Listen to J.R.R. Tolkien Read Poems from The Fellowship of the Ring, in Elvish and English (1952)

In my book Cate Blanchett can do no wrong, but her per­for­mance in the Lord of the Rings movies was par­tic­u­lar­ly spell­bind­ing, espe­cial­ly when she spoke the Elvish lan­guage of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fan­ta­sy uni­verse. Of course, the spell was cast long before when Tolkien used his back­ground as a lin­guist, his­to­ri­an, and lit­er­ary schol­ar to cre­ate the elab­o­rate tongue that he called Quenya. In the short clip above, Tolkien him­self recites the Elvish poem Namarie, or Galadriel’s lament, from The Fel­low­ship of the Ring nov­el (it does­n’t appear in the film). Namarie trans­lates as “Farewell,” and the poem in Eng­lish reads thus:

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years
num­ber­less as the wings of trees! The long years
have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue
vaults of Var­da where­in the stars trem­ble in the
song of her voice, holy and queen­ly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Var­da, the Queen of Stars,
from Mount Ever­white has uplift­ed her hands like
clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shad­ow;
and out of a grey coun­try dark­ness lies on the
foam­ing waves between us, and mist cov­ers the
jew­els of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost for
those from the East is Val­i­mar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Val­i­mar. Maybe
even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

The Tolkien record­ing pre­dates by two years the 1954 pub­li­ca­tion of the novel—the first of the Ring tril­o­gy. As sci-fi blog i09 notes, Namarie has been set to music, some­times against Tolkien’s wish­es, by sev­er­al com­posers. Tolkien did autho­rize one com­po­si­tion from Don­ald Swann, includ­ed on the album Poems and Songs of Mid­dle Earth (1967), a song cycle from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien gave Swann the melody, and singer William Elvin’s tenor accen­tu­at­ed the medieval, Celtic qual­i­ty of the poem. A fan put togeth­er the video below.

The oth­er thir­teen com­po­si­tions on Poems and Songs are in Eng­lish (Tolkien’s poet­ic skill in his own tongue is per­haps under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed). In the short clip below, hear him read “The Song of Durin,” from Fel­low­ship of the Ring, a song sung by Gim­li the dwarf as the fel­low­ship jour­neys deep into the mines of Moria.

As Peter Jack­son brings Mid­dle Earth back to life in the the­ater this Decem­ber, it’s a good time to brush up on your Tolkien lore. Don’t have time to reread The Hob­bit? Lis­ten to Youtube user “Ephemer­al Rift” read the entire nov­el in a whis­per. He’s up to Chap­ter 2 and promis­es to fin­ish in time for the first film’s release.

h/t red­dit & i09

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (4)
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  • Sarah says:

    Did any­one record the song Sam sings about the trolls in The Fel­low­ship of the Rings. It’s the one that starts “Troll sat alone on his seat of stone, and he munched and he mum­bled a bare old bone…”

    Just because it is clear­ly sup­posed to go to the tune of The Fox, (or Dad­dy Fox, or The Fox on the Toon) an old Eng­lish folk bal­lad.

    This is one ver­sion of the tune:

    The ver­sion I learnt is a bit more up tem­po and slight­ly dif­fer­ent, but it’s basi­cal­ly the same tune. I often sing the Sam Gamgee lyrics to it.

  • Sarah says:

    Just found this calyp­so ver­sion from Har­ry Bela­fonte — I think this is how I learnt it when I was small…

  • Frieda Landau says:

    A group from Den­mark called The Tolkien Ensem­ble record­ed all the songs and poet­ry from Lord of the Rings in a 4‑disc set. Christo­pher Lee voic­es, among oth­er works, Tree­beard. I love this set and pre­fer it to the offi­cial movie sound­track.

  • Larae says:

    Get the CD “The essen­tial Tolkein” put out by Caed­mon to hear Tolkein read­ing many excerpts from The Hob­bit and Fel­low­ship both in Eng­lish and Elvish.

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