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Lament for Eorl the Young -- J R R Tolkien

Over two months since I did a Tolkien... this just will not do :-)
(Poem #220) Lament for Eorl the Young
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
-- J R R Tolkien
This is not so much a lament for one person as it is a lament for the passing of
time and the passing of a way of life - the Rohirrim (Eorl's people) were a
tribe of nomadic horsemen and pasturers, who settled down (became 'respectable')
a few hundred years before the events in The Lord of the Rings. This song is a
lament for the last of the nomadic chieftains (the aforementioned Eorl), who was
also the first of the Kings of the Golden Hall (as his seat of power was

The imagery is (as always with Tolkien) utterly beautiful; I like it especially
for its simplicity. Which, again, is only what's to be expected from a direct
and unsophisticated (I wouldn't say 'crude') people. Another example [1] of
Tolkien's practice of matching the quality of his poetry to the skill of the
(fictional) poet supposed to have written it.

A few comments on the form: the poem is consciously modelled on Old English
verse - specifically, in the rhyming-couplet scheme and the heavy alliteration.
Indeed, Tolkien based the Rohirric language on Anglo-Saxon at a sort of
meta-linguistic level - it (i.e., true Rohirric) bears the same relation to the
Common Speech of the characters in the book as does Old English to our modern
language [2].

Lest any Middle Earth neophytes think otherwise, let me assure you that Tolkien
did indeed write poems other than elegies and laments; in fact, his narrative
comic verse is among the best there is. It's just that I happen to like the slow
dignity and poignancy with which he imbues his serious verse - it takes great
skill to pull this off without sounding pompous or ponderous; at its best,
though, such verse can be deeply moving.


[1] See Martin's note to 'Lament for Boromir', Minstrels Poem #46
for the first example
[2] As you've probably realized by now, a large part of the seeming
'authenticity' of The Lord of the Rings stems from the author's attention to
detail and his linguistic skills; Tolkien himself commented (on more than one
occasion) that the languages of Middle Earth were the most important component
of his 'sub-creation'.

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Eleanor Durrant said...

Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens adapted this poem to create an electrifying scene in Peter Jackson's film of
_The Two Towers_. The words are spoken by Bernard Hill, as Theoden, as he is armed for what may reasonably
be expected to be his last battle. One of the most beautiful, exciting and memorable moments of Jackson's


Danuta Reah said...

Yes, but it's pretty much a lift from the Old English poem, The Wanderer that contains a lament: 'Where is the horse, where are the young men....grown dark under the shadow of the night as if they had never been'

Anonymous said...

Danuta Reah,

You are absolutely right that a few lines are a direct lift from the Wanderer, but I do not find this surprising as Old English was one of the subjects Tolkien taught at Oxford. Much of what he taught is embedded within the framework of his writing, even if not usually so openly as this quotation.

The Writer said...

What I find fascinating about Tolkien is his creation of Middle Earth.
I'm sorry for posting this if it's well known, but it's something I can never get over and the above comment reg. Tolkien teaching Old English reminded me of it again.

All languages over the years, evolve and change, however subtly by 'sound shifts'. Tolkien created two languages of his own. And it was to explain the evolution of these languages that Middle Earth and its races were created. The different races explained the transformation of certain words and the different Ages of Middle Earth explained the 'sound shifts' even better.

What we love today as The Lord of the Rings/Silmarillion etc. was, for Tolkien, incidental to his languages!

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