I must admit, when I would read The Lord of the Rings in my teens I would usually skip over the poetry and the songs. But on returning to the books last year I was impressed by the poetry, especially how each race has a different metre and style. (I also discovered that all dwarf songs, including the ones in The Hobbit, can be sung to the tune of the hymn ‘Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow.’ But I digress.)
I therefore quite enjoyed this article for two reasons. Firstly, it contains generous excerpts of the poetry, which I find are more easily admired when they’re not embedded in an exciting plot that discourages lingering. Secondly, the analysis of the poems reveals levels I hadn’t appreciated. Elvish poetry, for example, has l-sounds and r-sounds in almost every line, with heavy alliteration of consonants and suffused with nature imagery. Not only does all this characterise Elvish poetry, but there is even differentiation made between poems by elves and Bilbo’s attempts to write:
Even Bilbo’s song about the wanderings of Earendil during the Elder Days (I, 246-249) […] nevertheless retains the sound-appeal of the elvish songs. The irregular rhyme scheme and stanza pattern and the frequently inverted word order (“Through Evernight he back was borne” and “his wings him bore”) indicate Bilbo’s lack of familiarity with the elvish modes. His listeners at Rivendell congratulate him on his composition and ask him to repeat the verse, but there is a note of sarcasm in their praise: “’You know you are never tried of reciting your own verses’” (I, 249).
The Poetry of Fantasy: Verse in The Lord of the Rings by Mary Quella Kelly
Availability: print only
Word count: 10,100
First published: Tolkien and the Critics: Essays of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, edited by Neil D. Isaacs & Rose A. Zimbardo, 1968, University of Notre Dame Press
Where else to find it: It hasn’t been reprinted, as far as I can tell.