Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,
Mechtild
mechtild

Re-do of 'Frodo Art Travesty', also, 'Frodo's Dreme'....



~ Detail of Frodo as Agnolo Bronzino’s ‘Ludovico Capponi’.

Warning: Very long post, more like a "mini-essay".


Last night I was restless. I stayed up late and re-did a manip that had been bothering me. It had been made from another portrait by Agnolo Bronzino (1503—1572). I had done it to indulge my pleasure in seeing Frodo in fancy dress.

Here is a link to an image of the original portrait, Bronzino’s Ludovico Capponi, c. 1551.

The face comes from the series of beautiful formal portraits taken of Frodo as publicity stills for FotR. One day I will present them all as an LJ entry, they are so magnificent; they are almost the quality of “Great Masters” themselves, even if they are only photographs.)

I sort of dashed this manip together, just for a giggle, but, when it was done I thought it had a really nice mood, and was sorry I hadn’t taken the time to do it properly. A year and a half later I have decided to do just that.

Frodo’s face in this Frodo Art Travesty strongly evokes for me the writer of the poem, Frodos Dreme, properly called, The Sea-bell. This strange and melancholy poem is collected in Tolkien’s small volume, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. I will quote it in full, below, and say a few things about it, something I have wanted to do for a while.






~ Frodo, as painted by Agnolo Bronzino, in “Portrait of Ludovico Capponi”:








Discussion of Frodo’s Dreme (or, The Sea-bell), and related matters.

Tolkein wrote a preface for the Tom Bombadil collection, very droll. In it he submitted the poems to various forms of literary criticism in vogue at the time, assessing their genres, conjecturing as to who wrote them, when, and how they were passed down -- just as if they were real works of ancient literature discovered in a dusty under-used Oxford library.

To start, here’s a snippet from Tolkien’s ‘Tom Bombadil’ Preface [The emphases in italics are mine]....


The Red Book contains a large number of verses (…) The present selection is taken from the older pieces, mainly concerned with legends and jests of the Shire at the end of the Third Age, that appear to have been made by Hobbits, especially by Bilbo and his friends, or their immediate descendants. Their authorship is, however, seldom indicated. Those outside the narrative are in various hands, and were probably written down from oral tradition.

The verses, of hobbit origin, here presented have generally two features in common. They are fond of strange words, and of rhyming and metrical tricks – in their simplicity Hobbits evidently regarded such things as virtues or graces, though they were, no doubt, mere imitations of Elvish practices. They are also, at least on the surface, lighthearted or frivolous, though sometimes one may uneasily suspect that more is meant than meets the ear.


No. 15 [The Sea-bell], certainly of hobbit origin, is an exception. It is the latest piece and belongs to the Fourth Age; but it is included here, because a hand has scrawled at its head "Frodos Dreme". That is remarkable, and though the piece is most unlikely to have been written by Frodo himself, the title shows that it was associated with the dark and despairing dreams which visited him in March and October during his last three years. But there were certainly other traditions concerning Hobbits that were taken by the ‘wandering-madness’, and if they ever returned, were afterwards queer and uncommunicable. The thought of the Sea was ever-present in the background of hobbit imagination; but fear of it and distrust of all Elvish lore, was the prevailing mood in the Shire at the end of the Third Age, and that mood was certainly not entirely dispelled by the events and changes with which that Age ended.

This poem, I think, really was meant by Tolkien to give an impression of what it was like for Frodo, inside, during those times of “dark and despairing dreams”. Tolkien, as the Preface's narrator, says it probably is not Frodo's own work. But what information does he present for its origins? It was written in the Fourth Age, and the added-on title showed that it was “associated with the dark and despairing dreams which visited him in March and October during his last three years.”

Someone, he implies, who scrawled the name, "Frodo's Dreme," had associated the poem with Frodo and his times of darkness at the anniversaries. Who would that have been, in Tolkien's scenario?

Who else, I suggest, but one of those in whose hands the Red Book was placed? That is, one of the Gamgee-Gardner family? My guess is that Tolkien meant Sam as the person who attributed the poem to Frodo, or else Elinor, because of things Sam had told her. Because of his intimate friendship with Frodo, and because he and Rose actually lived with Frodo at Bag End during the months that Frodo was experiencing these darknesses, Sam was the hobbit most likely to have receive Frodo’s private papers, which (hypothetically) could have included this poem. I think Tolkien doesn't say so because his Preface narrator is supposed to be an academic who would not make absolute claims about an unknown piece's provenance. He merely "conjectures"; offers his considered opinion. (Tut, tut!)

