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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Tolkien's Landscapes 7: 'Old Man Willow' by Tolkien, 'Suite: Meriadoc' by jan-u-wine.

Posted on 2013.09.04 at 15:16
Tags: , , ,

Old Man Willow TEASER2

Old Man Willow (pencil, coloured pencil), like most of the pictures done to illustrate The Lord of the Rings, was made while Tolkien was working on the novel. These pictures, unlike those done for The Hobbit were not done to be published, but "for his own pleasure as well as for reference, as he had done earlier for 'The Silmarillion'. Old Man Willow is a fine example." (Hammond and Scull, p. 156)

"Suite: Meriadoc" is a fine example, too, but of what Tolkien's illustrations can inspire jan-u-wine to create. This piece, written from Meriadoc's point of view, is set in the Fourth Age, Meriadoc remembering a dark time as he watches his small son settle into sleep.

For those with further interest in the background of Tolkien's picture, an extended extract about the drawing from Hammond and Scull's book appears below.


Old Man Willow 1000-original

Suite: Meriadoc

I saw him.

That was the start of it:

Old Bilbo,
face fixed between
fear and mischief,

fingers dipping
within the narrow eye-pocket
of his waistcoat.

As I write, I remember,

the colour of it,
stitched deep-red,

like heart's blood,
bursts of needle-fine

I remember, too,
his finding of that which he sought,

what followed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Seventeen years passed,
the old squire long since gone off,

(disappeared, they say,


the new one, my cousin,

the quiet, not-mad Baggins

Seventeen years of deep-peaced winters,
quiet springs and heated summers,

seventeen years
of gold-brass autumns......

In all of those moments
evil lay hidden,

waiting in gilt silence
for its waking,

ever hearkening
for the welcome caress
of a dark Master's call.


There was a war,
a great war,

of which I was a part.

A small part,
I add,

when I am of a humourous mind,

a small part for one of the small ones,
one of the Periannath.

Still, I did what I might,
what I ought.

Folk ask me:
of all we saw,

of all that befell
myself and my kin,

of what
was I most afeard?

Plain is my answer,
plain as my fright,

simple as dark,
devouring day:

A tree.

It was the beginning of my.....

of evil,
of the weight and reach of it,

the twisted,
devouring horror
of it.

It was the end,
though I knew it not,

of a world of innocent


I did not take the autumn Road from Hobbiton,

did not see the sun-tired draggle of the grasses
of Woodhall,

or the deep-starred silence
of Stockbrook’s sleeping meadows.
I did not see the ruff'd fox
who wondered at three hobbits
so far from home.

Coppers kept at ready
concerned me then,

nut-brown ale,
pale mushrooms.....

light-hearted songs,

and the un-burdening
of my cousin's heart.

How very young I was,
how painfully artless.

How thoughtlessly


I remember the fog,

rising and

upon the ground
as we set out,

wisping fingers
twining even about
the small, brass'd
flower-petals of light
from ever-distanced

I remember the smell
and feel of the great forest,

how it wound,
tight as a noose

about me,
shortening my very

my thoughts fleeing

its dark oppression,

running frighted
and heedless


they tumbled
into darkness
and lay still.

From outside myself,

I hear the world:

I know it is there.

I hear my cousin.

Other sounds there are, too,

sounds within the swift-closing
window of my mind:

dark whispers,
thoughts of evil

(as if evil were daylight
and song,

and all that is good and needed)
press down upon me.

Pain takes me,

deep and ancient,

as the dark behind the stars.

It wants.....

it wants to kill me.

But not


It wants to kill all that
have warm bodies,

all .....

It wants
dark and silence
and an end to feet and wings
and hearts that thrum with blood.


I am rescued.

*We* are.



Escaped from that which held my body.


from the dull-sharp memory
of a fierce

and undying malice.


Old Man Willow.

when all is over,

I spin the tale of him
for my son,

children's stories
in the fair candlelight,

covers drawn up

beneath his chin,

copper hair
shining upon the pillow,

his laugh sweetening
the night.

my son.

