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Bregalad's Lament -- J R R Tolkien

Playing to my Tolkien fetish:
(Poem #440) Bregalad's Lament
O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer's day,
Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:
Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
O rowan dead, upon your head your hair is dry and grey;
Your crown is spilled, your voice is stilled for ever and a day.
O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
-- J R R Tolkien
In any other context, I dare say I would have found this poem
cloyingly sentimental, even irritating. If Shelley or Byron had written
it, I would have weighed in with some choice invective about
Romantic guff; if it had been by Auden, I would have railed on about
his lack of depth and insight; if it were a Pope, I would have
criticised its smallness of vision.

But since it's by Tolkien, I'll overlook all its deficiencies and instead
say that I actually like it <grin>.



Bregalad is an Ent, a shepherd of the trees. In this song he mourns
the wanton desecration of his beloved rowans by the Evil Wizard
[tm] Saruman's Evil Hordes [tm].

'Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!' means "mountain-dwelling, leaf-
grey, with adornment of red jewels". But then, that should be
obvious, neh? <grin>


If you're a die-hard Tolkien fan (like Martin and myself), you might
be interested in this mail, from the Tolkien Languages discussion
list. I especially like the comment about the coffee beans.

"I had guessed that the ending -e was a feminine ending, and that
Orofarne and Carnimiirie were particularized, feminine forms derived
from the adjectives *orofarna and *carnimiirea.  That still leaves the
question of lassemista; but possibly the preference of Lassemista
to Lassemiste comes from the existence of a word miste with other
meaning? ('fine rain' in The Etymologies).

I take lassemista as meaning something like 'leaves as silvery-grey
as fine rain'.  The underside of rowan leaves have a soft fuzzy
surface that is pale grey and sharply distinguished from the brighter
green of the top surface.  This is quite noticeable in a storm when
the leaves are blown back, or when the trees have been cutdown
and are lying on their sides, as implied by the poem.  Also, note
that it doesn't make too much difference if you translate mista as
"silvery-grey" or "fine rain".  I believe the word for violet was
originally applied to the flower because of its color though most
people now would consider the word to have come from the plant.
Oranges however had the name before it was applied to the color.
This *does* make a difference in how words are formed in a
language from a morphological standpoint, that is, whether a
speaker considers a word to be a noun or an adjective may
determine the form of derivatives of that word.  But the derivatives
may change if speakers' understanding of the underlying form and
history of the word changes--hence folk etymologies, etc.

I think that Orofarne might be understood as "mountain-grown"
though this makes the rowans sound like coffee-beans, an
unfortunate product of passing time.  Although the form "far"
meaning in some sense "dwell" is not, as stated, attested, it might
be related to such forms as "feren" which show up in the Ilkorin
dialects as names for the beech tree, which like the rowan is
"spreading".  The form gal/kal also has a dual meaning of to "grow"
and to "spread", hence its application to both trees and light.  But
that is a rather tenuous argument."

        -- David Salo


I'm back in Tokyo (and on email) after a blissful vacation. Many
thanks to Martin for covering for me while I was away, and to all the
guest poem contributors whose contributions we've been surviving

27 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Eleanor Durrant said...

Could the David Salo further up this page be the same David Salo who did all those translations on
Jackson's Lord of the Rings, especially the songs, and who appears in the extras in the Extended Edition of
The Two Towers DVD?

For myself, all I can make of the refrain to this song is that the writer probably had Finnish in mind. (I
was delighted with the way those films made the Elvish languages sound like a cross between Finnish and
Welsh, which as far as I can tell is exactly what they ought to sound like).


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