The Poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien

From time to time, Further In will feature a Writers Weekend, wherein we will feature the essays and poems of a particular writer that have been held in high esteem among that person’s larger canon. The purpose of this pursuit is simply to remember and to celebrate beauty. In our inaugural outing, the month of May will feature the work of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

J.R.R. Tolkien is a man who needs no introduction, and far be it from me to write at great length about his various accomplishments here. At the moment, I have nothing new to offer, nor would I offer it even if I did. Instead, I wish only to share three thoughts, before giving the stage to the great man.

Within Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, there is contained some of the most beautiful, lovely, and tragically moving poetry of the 20th century. This goes largely unnoticed, and indeed unread, by the masses, as the poems are occasionally long and to our distracted minds unrelated to the narrative proper; or else they are written in one of the tongues of Middle Earth. Fans will unthinkingly skip over these poems giving neither a second thought to their importance to the larger narrative, nor to their inherent value as poetic mastery.

Further, Tolkien is popularly known for The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, and and little else. There are few now who know, for example, that a character from Middle Earth, the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, appeared prior even to Mr. Bilbo Baggins in the literary work of Professor Tolkien. As the story goes, Tom Bombadil came into being as a rather off-the-cuff attempt by the professor to put his children to sleep in the evenings.

Finally, an anecdote. To borrow from Dr. Bradley J. Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative,

“Tolkien feared modern technology, but especially when used by governments. When a student brought a tape recorder to his house in the early 1950s, as Tolkien was having trouble selling The Lord of the Rings to any publisher, the author agreed to read some of his works into the device. Convinced such technology could only be devilish, he agreed to use the recording only after reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic (Old German) to exorcise any evil at work in it. When the great professor learned of the American development and use of the Atomic bomb in 1945, words could never express his horror at the act.”

Thus, every weekend this month of May, Further In will feature the poetry, letters, and essays of the great man Tolkien. I hope that you, the reader, will take it in slowly like a long drag from the pipe, that you will examine the many facets like you would a fine glass of port. Let the language, the imagery, and the rhythm roll over you like a warm spring wind.

The poems chosen today have no real rhyme or reason to their choosing. Some are well known, others not. Some joyful, others somber.  If there is one connection, it is that each conveys clearly and with such beauty what Professor Tolkien set his mind upon.


“Roads Go Ever On”

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

“All Woods Must Fail”

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
Despair not! For though dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last,
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun,
The day’s end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail.

“All Ye Joyful”

Sing all ye joyful, now sing all together!
The wind’s in the tree-top, the wind’s in the heather;
The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,
And bright are the windows of night in her tower.

Dance all ye joyful, now dance all together!
Soft is the grass, and let foot be like feather!
The river is silver, the shadows are fleeting;
Merry is May-time, and merry our meeting.

Sigh no more pine, till the wind of the morn!
Fall Moon! Dark be the land!
Hush! Hush! Oak, ash and thorn!
Hushed by all water, till dawn is at hand!

Untitled About Oxford:

From the many-willow’d margin of the immemorial Thames,
Standing in a vale outcarven in a world-forgotten day,
There is dimly seen uprising through the greenly veiled stems,
Many-mansion’d, tower-crowned in its dreamy robe of grey,
All the city by the fording: aged in the lives of men,
Proudly wrapt in mystic mem’ry overpassing human ken.

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