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Three Rings for the Elven Kings -- J R R Tolkien

This week, I'll be running a series of poems by fantasy authors
(Poem #257) Three Rings for the Elven Kings
  Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
  Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
  Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
  One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
  In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
  One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
  One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
  In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
-- J R R Tolkien
This is undoubtedly the most famous piece of Tolkien's verse, known (or at
least familiar) to many who have never read the books, and memorized by
practically everyone who has. If I had to describe the poem in one word, it
would be 'compelling' - the perfectly measured syllables, the ominous,
brooding atmosphere, the sonorous, chantlike effect, almost lure the reader
into ascribing an intrinsic power to the words themselves.

The quote below illustrates the point beautifully

  " Ash nazg durbatulúk, ash nazg gimbatul,
  ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul."

  The change in the wizard's voice was astounding. Suddenly it became
  menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high
  sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves
  stopped their ears. "Never before has any voice dared to utter the words
  of that tongue in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey," said Elrond, as the shadow
  passed and the company breathed once more. "And let us hope that none will
  ever speak it here again," answered Gandalf.

        - JRRT

Notes:

Like much of the poetry in the Lord of the Rings, 'Three Rings...' refers
not to the book itself, but to the deeper body of history and mythology
underlying it. It outlines the creation of the Rings of Power, in whose
history tLotR is but the final chapter, and more about which can be found in
the Silmarillion.

For a picture of the One Ring, and the inscribed couplet, see
  <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/images/ring_image.jpg>

For a nice page on the Rings of Power, see
  <http://www.daimi.au.dk/~bouvin/tolkien/ringsofpower.html>

The following is an excerpt from a Tolkien Linguistics site:

  Our sole example of pure Black Speech, then, is the inscription on the
  Ring: Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh
  burzum-ishi krimpatul. "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
  One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them." (LotR1/II ch.
  2) Nazg is "ring", also seen in Nazgûl "Ring-wraith(s)". Ash is the number
  "one", agh is the conjuction "and", disturbingly similar to Scandinavian
  og, och. Burzum is "darkness", evidently incorporating the same element
  búrz, burz- "dark" as in Lugbúrz "Tower-dark", the Black Speech name that
  Sindarin Barad-dûr translates. Hence, the -um of burzum must be an
  abstract suffix like the "-ness" of the corresponding English word
  "darkness". Burzum has a suffix ishi "in". In the transcription it is
  separated from burzum by a hyphen, but there is nothing corresponding in
  the Tengwar inscription on the Ring, so this may be considered either a
  postposition or a locative ending. (It is remarkably similar to Quenya
  -ssë and may support the theory advanced by Robert Foster in his Complete
  Guide to Middle-earth, that the Black Speech was to some extent based on
  Quenya and a perversion of it. The element burz- "dark" is also vaguely
  similar to the Elvish stem for "black", MOR.) Though burzum-ishi is
  translated "in the darkness", there does not seem to be anything
  corresponding to the article "the", unless it is somehow incorporated in
  ishi. But the evidence is that the Black Speech does not mark the
  distinction between definite and indefinite nouns; see below.

                -- <http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/orkish.htm>

For more on Tolkien, see the previous poems in the archive at
  <http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels>

And finally, a very tangential aside - if, like me, you enjoy Tolkien for
the sheer poetry of his language, you might enjoy Patricia McKillip too.
Her plots lack gripping power, IMO, but her language is truly beautiful.

m.

37 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

[broken link] http://zaphod.uchicago.edu/~wald/lit/ring.txt

No comment!

Wenche Garnvik said...

One poem to rule them all!

Wenche Garnvik said...

One poem to rule them all!!

Delanie Wallace said...

I think it is a great poem but how do you say the rest of the poem in elven?~Derek

Alexandre Brooks said...

I would like to know if this poem stands alone or if there is a part before and/or after it in tolkien's books, for i can't find it any more in any book :/

Alex

PS:please mail answer !!!

Foersterling Martin (EXTERN AUEL) said...

