Poetry Wednesday: In the Heart of a Tolkien, there lived a Poet

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates-
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!Broken cup
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So carefully! carefully with the plates!

—“The Washing Song”,  J.R.R.Tolkien

I refuse to believe that I have to explain to anyone who J.R.R. Tolkien is or what he wrote, so I won’t.*

But while most people know that he was an author and a linguist and very British and created characters whose names and species have entered our cultural lexicons . . . what is often overlooked, taken for granted, or glossed over  is that he was a fine poet as well.**

This is, I think, because his writing style is lyrical to begin with and also because Tolkien was a World Building Master.  He wove backstories like Gandalf weaves machinations and planted cultural histories  like Hobbits burrow themselves into smials.

And he understood that three things that all established cultures have, each in their own distinctive way, are stories, music, and poetry.

So Tolkein gave his immortal Elves elegant poems based on ancient personal memories of things long gone but never forgotten:

Namarie, or Galadriel’s Lament
(J.R.R. Tolkien)

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 theStar
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!

Poem which, I might add, are beautiful in whichever language they are recited.

The poetry of Tolkien’s Dwarrow Clans—Dwarves to those of us who aren’t of a linguistic bent—is based on family lore, pride, and grudges, which make up the basis for a rich, ritualistic oral history that, in my subjective opinion, is incredibly effective when chanted by baritones used to the rhythms of a mine or a forge.

Durin’s Song
(J.R.R. Tolkien)

The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone,
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,El Gordo - The Fat Galaxy
Above the shadow of his head.

The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty Kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin’s Day.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shown forever far and bright.

There hammer on the anvil smote,Anvil
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was bladed and bound was hilt;
The delver mined the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale
And metel wrought like fishes’ mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in horde.

Unwearied then were Durin’s folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

That doesn’t mean that drinking and stirring up trouble don’t make it into verse (see “The Washing Song” above), because even Dwarves need a break from the brooding now and again.

As for Hobbits—or at least one of them—Tolkien provided several thoughtful poems (and a few drinking songs as well) on behalf of a people who measure their lives in decades, not centuries, and for whom going there and back again is a recent, personal memory that time may not allow them to repeat.

Though one can always hope.

Bilbo’s Song
(J.R.R. Tolkien)

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamerTrees
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood and every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

And all of these fit seamlessly into Tolkien ‘s narrative, helping to create these separate peoples and anchor his imaginary world into our own literary culture—so much so that it hardly registers as poetry at all.

It just is, and was, and always will be.

Well done, sir.


*If you sincerely don’t know, go to a library and find copies of The Hobbit and the first volume of The Lord of the Rings  in book form and read them.  If you don’t care enough to read the rest of LOTR, I can’t help you.  On hte other hand, if you go on to tackle the Silmarillion, I applaud you, but I won’t be able to help you much at all, because whew!

**We will not be mentioning Tom Bombadil’s poetry in this post.  Tom Bombadil is a classic Nature’s Fool, with bits of wisdom hidden in his ridiculous rhymes, and he probably deserves his own post, but he irritates the crap out of me in several different ways, his poems go ever on and on and on, and this is my blog. If you wish to write your own post about the obvious literary significance of each syllable spoken by this powerful, tree-living citizen of Middle Earth and the ignorance of some people about his significance, please feel free to send me a link.  But I’m old and I get tired and this guy drives me up the nearest Ent.


Two Sunnyisms on a Cloudy Day

It’s foggy this morning—both outside the house and inside my head—and when that happens, it helps to keep things a little Sunny . . .

Sunny Getting Down

Maybe a week ago my six-and-two thirds, Mommy-year old, was pretending to eat her lunch and listening to her aunt and I explain the differences between Tolkien’s Hobbit and Peter Jackson’s movie to her grandmother, who wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the latter, even after we talked up the excellent dwarf dinner scene.

“What’s a dwarf?” Sunny asked.

“In the book and the movie, a dwarf is a very short warrior with a big beard,” I said, simplifying.  “A bunch of them come into Bilbo’s house, eat all his food, and then take him on an adventure.”

