fear, or of both mingled with the latter triumphant.

Frank Sidgwick

A Christmas Legend

Abroad on a winter’s night there ran
Under the starlight, leaping the rills
Swollen with snow-drip from the hills,
Goat-legged, goat-bearded Pan.

He loved to run on the crisp white floor,
Where black hill-torrents chiselled grooves,
And he loved to print his clean-cut hooves,
Where none had trod before.

And now he slacked and came to a stand
Beside a river too broad to leap;
And as he panted he heard a sheep
That bleated near at hand.

Bell-wether, bell-wether, what do you say?
Peace, and huddle your ewes from cold!”
“Master, but ere we went to fold
Our herdsman hastened away:

“Over the hill came other twain
And pointed away to Bethlehem,
And spake with him, and he followed them,
And has not come again.

“He dropped his pipe of the river-reed ;
He left his scrip in his haste to go ;
And all our grazing is under snow,
So that we cannot feed.”

“Left his sheep on a winter’s night?”
Pan folded them with an angry frown.
“Bell-wether, bell-wether, I’ll go down
Where the star shines bright.”

Down by the hamlet he met the man.
“Shepherd, no shepherd, thy flock is lorn!”
“Master, no master, a child is born
Royal, greater than Pan.

“Lo, I have seen ; I go to my sheep ;
Follow my footsteps through the snow,
But warily, warily see thou go,
For child and mother sleep.”

Into the stable-yard Pan crept,
And there in a manger a baby lay
Beside his mother upon the hay,
And mother and baby slept.

Pan bent over the sleeping child,
Gazed on him, panting after his run :
And while he wondered, the little one
Opened his eyes and smiled;

Smiled, and after a little space
Struggled an arm from the swaddling-band,
And raising a tiny dimpled hand,
Patted the bearded face.

Something snapped in the breast of Pan;
His heart, his throat, his eyes were sore,
And he wished to weep as never before
Since the world began.

And out he went to the silly sheep,
To the fox on the hill, the fish in the sea,
The horse in the stall, the bird in the tree,
Asking them how to weep.

They could not teach they did not know;
The law stands writ for the beast that’s dumb
That a limb may ache and a heart be numb,
But never a tear can flow.

So bear you kindly to-day, O Man,
To all that is dumb and all that is wild,
For the sake of the Christmas Babe who smiled
In the eyes of great god Pan.

“A Song of Aryador” by J.R.R. Tolkien

The recent dearth of posts is not what I had planned for this month, but is caused by intensive training for my new job. The review for Series 3 of Doctor Who is in the works (as it should have been long ago), and I am happily taking notes on Series 4 now. I am also continuing through George MacDonald’s Lilith, and am finding it as fascinating and perplexing as was Phantastes. And in the realm of webcomics, I have been reading through the famed Gunnerkrigg Court, a story about an intelligent English girl at a very strange boarding school surrounded by the shadows of fairy tales and myths (and a little sci-fi). But as you wait for more news on those fronts, I’d like to present an especially beautiful poem by the Professor, and one even less well known than his others.

It is found only in The Book of Lost Tales 1, at the end of the section entitled “The Coming of the Elves.” Christopher Tolkien tells us that it was written in an army camp in Lichenfield on September 12, 1915. It appears to be a song of an ancient group of men about the Lost Elves (those who had not gone to Valinor), whom they feared.

A Song of Aryador

J.R.R. Tolkien

In the vales of Aryador
By the wooded inland shore
Green the lakeward bents and meads
Sloping down to murmurous reeds
That whisper in the dusk o’er Aryador:

‘Do you hear the many bells
Of the goats upon the fells
Where the valley tumbles downward from the pines?
Do you hear the blue woods moan
When the Sun has gone alone
To hunt the mountain-shadows in the pines?

She is lost among the hills
And the upland slowly fills
With the shadow-folk that murmur in the fern;
And still there are the bells
And the voices on the fells
While Eastward a few stars begin to burn.

Men are kindling tiny gleams
Far below by mountain-streams
Where they dwell among the beechwoods near the shore,
But the great woods on the height
Watch the waning western light
And whisper to the wind of things of yore,

When the valley was unknown,
And the waters roared alone,
And the shadow-folk danced downward all the night,
When the Sun fared abroad
Through great forests unexplored
And the woods were full of wandering beams of light.

