Guest poem submitted by Reed C. Bowman: Allow me to present my single favourite Tolkien poem, and one of his greatest inventions. His preface is all that is needed, and it, and the poem (or song) itself sufficiently show the genius of its invention: At the inn called the Prancing Pony in Bree, Frodo, as a visitor from the Shire, is asked to sing a song the guests haven't heard before. "For a moment Frodo stood gaping. Then in desperation he began a ridiculous song that Bilbo had been rather fond of (and indeed rather proud of, for he had made up the words himself). It was about an inn; and that is probably why it came into Frodo's mind just then. Here it is in full. Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered."
(Poem #643) The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon
There is an inn, a merry old inn beneath an old grey hill, And there they brew a beer so brown That the Man in the Moon himself came down one night to drink his fill. The ostler has a tipsy cat that plays a five-stringed fiddle; And up and down he saws his bow Now squeaking high, now purring low, now sawing in the middle. The landlord keeps a little dog that is mighty fond of jokes; When there's good cheer among the guests, He cocks an ear at all the jests and laughs until he chokes. They also keep a hornéd cow as proud as any queen; But music turns her head like ale, And makes her wave her tufted tail and dance upon the green. And O! the rows of silver dishes and the store of silver spoons! For Sunday there's a special pair, And these they polish up with care on Saturday afternoons. The Man in the Moon was drinking deep, and the cat began to wail; A dish and a spoon on the table danced, The cow in the garden madly pranced and the little dog chased his tail. The Man in the Moon took another mug, and then rolled beneath his chair; And there he dozed and dreamed of ale, Till in the sky the stars were pale, and dawn was in the air. Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat: 'The white horses of the Moon, They neigh and champ their silver bits; But their master's been and drowned his wits, and the Sun'll be rising soon!' So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle, a jig that would wake the dead: He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune, While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon: 'It's after three!' he said. They rolled the Man slowly up the hill and bundled him into the Moon, While his horses galloped up in rear, And the cow came capering like a deer, and a dish ran up with the spoon. Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle; the dog began to roar, The cow and the horses stood on their heads; The guests all bounded from their beds and danced upon the floor. With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke! the cow jumped over the Moon, And the little dog laughed to see such fun, And the Saturday dish went off at a run with the silver Sunday spoon. The round Moon rolled behind the hill, as the Sun raised up her head. She* hardly believed her fiery eyes; For though it was day, to her surprise they all went back to bed!
* Elves (and Hobbits) always refer to the Sun as She. [Tolkien's footnote] ----- After Tolkien, it has become not uncommon for people to write alternative histories, prehistories, legendary histories, and mythologies, that synthesize or make a new and different sense of the old stories and legends. Tolkien's books are so magical because they are so successful in incorporating these stories into a creation of his own, woven with such mastery of the old stories, and rendered with such linguistic and storytelling acumen that his retelling of the world is both wholly new and apparently inevitable. This particular poem brings his world closer to ours than was his wont, but because of that it points up exactly the craft he was employing in his creation. Here he has taken a short nonsense poem from Mother Goose, a charming one that absolutely everyone knows, and given it a history. Finding short nonsense rhymes that once were part of longer, more sensible poems and songs (often mnemonics) is not infrequent in the study of language's history. So he made up the sort of poem "Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle" could have come from. Bilbo's song serves to "explain" why we have this peculiar nonsense rhyme in common usage today. Of course, when you get right down to it, the original is nonsense, too, but at least things are explained one step better, and all the characters have achieved at least a one-dimensional existence. Beyond this, the poem works quite remarkably well to show the style of poem Hobbits like (fun and frivolous), reveals in an unserious way a small portion of their former mythology (the Moon is a chariot containing a Man, drawn by horses, the Sun is female - masculine Moon and feminine Sun are to be found in Germanic languages, including Old English, though now we are more accustomed to the Romance interpretation which switches them), and of course shows off Tolkien's ability to create marvellously amiable poetry as well as prose. One last observation (it is getting late as I write): essential to all Tolkien's writing is his deep and nuanced understanding of the roots of the English language (as well as of the legends, and the deeply meshed connection between language and legend). It is his precise control of a vocabulary heavily weighted to the Old English, Germanic roots that creates his particular style both in prose and poetry. His use of alliteration (even in prose) is much heavier than most poets', yet his poetry is not borne down by the weight of it; this is because he knows how to make it valuable, by modelling his usages on ancient styles, and not too often placing foreign (Romance) words in constructions calling for Old English feel. It is worth reading Tolkien word by word to see how he does these things; it's even worth learning Old English to read him, if you ask me... RCB