May you never know

May what we became,
what we did,

what we gained
and lost,
be the golden

of your

May you sleep,
and dreme.


From J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, 1995 (2000 paperback edition):

The Old Forest, on the far side of Buckland, is a dark, nightmarish place in book 1, chapter 6, but Tolkien chose not to draw it as such, possibly because the result would have been too like Taur-na-Fúin or Mirkwood. Instead he illustrated the (deceptively) tranquil scene the hobbits come upon suddenly out of the gloom of the trees:
As if through a gate they saw the sunlight before them. Coming to the opening they found that they had made their way down through a cleft in a high steep bank, almost a cliff. At its feet was a wide space of grass and reeds; and in the distance could be glimpsed another bank almost as steep. A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.
A 'huge willow-tree, old and hoary' dominates the picture. With a little imagination one can see a 'face' on the upper right part of the trunk. 'Enormous it looked, its sprawling branches going up like reaching arms with many long-fingered hands, its knotted and twisted trunk gaping in wide fissures that creaked faintly as the boughs moved.' Enormous, maybe, to one of the hobbits looking at it, but in the picture the willow does not seem unusually large. 'Willow-man' antedated The Lord of the Rings by several years, having first appeared in Tolkien's poem The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1934. In that work it is Bombadil, not Merry and Pippin, who is caught in a closing crack of the great willow -- an idea, Tolkien said, that probably came to him in part from Arthur Rackham's drawing of gnarled trees. John Tolkien thinks that his father's drawing was inspired by a fully grown willow on the banks of the Cherwell near Oxford, distinct from others because it was not pollarded (p. 156).

Old Man Willow 800-original


Many thanks to ambree40, whose wish for a poem to go with Old Man Willow prompted the writing of this piece.

Previous entry:
Wood at World's End ICON ~ "Wood at World's End": picture by Tolkien, poem by jan-u-wine.

Other Links:
Nan's Reunion-ICON ~ All entries featuring jan-u-wine's poems.


shirebound at 2013-09-04 23:27 (UTC) (Link)
That's an incredible poem. Poor Merry! He would have returned home with many demons, buried deeply. I've written about some of them in my stories, but I never thought about Old Man Willow having such a effect on him. Well done.
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 00:51 (UTC) (Link)
thank you so much! I'm very glad you enjoyed (not as ashamed as I am that I've still not caught up on "Evendim" (which makes guess who incredibly dim!)

To be honest, I wasn't sure at all how to approach OMW, but I'd been asked to write to it. It's a bit much, always having Frodo do the talking in these pieces. Merry seems to have been a deep sort of fellow, and we know that he had at least one child. I imagined his son asking Da for a story of the Old Forest and Merry thinking back on OMW....something he would probably, before his experience, have viewed as pretty much a funny old tree. The whole scenario sort of unfolded from that.......

you are always so good to read and comment. Thank you!
mechtild at 2013-09-05 02:34 (UTC) (Link)
Shirebound, I am tickled to death you enjoyed the piece so well. Thank you immeasurably for stopping in and giving such a comment.
aussiepeach at 2013-09-04 23:48 (UTC) (Link)
I liked that very much - that the tree had more effect on Merry than what came after. It was fairytale-ishly spooky.
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 00:52 (UTC) (Link)
thanks, Aussie! I was not sure I'd managed to pull it off, so I am happy if you feel it was successful!
mechtild at 2013-09-05 02:37 (UTC) (Link)
It was a wonderful piece, wasn't it, Peachy? But are you not settling your own little hobbit-child down to sleep now? :)
aussiepeach at 2013-09-05 06:43 (UTC) (Link)
If only she would, ha! Her grandma has to hold her usually to give me 5 mins at pc. :D
mechtild at 2013-09-05 20:45 (UTC) (Link)
Good on grandma! I'll bet she's enjoying herself!
lindahoyland at 2013-09-05 01:34 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing these.
mechtild at 2013-09-05 02:38 (UTC) (Link)
You are welcome!
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 03:23 (UTC) (Link)
you're welcome, Linda!
Hobbity forever
periantari at 2013-09-05 01:59 (UTC) (Link)
I love this point of view from Merry-- excellent poetry! and i love you sharing Tolkien's original rendering of Old Man Willow too.
Thanks for sharing!!!
mechtild at 2013-09-05 02:39 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Periantari. I can't help thinking "excellent poetry", too. I'm a fan, there's no doubt.

