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.


All Ye Joyful

An uplifting and light-hearted poem, ‘All Ye Joyful’ is sung by the Elves of Rivendell when they welcome Bilbo Baggins back to their home. They celebrate his arrival, the victory of the dwarves over the dragon, and the general goodness that exists in the world, at least for time. The pome contains a great deal of natural imagery, much of which is personified. The elves directly address the trees asking them, towards the end of the poem, to stop sighing so that Bilbo can get some sleep.


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.


Cat

‘Cat,’ one of Tolkien’s lesser-known and simpler poems, depicts the true nature of a sleeping house cat. The speaker describes the animal as only appearing to dream of simple things. We might see it as longing for little mice and milk but in reality, it is dreaming of eating larger prey, including humans. cats have not, the speaker asserts, forgotten their heritage. They long to be free as lions, as they once were.


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.


Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold

The haunting refrain of the poem, “Far over the misty mountains grialm / 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.


Farewell We Call to Hearth and Hall

This poem was first published in The Fellowship of the Ring. it is sung by two of the main characters, hobbits Merry and Pippin, after they learn about Frodo’s quest. It is their determination that everyone needs to leave as soon as possible to escape at least some of the danger they are in. The short poem/song alludes to the future, which will be even more dangerous, as well as to the elves and their home at Rivendell.

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