“What’s a Bilbo?” Sunny asked, wrinkling her little nose.

“A hobbit,” we all said.

“Oh.  What’s a hobbit?”

“They’re people with pointed ears and very hairy feet, so they don’t need shoes,” Watson said.  “They’re mostly farmers, but some of them are very brave.”

“Tooks and Bagginses,” we said together.

“And they’re even smaller than the dwarfs,” I said.  “About your size.”

“Smaller,” Watson said.  “They’re only about three feet tall.”

“Really?” I asked, trying to remember.  “Three feet?  You’re not confusing them with Smurfs and apples?”

“I don’t think so,” Watson said.  “Remember Bilbo holding all those dwarf weapons?”

“Huh,” I said.  “Okay.”

“What about Smurfs?” Sunny asked.

“Smurfs are three apples high,” I said.  “But they never really tell you how big those apples are.  I mean, Macintosh or Granny Smith?”

That started the conversation veering in a different direction, and Sunny excused herself and wandered away.

Well after  I’d forgotten about the conversation, Watson came up to me, laughing.  “Want to hear what your child just said?”

“I don’t know.” I said.  “Do I?”

“Well, Jane told Sunny she couldn’t do something because she was just a little kid.”

“Oh, great.”

“Yeah.  But then Sunny looked up at her, hands on her hips, and said, ‘I’m not a little kid, Janie!  I’m a tall hobbit.'”


Sheldon The Rock

The day after Thanksgiving, my mother went to the huge local craft fair, as is her tradition, and bought—among many, many other things, which is also her tradition—each of the kids a large, round stone with their name carved in it.*

After dinner, as the adults and Jane finished their dessert around the dining room table, I noticed Sunny by the living room couch, because open floor plans are awesome.

She’d wrapped something in a couple of Thanksgiving napkins and was having an involved conversation with whatever it was.

“Sunny?”  I asked, out of lazy curiosity.  “Is that your name stone?”

“Yes.  I’m keeping him safe.”

“Good idea.” And because I was full of turkey noodle soup and pumpkin cake and forgot who I was talking to for a second, I chuckled and asked, “Have you named your name stone, yet?”


I exchanged glances with Jane. “I guess even name stones need a name,” she said, shrugging.

“Is his name . . .  Sunny?” I asked.

“No.  His name is Sheldon.”

Jane and I stared at each other, eyebrows raised, and then at Sunny.  “Sheldon?!

Mom laughed so hard at our perfectly synchronized confusion that she nearly fell off her chair.

Also, I might add, a Thanksgiving tradition—at least on Sunny days.


*I cannot for the life of me make the grammar sound right in that sentence, so I’m giving up.  Indy?  Help?

The Hobbit: A (Not-Entirely) Unexpected Journey

Watson and I Hobbited today.  This is not a euphemism.

It was my day off (working tomorrow—come on in and ask me where the Tolkien books are) so we’d made plans to see Peter Jackson’s latest third of a story at the 2D matinée showing  for all kinds of reasons having to do with children, money, crowds, lack of stereoptic vision, and so on.

There’s a lot that has already been said, but that’s certainly never stopped me before.   Spoilers might, but seriously, if I can spoil this movie for you, then you really do need to ask the nearest librarian for a copy of the book before the second installment.  If you’re really worried, bookmark this for later, though I’ll try not to be too specific.

I can be specific in this:  I enjoyed it.  A lot.

Here are some random opinions I have about An Unexpected Journey:

The Hobbit movie as a whole is staged as a LOTR prequel—Bilbo is writing his memoirs (by hand with a quill) between the time Frodo takes off to meet Gandalf in the beginning of  Lord of the Rings and the time they arrive at Bag End*—which isn’t how the book is written.  The book was originally a story for Tolkien’s kids, and when it was done, he blinked a couple times and said, “Huh.  What if  . . .?”  and started in on Bilbo’s birthday party.   This isn’t a problem for me at all, but it is a difference.