I'm glad, too, you enjoyed the picture. Tolkien was such a multi-talented man. :)
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 03:29 (UTC) (Link)
thank you, dear Met! after all these years, you still like the scribbles. More, you still take the time and trouble to post them, and beautifully. Thank you.
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 03:27 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, periantari! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. I have said it many times, but it bears repeating: no matter how good the poem, it is made ever so much better by the lovely frame which Mechtild constructs about it.

I'm very glad now that I decided to write from Merry's pov,.....it isn't often done, and I think it should be! I'll have to think more on .....merry-torious poem possibilities!
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 12:18 (UTC) (Link)

Mary K comment

this is a comment from Mary K who, tho she is on LJ, can't get LJ to let her post! (haven't we all been there and done that?!). She sent the following to Mechtild and myself, asking if we could post for her. Thank you, Mary!

Wonderful poem (Suite: Meriadoc) -- oh that innocence! I could actually FEEL the fright that Merry felt from the tree's malice, and just as strongly felt his strong love for his son, and the hope that his son will never have to face that evil. Thank you Met for posting this. Tolkien's sketch is so completely wonderful... he should NOT be able to draw and paint so well; it's completely unfair! ;)
(In addition to all his other talents, I mean.) Eeek!

The repetition of the "17 years" phrase made me think about the fact that there were 17 years between the end of WWI (1918) and the beginning of Hitler's actual aggression against surrounding countries (1935). Most interesting.

Met, thank you once again for hosting this lovely site, and many thanks to you both.

mechtild at 2013-09-05 20:44 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Mary K comment

Thank you so much, Jan, for posting this comment of Mary's! (I'll reply to her by email, perhaps tonight.) Our basement window contractors are here for the second day and it looks like they will surely be back tomorrow. I have barely had time to go on line!
ambree40 at 2013-09-05 12:37 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you so much for this post. I love the Old Man Willow poem as much as I love the painting. At first glance that river valley looks peaceful, even idyllic, until you notice those snake-like, creeping roots and the ominous cracks in the trunk.

Very interesting that Merry describes the encounter with OMW as his loss of innocence and then thinks about the "unworldly" innocence of his small son. That innocence is so characteristic of the hobbits and the whole Shire. It is, indeed, "unworldly". Who else but Merry, who was nearly squeezed in two, could tell us about the hatred and malice of a tree that made him loose his hobbit innocence.

I also loved that glimpse of Bilbo in the opening lines!
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-05 16:41 (UTC) (Link)
thank you so much, Ambree! Ha ha, you caught me out! Bilbo was meant to be more of a presence in this piece, but he became unmanageable, so ended up on the cutting room floor, I'm afraid....but I imagine he'd be pleased with the recollection of his waist-coat....

I felt I was reaching by proclaiming OMW as the catalyst for Merry's loss of innocence. But we can't, really, know what event might cause such a thing. Surely, that loss occurred long before (for example) the Battle of P. Field. And, in my thinking about this all, a thought occurred: events that happen close to home, where normally you feel safe, tend to really stick. This was a place the Brandybucks knew well. The greater the shock, then.

In any case, I'm very happy that you like the post so much. Thank you for the lovely compliment and for stopping to read and comment when you are so busy.
mechtild at 2013-09-05 20:42 (UTC) (Link)
Ambree, I'm so happy you requested a poem for this picture, for what a wonderful piece Jan wrote. I thank you so much. (And, yes, those roots are quite snake-like, in spite of the serenity of the scene. )
pearlette at 2013-09-06 21:37 (UTC) (Link)
This is lovely - Jan caught Merry's voice so well. :) I love Merry! - his intelligence, his practical nature, his valiant heart and his hobbity wit. He has Frodo's depth, but is a more activist, extrovert sort of personality. And he's deep. I love imagining him as a father. You can feel his deep love for his son, and his sad, melancholy reflections on past pain and fear, in the light of the freedom that was won at great cost.