Did Sam write the poem? The style suggests not, and the content reveals too much about Frodo's innermost thoughts (if they are, indeed, Frodo's). It is true that there have been thoughtful, moving fanfics written that portray Sam (and/or others) with the empathy, insight, and powers of observation that enable them to perceive and understand Frodo’s dark times in depth. Sometimes those powers are almost psychic. Sam notices everything and is constantly on the watch, standing by to care for his failing Master. But the actual text does not tend to encourage that understanding. In the story, Frodo seems to have been able to put up a very good front, for one thing. And he appears to have felt well enough a lot of the time. The reader is told that Frodo knew himself lucky, once Sam and Rosie had married and come to live with him at Bag End, “for there was not a hobbit in the Shire that was looked after with such care.”

But, however much they cared for Frodo, neither Sam nor Frodo's other friends seemed to notice or understand what was amiss with Frodo, that is, of consequence. But Frodo had become adept at concealment. He honed the skill during the course of his ordeal as he struggled to keep his mind veiled from the Eye as long as he could. Besides, Merry and Pippin lived far off and Sam was gone a great deal. They simply didn't see Frodo at every moment of the day.

As for the cousins, again, although there are some great fics depicting the cousins as deeply involved in Frodo's post-Quest life, worrying intensely over the state of his health, trying to find ways to help him, the text doesn’t suggest this picture. They just don't seem to know of Frodo's suffering. They are not shown as present for the anniversary illnesses, and Frodo seems to have successfully concealed it the rest of the time. And Frodo wasn't the sort who would burden his friends with his problems, anyway (if he could possibly help it).

Here is the book’s description of their lives after the Scouring:


Merry and Pippin lived together for some time at Crickhollow, and there was much coming and going between Buckland and Bag End. The two young Travellers cut a great dash in the Shire with their songs and their tales and their finery, and their wonderful parties. ‘Lordly’ folk called them, meaning nothing but good; for it warmed all hearts to see them go riding by with their mail-shirts so bright and their shields so splendid, laughing and singing songs of far away; and if they were now large and magnificent, they were unchanged otherwise, unless they were indeed more fair-spoken and more jovial and full of merriment than ever before.

Frodo and Sam, however, went back to ordinary attire, except that when there was need they both wore long grey cloaks, finely woven and clasped at the throat with beautiful brooches; and Mr. Frodo wore always a white jewel on a chain that he often would finger.

All things now went well, with hope always of becoming still better; and Sam was as busy and as full of delight as even a hobbit could wish. Nothing for him marred that whole year, except for some vague anxiety about his master. Frodo dropped quietly out of all the doings of the Shire, and Sam was pained to notice how little honour he had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrin and (if Sam had known it) to himself. Also in the autumn there appeared a shadow of old troubles.


The very next paragraph shows Sam coming upon Frodo in the study as he suffers pangs in his shoulder and is seized by dark memories. Sam notices and asks Frodo what is wrong.

It is only afterwards that Sam remembers that it is Oct. 6.

At the next anniversay illness, in March of 1421, Frodo was able “with a great effort” to conceal it from Sam. “For Sam had other things to think about” – Rosie was almost due with their first child, born on the anniversary of the destruction of the Ring. But things seem to proceed as before. Frodo was writing, and conferred convivially with Sam on the naming of is new daughter.

In the fall Frodo suggests to Sam the trip, introducing it with the topic of Bilbo's coming birthday. It would be nice to see the old hobbit again (but Frodo never explicitly says they will be going to Rivendell). Surely Sam knew where they were really going when they rode away, but perhaps he did not. The text leaves it open to each readers' conjectures.

Again, the "Grey Havens" chapter presented a picture of a Frodo whose illness was not easily perceived by others. By many, not at all. Yet he did suffer; he suffered enough to leave the land and people he loved so well behind.

Here is the poem that Tolkien did not -- but did -- suggest applied to Frodo in his distress:


The Sea-bell, or, Frodos Dreme

I walked by the sea, and there came to me,
as a star-beam on the wet sand,
a white shell like a sea-bell;
trembling it lay in my wet hand.
In my fingers shaken I heard waken
a ding within, by a harbour bar
a buoy swinging, a call ringing
over endless seas, faint now and far.

