Saturday, February 28, 2009

Before it was "In Western Lands"

I was reading some of the History of The Lord of the Rings volumes. I was hoping they would help me with my paper, but unfortunately Christopher Tolkien is only really interested in the big picture changes that his father made to the books. Oh well.

Well, as I was reading the book, I came across the original version of "In Western Lands Beneath the Sun." Before I type it out, I will share the published version. I think it may be one of Tolkien's most beautiful poems:

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

Beautiful, no?

Well, check out the original version:

I sit upon the stones alone;
the fire is burning red,
the tower is tall, the mountains dark;
all living things are dead.
In western lands the sun may shine,
the flower and tree in spring
is opening, is blossoming;
and there the finches sing.

But here I sit alone and think
of days when grass was green,
and earth was brown, and I was young:
they might have never been.
For they are gone, for ever lost,
and buried here I lie
and deep beneath the shadows sing
where hope and daylight die.

But still I sit and think of you;
I see you far away
Walking down the homely roads
on a bright and windy day.
It was merry then when I could run
to answer to your call,
could hear your voice or take your hand;
but now the night must fall.
And now beyond the world I sit,
and know not where you lie!
O Master, will you hear my voice
and answer ere we die?

For one thing, this reminds me of another beautiful Tolkien poem (this is a Tolkien poem extravaganza!...I think he writes beautifully wistful poetry), Bilbo's poem:

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

I am very curious now as to which poem came first.

But all this was not what I was getting at. At first I got a kick out of the last line of the original "In western lands." (FYI: We're moving back to the second poem I typed). I thought it was very cutesy. In fact, I thought that the whole final stanza was very fan-fiction-y. (Fanfiction writers are free to take that as a complement or an insult. :-) ) But it suddenly struck me that it was reminiscent of the song in "The Black Bull of Norroway."

If you are a Tolkien fan "The Black Bull of Norroway" will ring a bell. I was actually a fan of that story before I read The Lord of the Rings. It's a fairy tale. But Tolkien ends his essay "On Fairie Stories" with the ending of the fairy tale because it provides a great example of Eucatastrophe. Here's the ending of the essay:

Far more powerful and poignant is the effect in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories when the sudden "turn" comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.

"Seven long years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The bluidy shirt I wrang for thee,
And wilt thou not wauken and turn to me?"

He heard and turned to her.

Anyway, (I love writing the absurdly long posts in which I say exactly one not-so-important thing!) I wonder if the original poem (again, second poem I typed) was in any way inspired by or affected by the Black Bull of Norroway? Of course, Sam's eucatastrophe didn't happen so instantaneously, but still it is similar:

"He ran to the figure huddled on the floor. It was Frodo."

Come on, it doesn't get much more eucatastrophic than that!

Well, that was a pointless post. To make it even more pointless, I shall add an unrelated picture. Goodnight.


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