Two observations, not criticisms, because they don't spoil the poem. :) Firstly, 'afeared' is a phrase belonging more to Sam and his more rustic form of speech, whereas Merry is a young aristocrat who speaks more formally and 'correctly'.

Secondly, Merry could not have known about that inquisitive fox! ;) - since Frodo, Sam and Pippin were all sleeping at the time. But I do realise that a poem grants more artistic license and that Jan isn't bound to Tolkien's omniscient authorial perspective here. ;)

Anyway, lovely work as always. :)

mechtild at 2013-09-07 04:33 (UTC) (Link)
What a great comment, Pearl. I'm so pleased you stopped by and read this piece and appreciated it so much. I agree with you about Merry, although I didn't fully appreciate his character until I was an older reader. He really is like good wine and improves with age -- my age, not his. ;)

pearlette at 2013-09-07 10:24 (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, Merry is fine vintage. ;) He's always been a favourite of mine. I love all four hobbits and they all complement each other in the story beautifully. I'm not surprised that Tolkien plainly couldn't bring himself to kill any of them off! - he nearly kills Merry off in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, but thankfully has Aragorn heal him. Phew!

Here is a short excerpt from the beginning of the chapter 'The Muster of Rohan', which for some reason has always moved me very much - this is Merry, feeling very alone as he travels with the Rohirrim before their great muster:

"He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire."

'borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth'. What a fantastic phrase!! Full of foreboding and sadness. It tells you so much about Merry's emotions, and also his maturity, but it's also suffused with that bittersweet, melancholy strain that runs throughout all of Tolkien's work ... that feeling of things fading, of the impossibility of hanging onto our mortality. Tolkien was the absolute master of the 'show, not tell' principle in storytelling. :)

I have also begun to understand why he said LotR was really all about "death and deathlessness." Perhaps you can only really begin to grasp what he meant once you have stared Death in the face ... as I have. And as he did, at the Somme, when so many of his friends were annihilated in that great slaughter. A whole generation of men, wiped out. This certainly makes me understand the mass slaughter that goes on in The Silmarillion. (I find it almost unbearable to read, actually ... Sil is just so, so sad.)

(My own personal interpretation of LotR is that the quest of the Ring was all about the rejection of power, and that love and self-sacrifice will ultimately win in the end, not raw power, even raw spiritual power, such as the Elves represented, at least at the height of their powers. And that God uses the humble things of this world - i.e. hobbits - to shame the Wise ...)

Not only was the Prof a wonderful storyteller, he was a superb wordsmith. I don't think anything in LotR is redundant.

Edited at 2013-09-07 10:31 am (UTC)
pearlette at 2013-09-07 10:37 (UTC) (Link)
By the way, I love Jan's phrasing ... 'gold-brass autumns' and 'sun-tired draggle'.

And Merry, very hobbit-like, uses wry humour to cope with his dark memories. He's also brave enough to face up to them, and move on.
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-07 12:51 (UTC) (Link)
thank you again, Pearlette, So very glad you enjoyed the post.

Perhaps i should write *more* Merry. Would that make a "muchness of Merry"?

(no, never!)
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-07 12:44 (UTC) (Link)
wow, Pearlette, what an absolutely superb comment. I really can't find adequate words to respond to it, it's so lovely and full of passion and yearning.

This is what I love most about Tolkien: that he inspires us to insights like these, all of these "joys like swords' moments.

I'm so glad that you brought forward that quote. So very beautiful and (as you say), so telling in terms of who Merry was, both in that moment, and as a person.

I certainly hope that JRRT was correct in his philosophy of love and sacrifice v power. The former could use a 'win' in this, the 7th Age......