The Dwarf Dinner Party is amazing. The by-play, the dwarves, Bilbo reactions, the songs, the washing-up, Bilbo’s conflicting emotions, the bloody-minded arguments, Gandalf being manipulative as unapologetic hell . . . it’s perfect.

Whoever designed the eyes of the Orcs and Goblins was a genius—they all have an unearthly beauty that remove them from the less magical characters (I include Gollum in this—his eyes, to me,  are the exaggerated CGI version of Elijah Woods’, because he has been touched by magic).  They’re closer to the Elf end of the spectrum in shape and color, which is as it should be—I also noticed that the Pale Orc looks like Lady Galadriel’s twin brother,** if Sauron had stared at him a bit with that Eye of his like a malevolent child with a white crayon and a magnifying glass on a sunny afternoon.

There are a lot of pony problems in the Hobbit, book and movieit appears to be the fantasy plot-helper equivalent of flat tires and/or wonky cell-phone service in more modern settings.


DwalinWatson’s go-to dwarf is Thorin, because he’s the Character-Arc Dwarf, and I can’t say Richard Armitage doesn’t work it hard—and gorgeously so—but of those few who were allowed to have personalities rather than single defining qualities, I preferred Bofur and Dwalin—though I admit this could be cheating, as I might have already developed small crushes on James Nesbitt and Graham McTavish*** before they were even cast in these movies.

KiliFiliNot to say that Fili and Kili aren’t gorgeous Pin-Up Dwarves, because they are.^  Particularly Kili, who is played by Aidan Turner—he’s not my type in Real Life™, but I can’t deny that the craftsmanship is exquisite and the camera clearly wants to have his babies.  I kept thinking that Fili looked familiar, especially the way he strode around—I was relieved to find out that I did know him: Dean O’Gorman played the Young Aeolus in the Adventures of Hercules/Young Hercules franchises.  Anyone?  Are those crickets?  Fine.  Moving on.

Radagast the Brown is far better here than Tom Bombadil would ever have been in LOTR, but that’s not saying a lot.  His scenes were terrific, and I loved the rabbits so, so much, and the hedgehog and the hinky mushroom references, but this is a place where Mr. Jackson was explaining LOTR instead of filming the Hobbit and while again, I do understand, I wanted to get back to Bilbo a bit sooner, please.

On the other hand, watching Saruman try to pooh-pooh the danger signs that both Radagast and Gandalf are reporting is fun.  But the byplay between Galadriel and Gandalf is odd—can someone tell me if this is Silmarillion compliant?  Because if it is, I might give it another go.

ThorinThe Rock Monsters were entirely gratuitous.  Characters have slipped off narrow ledges and dodged rockfalls in full-out rainstorms without any of that Made-for-3D nonsense.  I don’t care if there are two sentences about it somewhere in the source material(s)—and don’t tell me that Thorin needed another reason to be irritated with Bilbo, because it was already established that he’s handsome, noble, uberstressed, and a bit of an arrogant jerk.

Similarly (not Silmarillionly, which would be. . . meh, never mind), the escape from the goblins went on about five minutes too long in my subjective opinion.  I don’t know if it seemed shorter in the other theater, where all the rocks and timbers and goblin-pieces were bouncing into the audience, and I fully admit that car chases also bore me.

But I adored the Goblin King.  He was erudite, clever, ruled a sort of Bronzepunk kingdom, and had a lovely voice, pretty eyes, and a completely disgusting wattle that was difficult to ignore.

The Riddle Scene.  I won’t spoil it, but this is the Hobbit I know and love.

BilboAnd I adored Bilbo.  Martin Freeman has great talent both as an actor and in choosing roles that allow him to use his essential Martin Freemanness to best advantage.  Bilbo’s arc isn’t quite the same as in the book—his experiences are slightly different from the get-go and so are his motivations—but it works.

And, finally, Smaug is going to rock.

Anyone else want to chime in?


*As if some of us don’t feel inadequate enough about our daily word count.  Sheesh.