Then I saw a boat silently float
on the night-tide, empty and grey.
'It is later than late! Why do we wait?'
I leapt in and cried: 'Bear me away!'

It bore me away, wetted with spray,
wrapped in a mist, wound in a sleep,
to a forgotten strand in a strange land.
In the twilight beyond the deep
I heard a sea-bell swing in the swell,
dinging, dinging, and the breakers roar
on the hidden teeth of a perilous reef;
and at last I came to a long shore.
White it glimmered, and the sea simmered
with star-mirrors in a silver net;
cliffs of stone pale as ruel-bone
in the moon-foam were gleaming wet.
Glittering sand slid through my hand,
dust of pearl and jewel-grist,
trumpets of opal, roses of coral,
flutes of green and amethyst.
But under cliff-eaves there were glooming caves,
weed-curtained, dark and grey;
a cold air stirred in my hair,
and the light waned, as I hurried away.

Down from a hill ran a green rill;
its water I drank to my heart's ease.
Up its fountain-stair to a country fair
of ever-eve I came, far from the seas,
climbing into meadows of fluttering shadows:
flowers lay there like fallen stars,
and on a blue pool, glassy and cool,
like floating moons the nenuphars.
Alders were sleeping, and willows weeping
by a slow river of rippling weeds;
gladdon-swords guarded the fords,
and green spears, and arrow-reeds.

There was echo of song all the evening long
down in the valley; many a thing
running to and fro: hares white as snow,
voles out of holes; moths on the wing
with lantern-eyes; in quiet surprise
brocks were staring out of dark doors.
I heard dancing there, music in the air,
feet going quick on the green floors.
But whenever I came it was ever the same:
the feet fled, and all was still;
never a greeting, only the fleeting
pipes, voices, horns on the hill.

Of river-leaves and the rush-sheaves
I made me a mantle of jewel-green,
a tall wand to hold, and a flag of gold;
my eyes shone like the star-sheen.
With flowers crowned I stood on a mound,
and shrill as a call at cock-crow
proudly I cried: 'Why do you hide?
Why do none speak, wherever I go?
Here now I stand, king of this land,
with gladdon-sword and reed-mace.

Answer my call! Come forth all!
Speak to me words! Show me a face!'

Black came a cloud as a night-shroud.
Like a dark mole groping I went,
to the ground falling, on my hands crawling
with eyes blind and my back bent.
I crept to a wood: silent it stood
in its dead leaves, bare were its boughs.
There must I sit, wandering in wit,
while owls snored in their hollow house.
For a year and a day there must I stay:
beetles were tapping in the rotten trees,
spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving
puffballs loomed about my knees.

At last there came light in my long night,
and I saw my hair hanging grey.
'Bent though I be, I must find the sea!
I have lost myself, and I know not the way,
but let me be gone!' Then I stumbled on;
like a hunting bat shadow was over me;
in my ears dinned a withering wind,
and with ragged briars I tried to cover me.
My hands were torn and my knees worn,
and years were heavy upon my back,
when the rain in my face took a salt taste,
and I smelled the smell of sea-wrack.

Birds came sailing, mewing, wailing;
I heard voices in cold caves,
seals barking, and rocks snarling,
and in spout-holes the gulping of waves.
Winter came fast; into a mist I passed,
to land's end my years I bore;
snow was in the air, ice in my hair,
darkness was lying on the last shore.

There still afloat waited the boat,
in the tide lifting, its prow tossing.
Weary I lay, as it bore me away,
the waves climbing, the seas crossing,
passing old hulls clustered with gulls
and great ships laden with light,
coming to haven, dark as a raven,
silent as snow, deep in the night.

Houses were shuttered, wind round them muttered,
roads were empty. I sat by a door,
and where drizzling rain poured down a drain
I cast away all that I bore:
in my clutching hand some grains of sand,
and a sea-shell silent and dead.
Never will my ear that bell hear,
never my feet that shore tread
Never again, as in sad lane,
in blind alley and in long street
ragged I walk. To myself I talk;
for still they speak not, men that I meet.


