As I’ve mentioned, I am in the midst of reading many books at once. Not the best habit, but little else feeds the mind or fuels the creativity so well as a variety of voices sharing their wisdom. Therefore I’m doing a series sharing tidbits from these works in the hope it gives you some mental fuel. This is Part 3. See Part 1. Part 2.
Tidbit #3: Poetry
Confession: I am reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time….ever. I know, I know. Calm down, nerds.
In my defense, too many people, myself included, begin reading LOTR without fully appreciating the challenge ahead of them. They think they can go straight from The Hobbit to LOTR seamlessly, but they soon realize everything has changed. While J.R.R Tolkien was indeed commissioned to write a sequel for The Hobbit, his imagination carried him to a new realm of complexity and impact. For one thing, Tolkien brings more of his Silmarillion mythology into the LOTR story, connecting it to eons of fictional history that must be considered alongside themes of destiny and good versus evil. For another, as Tim Keller says comparing the two works, The Hobbit is a journey; The Lord of the Rings is a quest. While Bilbo the Hobbit goes ‘there and back again,’ the Fellowship hardly harbors hope that they will ever return, and they must learn to value their goal above even their lives. The Lord of the Rings operates on a more complex, emotionally-charged, higher stakes level. Furthermore, Tolkien requires readers of LOTR to appreciate his philologist’s heart. He infuses his prose with poetic flourishes, and careful readers will notice this, pause, and join Tolkien in appreciating not just the images described but the very sound of the words themselves.
It is to this last point I wish to draw attention. I’ve never been much interested in poetry, but while reading The Lord of the Rings I am often finding myself doing double-takes with the text. There I am, going along, wrapped up in the world of Middle-Earth, until I suddenly catch myself: Did I really just read that? I go back and read it again. I think, That might be one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever heard.
For long-time Tolkienites, this feeling of awe and appreciation of the poetry is old news. For the rest of you, I want to show you a little of what I mean. Here are a few passages. Read them slowly, and aloud. Drink in the meaning. Savor the sounds. Grin at the gravitas.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
“Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced the moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a disheveled dryad loveliness.”
“High upon the rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Duath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.”
“Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
“And at the least, while the Wise ones guard this Ring, we will fight on. Mayhap the Sword-that-was-Broken may still stem the tide – if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but the sinews of the Kings of Men.”
“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”