“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.’

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“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..."

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.

Feature: “The Dragon’s Visit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Dragon’s Visit”
By J.R.R. Tolkien, published in the Oxford Magazine, 4 February 1937

The dragon lay on the cherry trees
a-simmering and a-dreaming:
Green was he, and the blossom white,
and the yellow sun gleaming.
He came from the land of Finis-Terre,
where dragons live, and the moon shines
on high white fountains.

“Please, Mister Higgins, do you know
what’s a-laying in your garden?
There’s a dragon in your cherry trees!”
“Eh, what? I beg your pardon?”
Mister Higgins fetched the garden hose,
and the dragon woke from dreaming;
he blinked, and cocked his long green ears
when he felt the water streaming.
Continue reading “Feature: “The Dragon’s Visit” by J.R.R. Tolkien”