All Woods Must Fail

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien is remembered today for his groundbreaking, beloved trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

His poems, many of which related directly to his stories, are lesser-known but well worth reading on their own.

In ‘All Woods Must Fail,’ which is also known as ‘O! Wanderers in the shadowed land,’ and Song in the Woods,’ is sung by the character Frodo Baggins in the first Lord of the Rings novel, The Fellowship of the Ring. During a scene of immense uncertainty and fear, Frodo breaks into song in order to encourage his compassions to continue walking. This poem/song is only one of several included in the novels. Many appear when the characters are walking or trying to contend with a great challenge. 

Frodo, along with his traveling companions Sam Gamgee, Meríadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took were at this point in the novel moving through the Old Forest while being pursued by the Black Riders. The song was set to music on the album A Night in Rivendell by the Tolkien Ensemble. 

All Woods Must Fail by J.R.R. Tolkien

Summary of All Woods Must Fail 

All Woods Must Fail’ by J. R. R. Tolkien is a short uplifting song sung by the character Frodo Baggins while walking through the Old Forest. 

The poem/song addresses his current circumstances, and those of his fellow travelers, and tries to lift everyone’s spirits. Throughout the seven lines, he reminds his friends that the dark woods can’t go on forever. They have to end at some point. Just as the sun sets, so too will it rise again.

Structure of All Woods Must Fail 

All Woods Must Fail’ by J. R. R. Tolkien is a seven-line song from the first novel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCCD. They are also all of a very similar length with either eight or nine syllables per line. 

Poetic Techniques in All Woods Must Fail 

Tolkien also makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘All Woods Must Fail’. These include alliteration, repetition, enjambment, and allusion. The later, allusion, is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this piece, although it is not stated explicitly, the speaker is referring to a broader more dangerous darkness than that which assails him and his companions during the song. Read in the context of the novels a reader can interpret this song as a statement on the evil the protagonists must fight back against to save their world. 

Repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone, or phrase within a poem. In this piece, Tolkien chose to repeat the word “sun” three times in the text, emphasizing the metaphorical and very real light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case, woods. The repetition extends to the mirror of phrases in the second section of lines. The sun rises, the sun sets, and the process starts all over again. 

Alliteration is another kind of repetition and occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “setting sun” and “sun” in line five and “west” and “woods” in line seven. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two. 

Analysis of All Woods Must Fail 

Lines 1-4

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
And see the open sun go past:

The first lines of this short poem begin with the speaker, Frodo Baggins, singing out “O! Wanderers in the shadowed land”. (This line stands in on occasion as a title for the poem.) It is addressed to his traveling companions and through it, he is acknowledging the dark lands in which they are traversing. The lines of the poem can also be read as a larger commentary on the entire journey Frodo and the Fellowship is going to embark on.

Despite the fear present in this scene, Frodo asks his friends not to “Despair”. He knows how scary things seem at this moment bu “All woods” must end at some point. 

The woods through which they are traveling are known, within the canon of the novels, to be a dark and dangerous place. Things move of their own accord and all the characters can sense that they should get out as quickly as they can. As with most scenes in The Lord of the Rings, there is an obvious or less obvious magical element at play. But, even the scariest places have an end at some point. The forest can’t, Frodo tells them, go on forever. 

Lines 5-7 

The setting sun, the rising sun,
For east or west all woods must fail.

In the last lines of ‘All Woods Must Fail,’ Frodo references the sun and its progression through the sky. Just as the woods must end at some point, so too must the day. He uses it as a point of reference to remind everyone that nothing lasts forever. They will all live to see the sunrise again.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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