For the Anniversary of March 25: jan-u-wine's 'Upon the Tol', with art by J. R. R. Tolkien.
The fall of Sauron is always worth celebrating. Fans around the world are reading Tolkien's works aloud, toasting Frodo and Samwise and the victorious army of the West, posting entries, browsing the pertinent chapters or re-watching ROTK.
Jan-u-wine wrote a beautiful new poem in which Frodo contemplates his life from the vantage of Tol Eressëa. He hasn't been there long, still trying to take it all in. It's early days. Bilbo is alive and well, watching, hoping, eager for signs that Frodo has begun to heal. This poem offers those signs. Jan-u-wine's writing allows readers to enter Frodo's inner experience at a pivotal time, the time when healing at last begins.
After reading it I asked immediately, 'could we post this for March 25?' What better way to celebrate the victory of the Free Peoples over the Dark Tower than with a poem in which Frodo finally is able to begin to appreciate the part he played in it.
The illustration is a water colour by Tolkien. Painted in 1915, The Shores of Faery depicts Tolkien's early envisioning of Kôr, the city of the Elves in Eldamar (not Tol Eressëa). I emailed a copy to jan-u-wine as a possible illustration and she liked it immediately. For me, 'The Shores of Faery' captures better than any realistic landscape a sense of the look and light and feel of the Undying Lands, a place recognizable to us, with its rocks and trees and sun and sea, yet quite Other. I thought it suggested the sense of being alien which Frodo seems to experience in the poem. However marvelous and beautiful the setting, he yet has not quite found his place. He is, still, a disenfranchised traveler, a 'stranger in a strange land'. From the descriptions in Tolkien's writings the Lonely Isle looked more like the rugged Italian shore of the Mediterranean, redolent of flowers and herbs and filled with the song of birds and buzz of bees, and Avallónë was more like the Bay of Naples than the extreme landscape of The Shores of Faery. But to Frodo it would still seem alien and strange, because he himself felt alien and strange. But no more. In this poem, the Ring-bearer begins to be at home in his world, and, more importantly, in himself. In this I rejoice.
For those who would like to know more about the picture and Tolkien's paintings at this time, it appears again below the poem with further discussion and excerpts from the book from which it was scanned.
Upon the Tol
Many days, I walk until I cannot walk more,
sun warm upon my face, wind chill-salted with the Sea.
No friendly stick warms the emptiness of my hand, no pipe,
nor even bits of bread or tang'd water-skin.
If I might manage it, I should go naked into the world,
bare as my beginning, stripped
as at my ending.
Only bird-song follows me,
close, upon my way,
small notes sounding and retreating like lace waves
on an unknown shore.
If I were Home, I should have thoughts
running, quick-silver, within my head,
but here there are none, my mind silent as a stream
emptied and dry-boned with bronze summer.
Uncle looks at me without curiosity on those days,
his face worn and tired, his smile coddle-bright,
the words I know he might wish to say
caught behind his teeth.
It is a serious matter, this not-saying
of his agile thoughts.
My heart hurts for him,
for all the words that lie between, unsaid,
for all the deeds that lie behind,
Yet still I walk, wide roads
turning to paths, paths,
to imagin'd courses through shore, field,
I walk until night comes up,
adamant stars far-off and silent,
wide and all-but-unseen clouds veiling
and revealing the persistent Moon.
I walk until my knees give, and lie where I must,
asleep and dremeless beneath the sky's dark eye, pillowed upon gold-misted sand,
rich brown earth, sweet,
And I wake upon many a dawn, breathing
clothing the bared bones of my self with gentle redemption.
at last, I begin to understand what small place I hold
in this Grand Story.
About the Painting.
~ The Shores of Faery by J. R. R. Tolkien, 10 May, 1915.
Tolkien had loved sketching and painting from childhood and in 1913 bought a sketchbook. It is in the Bodleian library in Oxford. How I'd love to see it. 'It is a fascinating record of Tolkien's growth as an artist over at least fifteen years, and also helps to document his writing,'write Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, co-authors of the fascinating J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (Houghton Mifflin, copyright 1995; paperback edition 2000). A fine book by two Tolkien scholars, the quotes following come from it.
From September 1914, 'with few exceptions, nearly all of Tolkien's illustrative art was inspired by his own writings. The growth of his imagination as he began to create his mythology was almost explosive, and produced art as dramatic as the words behind it' (p. 45). The Shores of Faery was dated May 10, 1915, 'two months earlier than the date Tolkien elsewhere assigned to the poem [of the same name]' (p. 47).
Here is the original text of that poem; you will recognize much in the picture with its help (pp. 47-48):
East of the Moon West of the Sun There stands a lonely hill Its feet are in the pale green Sea Its towers are white & still Beyond Taniquetil in Valinor No stars come there but one alone That hunted with the Moon For there the two Trees naked grow That bear Night's silver bloom; That bear the globed fruit of Noon In Valinor. There are the Shores of Faery With their moonlit pebbled Strand Whose foam is silver music On the opalescent floor Beyond the great sea-shadows On the margent of the Sand That stretches on for ever From the golden feet of Kôr Beyond Taniquetil In Valinor. O West of the Sun, East of the Moon Lies the Haven of the Star The white tower of the Wanderer, And the rock of Eglamar, Where Vingelot is harboured While Earéndil looks afar On the magic and the wonder 'Tween here and Eglamar Out, out beyond Taniquetil In Valinor -- afar.
Hammond and Scull continue,
The phrase 'the Shores of Faery' refers in Tolkien's mythology to the lands along the great bay on the east coast of Valinor in Aman, in or near which the Elves built their dwellings. The Two Trees, Silpion (later Telperion) and Laurelin, provided light to Valinor, and it was their light also that was captured in the Silmarils, the jewels at the heart of the legendarium. But the Trees were poisoned by the giant spider Ungwë Lianti (later Ungoliant), weaver of darkness, at the behest of Melko (later Melkor, Morgoth), the evil Vala. Before dying, Silpion bore a last silver blossom which became the Moon, and Laurelin a last golden fruit which became the Sun. In the painting, the almost leafless trees frame the view in an Art nouveau manner. The tree on the left has a crescent moon upon the curving branch, and the tree on the right a golden orb. The colours of the work change accordingly from left to right, from dark night to blazing day. The 'lonely hill' in the center is Kôr with its white towers; at its feet are golden sands and 'the pale green Sea'. A prose preface to the later versions of the poem makes it clear that the star that 'hunted with the Moon' was Eärendel (Eärendil), in the painting a bright spot within the Moon's curve.
J. R. R. Tolkien, what a genius.
Previous Tolkien poem entry:
~ "As Shall I" and "These Were His", with screencaps and art by Tolkien, posted 12/12/12.