My own opinion is that the poem was developed from something Tolkien had started, perhaps decades before, for Eärendil, later reworking it for Frodo. Some scholars have wondered if it didn't express Tolkien's own dark moods, which could come upon him in his later life. I find that a very interesting notion, since it makes more explicit an imaginative link between Tolkien and his suffering but ennobled protagonist.

In a key story of the First Age, Eärendil, on behalf of the beleaguered remnant of Men and Elves in Beleriand, sails over the Sea with the Silmaril (retrieved through desperate courage by his wife and companion, Elwing), in order to plead for the help of the Valar. When he finally arrives on the shores of Aman, he walks alone to the city of the Elves. He finds its streets deserted. Tirion is empty as he climbs the high hill. He does not know it, but it is a time of festival in Valimar.


… His heart was heavy, for he feared some evil had come even to the Blessed Realm. He walked the deserted ways of Tirion, and the dust on his raiment and his shoes was a dust of diamonds, and he shone and he glistened as he climbed the long white stairs. And he called aloud in many tongues, both of Elves and Men, but there were none to answer him. Therefore he turned back at last towards the sea….

The situation is very similar in the opening stanzas of Frodos Dream. But there is quite a difference in the two stories. In the story of Eärendil, Eärendil turns to leave, having found no living soul and hearing no answer to his shouts. He thinks his quest is a failure. But he is prevented from returning to his boat, despairing, when he hears a “great voice”, which cries to him,


“Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before the Sun and the Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!”

Eärendil is brought back to feast in Valimar and treated with honour. His quest has not been in vain; Beleriand will be rescued. But, as a mortal who has set foot in the Undying Lands, he must stay there. He cannot return to his homeland. So he sails his ship across the sky with the Silmaril bound to his brow, the Evening star, the hope of those the still oppressed by evil. Elwing waits for him at the end of every crossing of the sky, since she has not been made to survive such heights. As a seabird, she wings up in joy to meet him as his ship comes to haven.

* * *

I see an awful lot of resonance between these two iconic Tolkien characters, Frodo and Eärendil. Both were rescuers of their people at the cost of not getting to live out their lives with their own people in their own homelands, but who then become a light to their people, those who yet dwelled in [Middle-]earth. So, I don’t think it at all odd that Tolkien should have reworked something begun as a poem about Eärendil into something for Frodo.

In fact, in my fanfic imagination, I imagine Frodo finding this poem about Eärendil’s voyage to Aman, unfinished, interleaved among the papers and books he brought back from Rivendell, to work from for his and Bilbo's history. I imagine him trying to "tidy" it, then begin to work on it, or it to work on him. The first part seems to be more solidly about Eärendil, but, as it proceeds, his own experience seems to bleed through, staining the poem darker and darker until it is the recounting of extreme feelings of alienation. Like Eärendil, he walks through empty, silent streets; he calls but there is no answer. But no voice breaks the silence, welcoming him or bidding him come and be received in joy, as was Eärendil.

To emphasise the contrast, I post again the poem's ending.


Houses were shuttered, wind round them muttered,
roads were empty. I sat by a door,
and where drizzling rain poured down a drain
I cast away all that I bore:
in my clutching hand some grains of sand,
and a sea-shell silent and dead.
Never will my ear that bell hear,
never my feet that shore tread
Never again, as in sad lane,
in blind alley and in long street
ragged I walk. To myself I talk;
for still they speak not, men that I meet.

Oh, my dearest Frodo....

Knowing the story of Eärendil comforts me. When I read this poem and remember the story which it recalls, it gives me a sense of light at the end of the dark tunnel that is Frodos Dreme, even if Frodo (when he was experiencing these terrible times and writing about it) could not see then see it.

Frodo may not be able to go home again, but, like Eärendil, he will be lifted up by the Great as a guiding light. Not just to Middle-earth but to earth-dwellers through the ages who find themselves living in dark times, whether in themselves or in the world. And his small, true light will illuminate their minds, fire their spirits, and burn in their hearts.

Gazing at the sleeping, wounded Frodo in Rivendell, Gandalf noted a “hint of transparency” in Frodo. He remarked to himself, “He is not half through it yet, and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.

Frodo Baggins: the Evenstar of his people.


~ Mechtild


Click HERE for ALBUM of “Frodo Art Travesties.”

Click HERE for Table of Links to LJ Entries about various “Frodo Art Travesties.”


Tags: art, frodo, frodo art travesties, lotr, poetry
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