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Tolkien's Poetry.

TOLKIEN'S POETRY. Ed. Julian Eilmann and Allan Turner. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2013. Cormare Series, No. 28. xvi + 221 pp. US$24.30. ISBN 978-3-905703-28-3.

THE EDITORS ANNOUNCE, QUITE CORRECTLY, that this is the first collection of essays on Tolkien's poetry. Indeed, Michael D.C. Drout, writing the introduction, mentions that only fourteen essays on Tolkien's poetry are on the Tolkien Bibliography database at Wheaton College (Massachusetts)--although this reviewer has since drawn his attention to one omitted essay and certainly there are several more. This collection adds ten more to the total. (Two of these are revised versions of earlier essays, but the originals are not listed in the Tolkien Bibliography either, so the full ten will be new to it.) Whatever the full number of essays on Tolkien's poetry, this volume is certainly a substantial contribution to this area of study.

Two of the essays are primarily on Tolkien's use of alliterative verse. Tom Shippey's "Tolkien's Development as a Writer of Alliterative Poetry in Modern English" (an updated version of a 2009 essay) shows that Tolkien, through the years, developed a greater ability in using the variety of types of half-lines basic to Anglo-Saxon poetry. Shippey uses several specific works or passages for his evidence and provides counts of the five Sievers types in them. For example, in Shippey's analysis of the three lines pronounced by Eomer over Theodon's body, he covers the six half-lines and a "pararhyme" (or consonance) of might- and meet in the second part of the first line and the first part of the second. This reviewer wonders if the near rhyme on the last stresses of the first and third lines--"fallen" and "calls us"--does not give an epigrammatic completeness to the passage; but Shippey's stress is appropriate to his focus. In its technical way, Shippey's essay is excellent. The other essay on the alliterative meter is Carl Phelpstead's "'For W.H.A.'--Tolkien's Poem in Praise of Auden." In this case, Tolkien wrote two versions of the poem, one in Anglo-Saxon and one in modern English. Phelpstead finds the Anglo-Saxon version has the five types of half-lines in the same proportion to their appearance in Old English poetry except that C types are used about twice as often as B, but the modern English has more B types than A (nine times more) and more E than D. This review's discussion is simplified, obviously, but, without going into the precise patterns of the types of half-lines, they suggest that the language has changed enough that the possibilities for certain patterns have shifted. Other matters are mentioned in passing, such as Tolkien's Anglo-Saxon version of his name signed to the Old English poem--Raegnold Hraedmoding--or, very generally, Auden's modification of alliterative meter in The Age of Anxiety. But this essay is basically a study of the meter in Tolkien's poems; given its limited subject of one poem in two versions, not a large study but valuable (as Phelpstead says) for what it suggests. (Phelpstead's essay has the most impressive erratum discovered in the book: in a description of the iambic pentameter line, it is said to have five feet, "each consisting of a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable"--iambs have become trochees (48). But this is just a slip: in a later passage, Phelpstead compares the B half-line, basically, to two iambic feet, which shows he knows quite well what an iamb is.)