Edited at 2013-09-07 12:54 pm (UTC)
mechtild at 2013-09-07 15:57 (UTC) (Link)
Gosh, I love what you wrote, Pearl. When I think of the piddling or plain bad books I've read discussing Tolkien's fiction, I think you'd do well to get your thoughts on his work published.

"He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire."

That passage always struck me, too, and in multiple ways. I love it as writing, as a revelation of Merry, as an expression of the theme of that which is great and awful and dire that runs through Tolkien. I think that's in your comments, although you put it much better. :) But I've also thought when reading it that here was one of those peeks into Tolkien's own self. I've read that his visit to the Alps when he was a young man made quite an impact on Tolkien, and that what he saw and experienced was the source material for the passages set in high mountains. I wondered, reading this reflection of Merry's, whether it didn't also reveal somewhat of Tolkien himself, the man who loved tales of great dread deeds and who was awed by the Alps, but who actually preferred a life in which he "shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire", both figuratively and literally. His spirit and heart were fired by tales of battle and the deeds of grim warriors, but his own impression of war up close and was terrible to him (and fed his work, showing the dark, rather than the high side of war). He loved the landscapes he created, the mountains, the chasms, the foaming cataracts, the great expanses, the huge forests, but in real life he rarely traveled out of England or even left Oxford. Like his Samwise said, it's wonderful to hear of great deeds and dire doings in the great tales, quite another thing to be in their midst as a participant. Like his hobbits, I think Tolkien wanted a fireside life, but, as a man and an author, he knew even hobbits could not know what was in them without being thrust from that fireside, to experience the "insupportable weight" of the world and its sweep of events which cannot be escaped but only encountered and borne -- if one is not crushed.

I am sure you could sort that out better, but I am sure you know what I am trying to say.

Edited at 2013-09-07 03:59 pm (UTC)
jan_u_wine at 2013-09-07 12:34 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Pearlette.....I'm so happy that you enjoyed the post. It's not often that I write in Merry's 'voice', but I do enjoy him so much. He does feel to me very much like Frodo, and yet....entirely unlike. A different sort of intelligence from his cousin, a different sort of pain, a different sort of humor.

I admit that you caught me out on both those points (and I thought no one would notice, lol).

When I wrote "afeard" (early on, as i did a 'teaser' verse of this piece first), I also knew that was a rustic word that Merry likely wouldn't use. And yet, I didn't like the sound of 'afraid'....it sounded too modern. I tried other words, but didn't feel right either. I finally decided that Merry was being deliberately rustic (the way some folks will use street slang when it isn't a part of their normal speech) even though it brought me 'out' of the piece every time I read it.

And the fox! No, Merry could not have known of the fox. But I have two excuses here, neither valid:

1) for those who have not read LOTR, or for those to whom the fox is a mere "b-player' (or more likely, a part of the scenery), the mention of the fox in the poem does not resonate to the LOTR story in terms of it being incorrect. In the case of those readers, he is just another bit of the poem, as if it had said "I did not see the dark clouds biting the crown of the Hill...."

2) the fox is an especial favorite of mine. I don't know why. But I find myself wanting to know more about him ....almost in the same manner that I want to know more about more important characters in the story. He's been featured in quite a number of my pieces. I can't seem to help myself. That is the power of Tolkien's writing: even the smallest details are handled with such care that they are equally as important to the story as the larger details. He's a wonderful painter, whether with words or brush....


I have a third excuse of sorts:

Merry *said* he didn't see the fox. Of course he didn't. Because....he couldn't have known of it. *snort*.

Thank you again, Pearlette, and so happy you enjoyed!
diem_kieu94 at 2013-09-23 04:23 (UTC) (Link)


I haven't posted on here for awhile, but I just want to say... Meriadoc's suite is a gorgeous poem!

I can definitely imagine him telling the tales of Frodo to his little boy!
(Eep!! Hobbit children!! SO CUTE!!)

Beautiful work - as usual!! Please keep up the lovely work!!

With utmost sincerity,

Diem Kieu
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