From "The Field of Cormallen", The Return of the King:But Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice: 'Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.'
And even as he spoke the earth rocked beneath their feet. Then rising swiftly up, far above the Towers of the Black Gate, high above the mountains, a vast soaring darkness sprang into the sky, flickering with fire. The earth groaned and quaked. The Towers of the Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurtled in ruin; and from far away, now dim, now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise.
'The realm of Sauron is ended!' said Gandalf. 'The Ring-bearer has fufilled his Quest.' And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent; for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.
I never can let go uncelebrated the anniversary of the fall of Barad-dûr, Sauron's defeat the hard-won fruit of so much sacrifice, particularly Frodo's. March 25 must be lifted up. The birth of Elanor Gamgee, too, must be commemorated.
jan-u-wine's Bywater and the Bearers of Promise touches on these things, and, in touching on them, touches me profoundly. The piece is like a series of snap-shots seen from Sam's point of view, snap-shots of the Battle of Bywater and beyond.
For illustrations, I have chosen two paintings I think are exceptionally apt. The first makes me think of the image of the despoiled Shire Sam saw in Galadriel's mirror; the second is an almost visionary picture of spring in a rural landscape.
1. Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) ~ Philip James de Loutherbourg:Coalbrookdale on the River Severn was a key center of industry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Engineers and visitors from everywhere came to witness iron being produced there, including Strasbourg-born painter Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg. The painting is considered a seminal depiction of the birth of industry in England, depicting the ironworks silhouetted against the smoke and flames and glare of what has been identified as the Bedlam Furnaces (apt name!). The iron works were in the precipitous Severn Gorge, which only made the spectacle more powerful. Perhaps Tolkien knew this painting, its image (or images like it) informing his writing of The Lord of the Rings. Not a few contemporary spectators were reminded of Hell. London actor-writer-composer Charles Dibdin wrote,...if an atheist who never heard of Coalbrookdale, could be transported there in a dream, and left to awake at the mouth of one of those furnaces, surrounded on all sides by such a number of infernal objects, though he had been all his life the most profligate unbeliever that ever added blasphemy to incredulity, he would infallibly tremble at the last judgement that in imagination would appear to him.The information for this painting comes from a great article by Neil Cossons, former director of London's Science Museum, viewable in full here.
2. Spring (1868-73) ~ Jean-François Millet:This piece was commissioned late in Millet's career and was part of an unfinished set of paintings depicting the four seasons. A leading painter of the Barbizon school, Millet's painting is both lyrical and poetical. Nature's beauty is to the fore, the human figure a small bright spot in the background of a scene full of high contrast: storm and rainbow, light and dark, bare branches and new-budding growth. I think the painting makes a beautiful image of the Shire reborn, new life and light breaking through dark, evil times with vigour and loveliness.
The copy of the painting posted here is a reduction of a large file I found on the Internet. I love the way it has nearly the same palette as de Loutherbourg's hellish Coalbrookdale, but transformed into the sublime rosy warmth of late afternoon sunlight. The Musée d'Orsay, which owns the painting, hosts a small copy on its site. The colours are very different; cool greens and blues evoke a typical spring. I link it here, to show what the painting probably looks like.
May our heroes be honoured. May we celebrate the rescue of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, the cleansing of the Shire, and, because of Galadriel's gift of earth, its wondrous re-flowering. And may we rejoice in the birth of Elanor the Fair, Bag End's star-flower.
Bywater and the Bearers of Promise
How many here as have seen a man die?
How many as know the freed arc of blood rising,
flying 'gainst the gold hairs of the sun,
descending like uneasy rain to the mouth of the earth.
as know the sick-sweet rot of flesh,
hewed and hidden
'neath forest's creeping green.
as know the dull'd twist of sword or axe cleaving bone,
shearing a beating heart from a breast,
or a brain from its grey cage.
How many as have taken a life
and given naught in return?
It was quiet at the Cotton farm.
Quiet at table,
quieter still in the poor parlour.
Not as quiet as my Master,
but just as meaningful.
They didn't like it,
didn't like as he hadn't
drawn blade himself,
didn't like as he
(so they thought)
had no care to defend
even his own home.
Bywater pulled the last
of bravery from him,
the blood staining his doorstep
with a dying curse
finished the job.
And I didn't think of aught
but that he should feel
once the Shire was,
and so was not to hand
on a day grey'd with despair.
There were not many days left, then,
though I knew it not,
not many days
as granted him
more than an orphan'd
of the joy he'd paid
*that* dearly for.
Before I could wink,
we had him safe to home,
sun falling through the roses of a morning,
all the Shire gold as ever the Lady's mallorn.
And my Rosie wed me.
my Rosie, with the ribbons in her copper-fine hair,
she wed me,
there in the Party Field beneath the calm blue sky.
There were two of us to care for the Master, then,
in the midst of the caring,
it all became so usual,
(so much a part of who we were),
I could not see it was all for naught,
could not see pain beneath a tight smile,
nor put sense to the meaning of his ever-far-afield
I suppose, somehow, I thought he was nigh to his same old self.
As these things happen, my Rosie-lass bore me a child.
Born on a day of hope, she was,
a day which two years since
began in desperation and ended
upon a blessing.
A girl-child, a lass of star-flower-gold locks, and not the Frodo-lad we'd expected.
And my Master laughed.
and found a proper name for my pretty lass,
a name of Shire and Stars,
a name of magik and memory.
I never heard him laugh, not ever, again, after that.
And now he has gone.
and left naught but the bare bones of a pledge.
That is what he named us,
beneath the knowing stars,
hope twining to hope,
and the Fair Folk's song
among familiar trees.
No, my Master,
*that* we are no longer.
*That* we have let go of,
and hold only to what remains,
to that which ever we were,
that which ever we shall be:
Bearers and keepers of a promise.
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