Two essays are on the topic of poetry in The Lord of the Rings. Petra Zimmermann's "'The glimmer of limitless extensions in time and space': The Function of Poems in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings" is concerned with the imbedded poems--particularly "Song of Beren and Luthien," "Old Walking Song," and "Sam's Song in the Orc-tower"--and the prose text immediately surrounding them. This context contains some of this information about the poem: its (fictional) authorship, its topic, its traditions, its presentation, its relationship to (fictional) reality, and its effect. These things, writes Zimmermann, aid the poem in "breaking the linear flow of time and giving an impression of other layers of time and space" (60). The main title of the essay, from one of Tolkien's draft letters, indicates the goal of including these poems: to suggest the ancient times before the fictional present and also (through the artistry of the poems) to stop the movement of time as long as the poem lasts. The "Old Walking Song," at least upon its second use in The Lord of the Rings, becomes more of a forecast of the future than a capturing of the past. Zimmermann's analyses often involve the development of the poems in Tolkien's writing processes and sometimes the applications of J.W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time. The other paper on this general topic is Lynn Forest-Hill's "Poetic Form and Spiritual Function: Praise, Invocation and Prayer in The Lord of the Rings." This essay splits into two parts. The first is a survey of the religious poems in the book, consisting of the eagle's song ("Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor") and the Elvish song of praise to Elbereth ("Snow-white! Snowwhite! O Lady clear!"). "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" is mentioned but becomes important in the second part of the essay. The eagle's song is said (correctly) to be "composed in the style of the psalms in the Authorised Version of the Bible" (93). (Probably Tolkien would have been influenced by the Challoner revision of the Douay Translation, not the King James directly--nor, for that matter, the Coverdale translation used in The Book of Common Prayer; however the revised Douay and the King James are close enough that the imitation of either style would sound much the same.) "Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!" is written in the long measure, like a hymn (8888, in the hymn books' syllable counting). Forest-Hill assumes the hymn resemblance is deliberate. The second part of the essay is about the spiritual development of Sam, some of it reflected in his invocation of Elbereth when facing Shelob and the emphasis on Elbereth's stars in "In western lands" during his search for Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. The thesis of Sam's spiritual development is important, but it is argued beyond the use of poetry. Every star seen in the sky is not a poem, although it may be a reminder of Elbereth.

Only one essay is related to The Silmarillion--not surprisingly, since no poems are quoted in that book. Michael A. Joosten's "Poetry in the Transmission Conceit of The Silmarillion" discusses the four cases in which material is said to be a prose summary of something told more fully in verse: two in which Tolkien had written a poem (more accurately, a part of a poem)--in the chapter "Of Turin Turambar," the reference to "Narn i Hin Hurin, the Tale of the Children of Hurin," and in the chapter "Of Beren and Luthien," the reference to "the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage"--and two in which Tolkien had not written a "source"--in the chapter "Of the Darkening of Valinor," the "Aldundenie," and in the chapter "Of the Flight of the Noldor," "that lament which is named Noldolante, the Fall of the Noldor." Joosten treats these references as part of the "verisimilitude of Middle-earth's background history."

Three essays discuss poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. John R. Holmes' "'A Metre I Invented': Tolkien's Clues to Tempo in 'Errantry'" describes the verse form used in the poem, a version of comic rhymes which appear in operas and which, as Tolkien's inspiration, Holmes points to a nursery rhyme. (The basic rhythm, although Holmes does not have the classical term, is that of a first-class paeon. He is correct that dactyl does not properly describe it.) But Holmes emphasizes Tolkien's description of the poem starting each "stanza" quickly and then slowing down (given to Donald Swann when he was composing music for its setting); presumably the slowed recitation approaches an iambic rhythm, with the secondary stresses becoming obvious. Holmes points to seven factors in controlling speed, the first being the obvious recitation speed of the speaker. Others include such things as mosaic rhymes and enjambment. These are interesting, but Holmes does not show that those which make for speed (such as enjambment) show up predominately in the first part of the stanzas and those that make for slowness (such as mosaic rhymes) show up predominantly in the second part; without this statistical evidence, one is simply left with the recitation speed of the reader. Holmes's last few paragraphs sum up the meaning of the poem (quite correctly) as "a parody of the medieval romance about knights errant" (42). Sue Bridgwater's "What is it but a dream?: Tolkien's 'The Sea-Bell' and Yeats's 'The Man who Dreamed of Faeryland'" compares the themes and other aspects of the two poems. She gives some background on Faerie, journeys there, related works by the two authors, and the relation of such journeys to dreams. Some examples of contrasts and comparisons: both poems had earlier versions ("The Sea-bell" as "Looney"), and the final versions of both were more despairing than the earlier; Tolkien's poem is told in the first person, but Yeats, in the third; "[t]he vocabulary of margins, of liminality, forges a strong point of similarity between the two poems"; Yeats' protagonist does not attempt to reach faerie and loses contentment because of the suggestions of faerie's existence, but Tolkien's does seek--however, through hubris fails his time there, suffering traditional punishments (128). "[T]he chief thing these poems have in common is the ambiguity of their typological status, or to state the same idea more positively, the rich mix of traditions blended into each work" (140). Nancy Martsch's "Tolkien's Poetic Use of the Old English and Latinate Vocabulary: A Study of Three Poems from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" discusses "The Hoard," "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon," and "Errantry." Martsch's essay is clear and factual in its approach, with statistics based on appropriate passages. (Hers is the second essay that was published previously--in her case, the editors wanted her to focus on a major aspect of her earlier work.) "The Hoard" uses predominately words derived from Old English, along with a variation on the Anglo-Saxon verse form, to depict the early English culture. "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon" alternates between a high number of polysyllabic words, about one-third of the words used and most from Latin, when the topic is the moon; and a predominant number of monosyllabic words from Anglo-Saxon when the topic of the Earth and its people. "Errantry" has a high number of polysyllabic words--the trisyllabic words, in particular, derive from Latinate words. Since it is a nonsense poem, intended for humor, "the Latinate vocabulary [...] adds to the sparkling, exotic ambience [...]" (175).