**I’m not saying she did, though I only made it through the Silmarillion once, a few decades ago, so anything’s possible.

***Who should always play roles that require him to wear Braveheart-type clothing and loft double-bladed weaponry and/or claymores, because hmmm.

^Louis Peitzman of BuzzFeed went so far as to arrange the dwarves from least to most attractive.  It’s all very subjective—there’s someone for everyone in this weird world and I personally think Balin deserves better—but fun.

Random Thursday: The Twelve Dwarves of Christmas, a Pie, and a Lie

This may be the first video-less Random Thursday (barring one link) since I threw the first one together–that’ll teach y’all to send me stuff I can’t share in public!


Don’t Leave Hobbiton Without it!

The first part of The Hobbit,  which I might have mentioned once or twice over the past year and a half, opens around here this Friday.  My friends and I are planning to wait for a week or so until we can hit a matinee and actually hear the movie over the squees and/or groans of fellow Hobbiteers.*

It’s been a long wait already—to tide myself over, I’ve been following the vblog of the production, which includes a great feature of the twelve  highly-individual dwarf characters, whom even Peter Jackson gets confused at the read-through (“Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Dwalin, Fili, erm, Dasher, Dancer, Comet, Cupid . . . ?”).

Luckily, the LOTRProject has us hopeless geeks fans covered:

Dwarves Cheat Sheet

The Lord of the Rings Project has even more cool stuff on its website, including timelines, maps, population stats, and an amazing genealogy of Tolkein’s characters.


Don’t Forget!

Kids singing

You have until this Tuesday at Midnight CST to post your skewed holiday poems or lyrics in the comments of the

 Chrishanukwanzmadanfestivus Poetry Contest post (or e-mail ‘em to me)

 for a chance to win a fabulous prize, suitable for regifting!

 So far, there are two names in the hat and one ineligible, ‘cause she’s family.

Dreidel Cat!



Brakes on, brakes off

Around the dinner table Tuesday:

Mint Pie“What’s for dessert, Mommy?” asked Sunny.

“Not sure,” I said, “But I want pie.  Do we have any of that mint pie left?”

“Nope,” said Watson.

“I want pie!” said Jane.

“Watson,” I whined said.  “If I give you twenty bucks, will you go buy me—I mean, us—a pie?”

“Yeah, right,” she said.

“Pie sounds good,” said my MIL.  “If you wanted to go.”

“Um. I don’t really have enough gas—”

“I’ll loan you my car keys,” I said.

Watson paused.  “Janie?  If I give you twenty bucks and your mother’s car keys, will you drive down to the Village Inn and buy a—”

“She can’t reach the pedals, yet,” I said.

Jane stood up.  “Sunny, come with me!” she said, to much laughter.

Sunny’s eyes bugged and she  put out both hands to ward off her sister.

Watson did the same.  “Okay, kid—this one is the brake,” she said, waving her right hand.  “And this is the gas . . . ”

No, we didn’t let them—we forced my husband go last night . . . He brought back a festively decorated chocolate cream instead of mint, but we forgave him.


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean. . .

Speaking of holiday songs, after hearing “The Christmas Song”—the “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” one—every single time the car radio is on, my opinion of the song has changed, just a bit.

You know those lines, Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe / Help to make the season bright ? It occurred to me, while waiting on an on-ramp for bridge traffic to sort itself out that this wasn’t a simple, innocent  nod to tradition.

But just in case, I checked:

“Janie?  Mistletoe is poisonous, right?”
“Yes, Mom.”**

 See?  It’s a murder plot.***

Christmas Stress


Looking for some Holiday Serenity?

Here you go:


Click on the image for a step-by-step Making Of !


Last Minute Lie

Blame Siobhan—this hit my inbox just before I hit Publish:



*They’re used to ignoring me at movies.  I’m apparently an “active watcher,’ though I maintain that the bruise on Watson’s arm that mysteriously appeared after The Bourne Legacy was Janie’s fault.

**Her full answer:  “Yes, Mom.  But you don’t have to eat it.

*** Feel free to use it for the contest.