Then were voices in the fells
And a sound of ghostly bells
And a march of shadow-people o’er the height.
In the mountains by the shore
In forgotten Aryador
There was dancing and was ringing;
There were shadow-people singing
Ancient songs of olden gods in Aryador.’

Cat Noir, Cat Blue: “The Cat Piano” short film

In a city of singing cats, a lonely beat poet falls for a beautiful siren. When a mysterious dark figure emerges, kidnapping the town’s singers for his twisted musical plans, the poet must save his muse and put an end to the nefarious tune that threatens to destroy the city.

Long ago, my city’s luminous heart beat with the song of four thousand cats…

Relish the imagination on display. It’s a short film with superb, haunting animation, pitch-perfect narration of some colorfully-dramatic poetry, and evocative music. Though some of the beautifully alliterative phrases go by a little too fast to sink in, the animation makes it all clear, and the entire poem can be read at the film’s website.  A dark blue noir fantasy, with cats, and some perfectly-evocative music. This may be my favorite short film of all, thus far.

Synopsis: “In a city of singing cats, a lonely beat poet falls for a beautiful siren. When a mysterious dark figure emerges, kidnapping the town’s singers for his twisted musical plans, the poet must save his muse and put an end to the nefarious tune that threatens to destroy the city.”

[N.B. Be sure to play the video in high definition and expand to full screen.]

Credits
Narrator: Nick Cave
Directors: Eddie White & Ari Gibson
Poem Written by: Eddie White
Producer: Jessica Brentnall
Executive Producers: Nick Cave, Sam White, Hugh Nguyen
Art Director: Jason Pamment
Animators: Ari Gibson, Makoto Koji, Alex Grigg, Benjamin Drake, Brodie McCrossin
Music: Benjamin Speed

Chesterton’s “Chord of Colour”

Capital hat, good man!

Ah, Chesterton, witty Christian sage! Here he expounds again on his favorite subject: how the unspiritual man blinds himself to the magnificent glories of God’s creation. In this poem, we appear to have a narrator utterly besotted with his Lady fair; and yet not so besotted as to worship her at the exclusion of the God who created her. On the contrary, the splendor of the Lady’s beauty calls his attention to all the other splendors God has made. The Lady wears gray, he exults in gray spires, gray morning skies, and the gray hairs that mark the wisdom and honor of old age. She wears green, and every grass and tree seems to shine like an emerald. She wears blue, and he is awed and grateful at the Creator’s artistry in using that same color for the sky.

My friends, I have only just discovered this poem, but it grows increasingly beautiful to me as I reflect on it. What Chesterton has given us is a picture of how the romantic love between a godly man and woman will of its own accord, and quite naturally, magnify their own love for God. And since their love for each other comes from God Himself, well, you see what a wonderful, eternal cycle this is.

And yet this cycle of love, joy, and beauty, is not enjoyed by all. The “evil sage” at the end—I guess that Chesterton is hinting at scholars and intelligentsia who care not to think of God—looks at the world, and sees only a bubble, not even then noting the colorful beauty of bubbles themselves!

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

A Chord of Colour

My Lady clad herself in grey,
That caught and clung about her throat;
Then all the long grey winter day
On me a living splendour smote;
And why grey palmers holy are,
And why grey minsters great in story,
And grey skies ring the morning star,
And grey hairs are a crown of glory.

My Lady clad herself in green,
Like meadows where the wind-waves pass;
Then round my spirit spread, I ween,
A splendour of forgotten grass.
Then all that dropped of stem or sod,
Hoarded as emeralds might be,
I bowed to every bush, and trod
Amid the live grass fearfully.

My Lady clad herself in blue,
Then on me, like the seer long gone,
The likeness of a sapphire grew,
The throne of him that sat thereon.
Then knew I why the Fashioner
Splashed reckless blue on sky and sea;
And ere ’twas good enough for her,
He tried it on Eternity.

Beneath the gnarled old Knowledge-tree
Sat, like an owl, the evil sage:
‘The World’s a bubble,’ solemnly
He read, and turned a second page.
‘A bubble, then, old crow,’ I cried,
‘God keep you in your weary wit!
‘A bubble–have you ever spied
‘The colours I have seen on it?’

Source: The Wild Knight and Other Poems by G.K. Chesterton, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

“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..."