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The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon -- J R R Tolkien

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!
-- J R R Tolkien
* 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...


40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Elizabeth O'Keeffe said...

Many poems on your list of poems,suddenly, they quickly throw me back to my
childhood.Some of them I remember,others,part of.
The poems are giving me a chance to share them with a sister ,ill,with cancer.
Many of them,interesting enough,are of great fondness to both myself and
my sister.
Thank you,
Elizabeth O'Keeffe.

Therasa Carlson said...

Uhm, just a quick note. This poem (#643) appears in The Adventures of Tom
Bombadil, and is entitled, The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late.

The poem titled, The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon actually begins like

The man in the moon had silver shoon,
and his beard was of silver thread;
With opals crowned and pearls all bound
about his girdlestead,
In his mantle grey, he walked one day
across a shinning floor,
And with crystal key in secrecy
he opened an ivory door.

--J.R.R. Tolkien

Sorry to be such a stiff but, as you may know, Tolkien fans try not to let
even the slightest error go uncorrected.

Thank you. 8^)

Therasa Carlson said...

This poem is incorrectly titled. The proper title can be found in The
Adventures of Tom Bombadil. It is actually titled, The Man in the Moon
Stayed Up Too Late. Prof. Tolkien DID write a Poem titled, The Man in the
Moon Came Down Too Soon, however, it is quite a different and colorful poem
and likewise very fun to read. The first stanza of that poem is:

The man in the moon had silver shoon,
and his beard was of silver thread;
with opals crowned and pearls all bound
about his girdlestead,
In his mantle grey he walked one day
across a shinning floor,
And with crystal key in secrecy
he opened an ivory door.

-- J.R.R. Tolkien

Sorry to be such a stiff but, as you may know, Tolkien fans have a tendency
to comment on even the slightest error.

Thank you 8^)

Anonymous said...

dumb poem

Anonymous said...

This poem is a very bautiful. I see, it's a little differs from Russian translation. In general the poem is very good for me especially in original.

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