I reckon you won't believe me when I say that the German translation beats
the English original, hm? ;) At least in the most important lines 6 and 7,
in my humble opinion. Where the original sounds a tad awkward due to the
unnatural grammar ("and in the darkness bind them" would be "and to bind
them in the darkness"), the translation flows like natural speech, which
should be the aim of poetry: to sound poetic while not sounding unnatural
(unless you want to utilize that for some effect). Alas, the translation
does not convey the ambiguity of "lie" in "where the shadows lie" and
changed the rhyme. Another point where the translation beats the original is
in the first line: Tolkien chose "under the sky" merely for rhyming reasons,
while in German, the elven kings are "high in the light", which refers to
their enlightenment due to them living in the glorious light and splendour
of the gods.

Here it is, for reference.

Drei Ringe den Elbenkönigen hoch im Licht,
Sieben den Zwergenherrschern in ihren Hallen aus Stein,
Den Sterblichen, ewig dem Tode verfallen, neun,
Einer dem Dunklen Herrn auf dunklem Thron
Im Lande Mordor, wo die Schatten drohn.
Ein Ring, sie zu knechten, sie alle zu finden,
Ins Dunkel zu treiben und ewig zu binden
Im Lande Mordor, wo die Schatten drohn.

Martin.

Foersterling Martin (EXTERN AUEL) said...

Bah, sorry for the format fauxpas above. Here the text in a legible form:

I reckon you won't believe me when I say that the German translation beats
the English original, hm? ;) At least in the most important lines 6 and 7,
in my humble opinion. Where the original sounds a tad awkward due to the
unnatural grammar ("and in the darkness bind them" would be "and to bind
them in the darkness"), the translation flows like natural speech, which
should be the aim of poetry: to sound poetic while not sounding unnatural
(unless you want to utilize that for some effect). Alas, the translation
does not convey the ambiguity of "lie" in "where the shadows lie" and
changed the rhyme. Another point where the translation beats the original is
in the first line: Tolkien chose "under the sky" merely for rhyming reasons,
while in German, the elven kings are "high in the light", which refers to
their enlightenment due to them living in the glorious light and splendour
of the gods.

Here it is, for reference.

Drei Ringe den Elbenkönigen hoch im Licht,
Sieben den Zwergenherrschern in ihren Hallen aus Stein,
Den Sterblichen, ewig dem Tode verfallen, neun,
Einer dem Dunklen Herrn auf dunklem Thron
Im Lande Mordor, wo die Schatten drohn.
Ein Ring, sie zu knechten, sie alle zu finden,
Ins Dunkel zu treiben und ewig zu binden
Im Lande Mordor, wo die Schatten drohn.

Martin.

Raitt Jeb B CONT (NALC SSG) said...

This just sprang to my mind on reading the Poem on the Ring:

One Ring for the Hobbit to carry abroad,
One Ring to burden his journey afield,
One Ring to tempt his heart so broad,
One whose temptation well nigh made him yield.
Praise to the little being with the great heart!
Praise to the Fellowship aiding his path!
Praise to the courage and magic and art
That freed Middle-Earth from the Dark Lord's wrath.

~Jeb Raitt, 4Jan05

Julie Reilly said...

it is a great peom, and it isn't in elvish.

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Anonymous said...

The finnish translation took some liberties (as translations of poems have to do), especially with the lines 6 and 7, but also 3.

Line three, direct back-translation would be "Nine for humans taken my the merciless [river] Tuoni", River Tuoni corresponding to River Styx.

Lines 6 and 7: "The one will find them, the one will rule them/the one will throw them into the night and chain them to the darkness".

Oh, and the elven kings are under the sun.

Here's the Finnish version (off the top of my head):

Kolme sormusta haltiakuninkaille alla auringon,
Seitsemän kääpiöruhtinaille kivisaleissaan,
Yhdeksän ihmisille jotka vie tuoni armoton,
Yksi mustalle ruhtinaalle valtaistuimellaan
Maassa Mordorin, joka varjojen saartama on.
Se yksi heidät löytää, se yksi heitä hallitsee,
Se yksi heidät yöhön syöksee ja pimeyteen kahlitsee
Maassa Mordorin, joka varjojen saartama on.

Anonymous said...

amo este poema

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