10 of the Best J.R.R. Tolkien Poems

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, in what is now South Africa, in January of 1892. He moved to England with his family when he was three years old and spent the years of his youth exploring surrounding villages, towns and forest. These experiences and locations would serve to inspire his later works, such as his aunt’s farm, Bag End. In 1911 he enrolled at Exeter College, Oxford where he began staying classics and then English language. He graduated in 1915. Tolkien contracted trench feet in France while enlisted in the army and wrote The Fall of Gondolin, his first mythological, fantasy text, while recovering. In the 1920s, J.R.R. Tolkien  wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of Lord of the Rings. The home in which he worked is now marked by a blue plaque. The trilogy was completed in 1948. He died in 1973 from the combination of a bleeding ulcer and chest infection.

The Road Goes Ever On

‘The Road Goes Ever On’ is one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most popular poems/songs. The poem appeared in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as within The Hobbit. The various iterations of the text changed somewhat as they were adapted for different situations. Throughout the books the song is generally recited while characters are walking or traveling somewhere. For example, it appears when Bilbo leaves the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring and again in the same book when Frodo leaves the Shire. The song is appealing due to its very steady rhythm and the heavy use of alliteration and repetition. Such as in the lines “Roads go ever ever on / Under cloud and under star”.

I Sit and Think 

‘I Sit and Think’ contains the thoughts of an aged speaker who is contemplating his past, present, and inescapable future death. The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging the fact that eventually a time will come in which he doesn’t see another season. This brings him great sadness and forces him to recall the springs, summers, and autumns he lived through. They were vibrant and beautiful. Now though, they only exist within his mind. As the poem goes on, the speaker’s tone darkens as he describes the fact that the future generations will know a world he will never see. Through this poem Tolkien was meditating on his own future, as well as that of everyone else who has lived, is alive now, or will ever live. Death is a unifying fact of human existence, therefore making ‘I Sit and Think’ universally relatable. The poem was featured in song form, sung by the character Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold

The haunting refrain of the poem, “Far over the misty mountains grim / To dungeons deep and caverns dim / We must away, ere break of day,” first appears among images of blazing forges, gold and ancient kings. Then, the story gets darker and the beautiful mountain referenced in the first lines is “smoked beneath the moon.” The dragon came and spread his fire throughout the lands. The dwarves were forced to abandon their home. J.R.R. Tolkien published this poem in the novel, The Hobbit.

All Woods Must Fail

This piece is a short, seven line poem that speaks about darkness, light and the end of both. The speaker directs his words to “Wanderers in the shadowed land”. He is specifically interested in those who are feeling despair. He tells them not to, and to remember that nothing goes on forever, “all woods must fail” sometime.

Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red

This song or poem is another found within J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. It appears in the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. ‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red’ is a song associated with travel, connecting perfectly with larger themes of thee first chapters of the novel. The first stanza speaks about the excitement of seeing new things, especially those “we alone” have seen. The speaker is tired but he continue on, passing by flowers and hills. As the song progresses the speaker describes the allure of the future. He does not want to stop at one gate or pathway, but instead journey on. Maybe, he states, he “will come this way” again. The song concludes with a few evocative lines that speak to how he considers home and the rest of the world. The journey the singer is on is first in shadow, and then lit by the stars.

All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

This short poem, that is also known as ‘The Riddle of Strider’ or ‘Song of Aragorn,’ contains Tolkien’s most commonly quoted line. “Not all those who wander are lost”. The consistent rhyme scheme in the eight lines of the poem allude to the fact that it should be said out loud, or even sung. It tells of wanderers, specifically the character Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, who is the “crownless” mentioned in the final line.

The Sea-Bell

This is a dark poem, and one that J.R.R. Tolkien included in his collection of verse, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. It has its origins in an earlier work, titled ‘Looney’ which was published in 1934. The version that appeared later, in 1962, is long and much darker than some of the other works. But, it touches on some of the same themes that appear throughout Tolkien’s writing, such as desire, nature, the ocean and mortality. In the text, the speaker, through magical means, is born away on a ship. He arrives in a mysterious and beautiful land of which he names himself king. This ends up being a mistake and he’s cast down, broken and blind. Although the poem began as a beautiful story of discovery and nature, it ends with a speaker who is alienated from his world and completely alone.

In Western Lands Beneath the Sun

‘In Western Lands Beneath the Sun’ is a short song/poem, lasting only two stanzas. The speaker or singer of this text is thinking about two different worlds. The first depicts the “western lands beneath the Sun” in which there is safety and beauty. There, one can see running water and budding flowers. There are “cloudless night[s]” and “Elven-stars”. In contrast, the second stanza is about a different place, where the speaker is at the moment these lines are recited. He is at “journey’s end… / in darkness buried deep”. Though the outlook is grim, the speaker refuses at the end of the poem to “bid the Stars farewell.” In regards to the larger setting in which this song/poem appears, it is sung by the character Samwise Gamgee in the Tower of Cirith Ungol in the book The Return of the King.

Song of Beren and Lúthien

This poem is part of a larger story of love between a man, Beren, and an elf-woman named Lúthien. It is one of the longer poems on this list, lasting nine stanzas. It tells of the meeting of the future lovers in the “woven woods in Elvenhome.” Then it outlines the follow seasons as the Lúthien came and went, teasing and taunting Beren. Eventually, Beren calls the elf-woman by her real name and she is entranced. The song concludes with larger statements about fate and love, and then reveals that all this happened long ago and they have “passed away” since.

The World Was Young, The Mountains Green

This poem is also known as ‘Song of Durin’ and is sung in The Fellowship of the Ring by Gimli. It tells of the life and death of his people, the dwarves. In the first stanzas he speaks about the youth of the world and the green of the mountains. He says that first, there was only “Durin” who “walked alone” in the hills. He was the first to drink from the wells and eventually became king “on carven throne / in many-pillared halls of stone”. The following lines speak about “Durin’s folk,” the dwarves and their forges. In the last stanza everything changes. The mountain becomes old and the forge’s fire “ashen-cold”. Now, no one works in the mines and all of “Durin’s folk” are gone. In the final line the speaker alludes to, what he sees as the fact, of Durin’s return.

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