The two editors of this volume also contribute essays. Julian Eilmann's "Cinematic Poetry: J.R.R. Tolkien's Poetry in The Lord of the Rings Films" discusses the uses Peter Jackson made of Tolkien's poems (a full list of the songs sung "on screen" appears in a chart at the end of the essay, with the distinction between the theater release and the extended version and other details indicated). In his essay proper, Eilmann covers examples of such things as poems shifted from their original speaker and/or from their original position in the work (only two are used for their original purpose in the original context), the poem translated into Sindarin for its movie appearance, and the difference in purpose between the poems in the theatrical releases and in the extended versions. He has an excellent analysis of Jackson's treatment of the Lament for the Rohirrim, with three lines spoken by Theodon in a montage (not by Aragorn). Allan Turner's "Early Influences on Tolkien's Poetry" is more a discussion of possible influences than certain ones. A few borrowings have been suggested with some support from Francis Thompson's poems, although overall Tolkien and Thompson are quite different poets in style. William Morris seems to have more influence in Tolkien's prose than his poetry, but the placing of poems in "The [incomplete] Story of Kullervo" seems based on The House of the Wulfings--although Tolkien's poems in that case are inspired by William F. Kirby's translation of the Kalevala. Morris's The Life and Death of Jason, a narrative poem with inserted songs in different meters, may have influenced the structure of "The Children of Hurin" (the second version of the poem) with its insertion of Halog's song of Beren and Luthien. Morris's goal of "a seemingly artless verbal art" (211; perhaps developed from his understanding of Chaucer's style) may have influenced Tolkien's development, as in "The Town of Dreams and the City of Present Sorrow"; Morris's Jason may also have influenced Tolkien in the creation of narrative poems and more lyrical poems based on ancient myth--but Tolkien's own created myth, not the Graeco-Roman. G.B. Smith, one of the TCBS, urged Tolkien to read Rupert Brooke and the Georgian Poetry anthology-series; a few suggestions have been made of some influence of these contemporaries on Tolkien. Turner mentions the possible influence of the general English poetry that Tolkien met in school as works to be put into Latin, and he ends with the influence of poems in his professional area of medieval English and related languages (perhaps at that point getting out of "early influences").

Drout, in his introduction, indicates that many of the students in his Tolkien class confess to having skipped the poems in their previous readings of The Lord of the Rings. For those interested in Tolkien's poetry per se, this volume is valuable, although the essays are inevitably uneven. On how the verse actually works in meter and style, Shippey, Phelpstead, and Marsch are very good. Zimmermann's essay is valuable on the use of poems in the context of The Lord of the Rings. Forest-Hill's essay says some good things, although its conclusion wanders off the poetry. Joosten's essay is correct, but the topic is a minor one. Eilmann is quite correct about the filmed snippets of poems in Peter Jackson's films, but the topic is a specialized one within an already specialized area--significant until the films get remade, perhaps. Turner's work is part of a topic in development--it is fine as a progress report. Bridgwater's comparison was more interesting to this reviewer for the isolation of folk motifs in Tolkien's poem (not detailed in this review) than for the Yeatsian comparison. Holmes's essay had some good details, but he did not prove his major contention.
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Author:Christopher, Joe R.
Publication:Mythlore
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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