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Bilbo's Last Song -- J R R Tolkien

Guest poem sent in by Jeffrey Sean Huo
(Poem #1112) Bilbo's Last Song
 Day is ended, dim my eyes,
 but journey long before me lies.
 Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
 The ship's beside the stony wall.
 Foam is white and waves are grey;
 beyond the sunset leads my way.
 Foam is salt, the wind is free;
 I hear the rising of the Sea.

 Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
 the wind is east, the moorings fret.
 Shadows long before me lie,
 beneath the ever-bending sky,
 but islands lie behind the Sun
 that I shall raise ere all is done;
 lands there are to west of West,
 where night is quiet and sleep is rest.

 Guided by the Lonely Star,
 beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
 I'll find the heavens fair and free,
 and beaches of the Starlit Sea.
 Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
 and fields and mountains ever blest.
 Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
 I see the Star above my mast!
-- J R R Tolkien
For many years, Joy Hill served as secretary for J.R.R. Tolkien, and a
close relationship they had. As the story goes, Professor Tolkien used to
joke that, if ever a diamond bracelet were to fall out of an envelope of
the correspondence she handled for him, it would be hers.

Near the end of Professor Tolkien's life, as she helped him pack his office
for a move, a poem Professor Tolkien had written fell out of a book. Ms.
Hill read it, and fell in love with the short, three-verse piece; and
Tolkien made it a gift to her, her "diamond bracelet", so to speak.

Some time shortly later, after Professor Tolkien's death in 1973, Ms. Hill
gave the poem to the composer Donald Swann, who in 1967 had worked with
Professor Tolkien himself to set many of Tolkien's songs to music in the
collection _The Road Goes Ever On_.  Mr. Swann himself was so moved by the
piece that he set it to music, and added it to the 2nd edition of the
collection, which was published in 1978. The same poem was published as a
poster in 1974, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, one of Tolkien's favorite
illustrators; and was included in the BBC audio production of the _Lord of
the Rings_.

The poem does not itself actually appear in _The Return of the King_, the
last volume of the _The Lord of the Rings_ trilogy, but takes place at it's
very end, when many of the principal heroes of the War of the Ring prepare
to set sail into the West, to leave Middle Earth forever: among them the
great wizard Gandalf the White; Frodo Baggins, the great Ringbearer; and
his elder Bilbo, who found the Ring so long before.

.

  " 'Well, here at last, dear friends," [said Gandalf], "on the shores of
  the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I
  will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.'

  Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard;
  and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped
  away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that
  Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.

          -Chapter 9, "The Gray Havens", _The Return of the King_

.

The poem is Bilbo's farewell to his friends and to Middle Earth, and in a
sense, this poem is Tolkien's farewell as well: to the Middle Earth he
created, to the secretary who served him so faithfully; and to us, his
readers, who came to cherish the world he created. But the poem's depth and
meaning still rings strong even for those who know nothing of Tolkien's
great masterpiece. The feelings Bilbo sings of are universal. In a few
short lines Tolkien has for me, and so many others, captured perfectly the
sorrow and hope alloyed together that make up all partings, from the ends
of visits with beloved friends and family, to the final depature for
mysteries unknown that all of us must one day face. And in that
achievement, Tolkien demonstrates again the genius that has made him one of
the greatest poets of this, or any, age.

Sources include the Foreward to the 2nd Edition (1978) of _The Road Goes
Ever On and On: A Song Cycle_, by Donald Swann; and various Usenet and
Internet sources, available upon request.

-Jeffrey Huo

63 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

susan c said...

thank you so much 'Bilbos last poem'.
I have been searching for this poem since I heard it
read out at a memorial servie for adventurer Sir Peter
Blake who was murdered by pirates in the Amazon
earlier this year. Sir Peter's daughter read it as a
goodbye and tribute to her father and it moved me to
tears.
Sir Peter was a successful around the world yachtsman
and Americas cup winner when he decided to retire from
professional yachting and give back to the world by
doing environmental work in the waterways of the
world.

thank you once again, i will treasure this poem along
with many others you have sent. I appreciate your
thoughts about each poem.

arohanui
sue carruthers
new zealand

Robert Morrison said...

A bueatiful poem to a wonderful story, It saddens me to think that there are no more tales.

Tim Forbes said...

I long remembered this poem from the Brian Sibley version of the trilogy for
BBC radio. I searched various Tolkien books for ages trying to find it. At
one stage I had a copy of the poster and I also have a recording of the
Steven Oliver setting also used in the BBC radio version. Now I know its
provenance it has yet more appeal.

Cathy Ooi said...

Thank you for bringing this poem to light. I've read all the other JRRT
poems discussed in minstrels before from one book or another. But this is
really new to me. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to me to 'find' this
lost gem.

BTW, some people I checked up with corrected the title as "Bilbo's Last
Song".

Cathy Ooi.

F.M.T. Pulmanns said...

Beautiful. I didn't know this part. And is it just me, or there a little
bit of Tennyson in there?
6th line: (...)beyond the sunset leads my way(...)

louie stowell said...

Thank God for Google. I remembered this poem from the radio version, but couldn't find it in the LOTR itself - cheers for posting this

Johanna Kershaw said...

Thank you. I too had been searching for the words for this.
A splendid poem -as someone else says, it is a bit Tennysonian
('Crossing the Bar', anyone?) but none the worse for that.
A pity that they didn't use it for the end of the film instead of 'Into
the West', which has its merits, but the lyrics are vastly inferior.

Millardwood said...

Thank you for posting this poem. I had heard of it, and searched for it in
the trilogy. Finding a new poem, not published in the original books, was a
great surprise, and hearing the story behind it made it even better.

Eileen

Wilson Bruce said...

I was interested that a commentator compared it to "Crossing the Bar." Back in HS I had to write a 'compare and contrast' essay for English class, and I chose those two poems. I got an A. I don't know if the essay was that good or if the teacher was impressed by my choice of material.

Richard Bray said...

I recorded a version of this a few years ago, in the style of Stairway
to Heaven, a similar progression, and submitted it to Peter Jackson
when he was making the LOTR film, much better than Enya's wailing and
Annie Lennox's dirge. However he was unable to include it. I also have
the original Pauline Baynes poster from 1974, one of my prize
possessions.

rt pitts said...

I am sitting next to my mother's bed as she works her way through the dying process. I have played Annie Lennox's version of "into the west" many times over the past five days.. I found the analysis that you published .. and found your words clarifying.. thank you... and from Professor Toliken.. I agree.. "not all tears are evil"

RIchard

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I want this one read at my funeral!

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Mari said...

Wow. I had no idea that there was music to those two poems (`Roads..` and `At the Grey Havens`) . I`m so surprisedd for I also wrote a music to those two. Completely different- I should thank gods for that, I suppose :)- then the one already written.
But it amazes me how differently people see those poems (my version is---not that cheerful :). We can hear those differences in the music, and that`s just incredible :)

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