Far over the misty mountains cold by J.R.R. Tolkien

‘Far over the misty mountains cold’ appears in Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. In the novel, the poem is sung by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield and his companions. The song is also known by names such as ‘The Song of the Lonely Mountain’ or ‘The Misty Mountains’. In the song, a close reader or listener can hear much of the story to come. Tolkien uses foreshadowing to speak on all the adventures that are going to come to pass. This same song, slightly altered appears multiple times in the novel. It is also sung, in part in The Fellowship of the Ring. 


Summary of Far over the misty mountains cold

‘Far over the misty mountains cold’ by J.R.R. Tolkien depicts the destruction of Thorin Oakenshield’s home and his desire to win it back from Smaug. 

The poem takes the reader through a series of images that were crafted to show the importance of the Lonely Mountain and all that which it contains. Inside, there are mountains of gold. These were laboured over by Thorin’s ancestors and he, as the rightful king under the mountain, wants to win it back. The poem also describes the arrival of Smaug, the great dragon who killed almost all of his people and is now standing guard over their treasure. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Far over the misty mountains cold

‘Far over the misty mountains cold’ by J.R.R. Tolkien is a ten stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. In various versions of this song, the number of quatrains and some of the words change, but this version is the most commonly known. The lines follow a very simple rhyme scheme, as was common in Tolkien’s Middle Earth poetry, of AABB CCDD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza and line to line. 


Poetic Techniques in Far over the misty mountains cold

Tolkien makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Far over the misty mountains cold’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, allusion, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “deep” and “dark” in line three of the second stanza and “gleaming golden” in line two of the third stanza. 

An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, Tolkien used the lines of the song to allude to the dwarves’ heritage and to their future quest and travels through Middle Earth back to the Lonely Mountain. The “long forgotten gold” refers to the hoard buried inside the mountain, guarded over by the dragon Smaug. 

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 two and three of the second stanza and lines two and three of the tenth stanza. 


Analysis of Far over the misty mountains cold

Stanzas One and Two

In the first stanza of ‘Far over the misty mountains cold’ the speaker, primarily Thorin Oakenshield, but really all of his companions as well, begin by describing their destination. Their quest is going to take them to “dungeon deep and caverns old” where they must “seek [their] pale enchanted gold”. The gold, as a source of wealth, and magic, has a hold on the group. It represents their heritage but also their future, as well as their pride. 

He speaks to the past and what the role his ancestors had to play in the accumulation of the gold and of its crafting. He alludes to the “dark things” that sleep in the earth. This is a common occurrence within the novels, more often than not there is something in the earth that the characters have to fear. In this case, there is Smaug the dragon, but also the power of the gold itself and its capacity to corrupt. 


Stanzas Three and Four 

In the next stanza of ‘Far over the misty mountains cold,’ the speaker alludes to the fact that other races want to lay their hands on the treasure as well. There is much in the hoard to be longed for, and even sections that used to belong to others. There are gems on swords that once belonged to kings and “flowering stars” on “silver necklaces” that belonged to elves. 


Stanzas Five and Six 

The refrain, which is the entire first stanza, is repeated in the fifth stanza. In the sixth stanza, the speaker again describes what can be found in the mountain and the hard work that when into creating “harps of gold” and “Goblets”. It was a whole world down there that belonged just to the dwarves, no men or elves heard it. 


Stanzas Seven and Eight 

The seventh stanza provides the reader with an example of anaphora. The word “The” begins all four of the lines. They depict the arrival of the dragon Smaug and his destruction of Thorin’s people. The trees were on fire as if they were torches and the red flames spread everywhere. 

Down below the mountain, there was destruction as well. The dragon destroyed a small town of men, women and children. 


Stanzas Nine and Ten 

In the final two stanzas, the singers conclude their song and speak darkly of the loss of their home.  Some of them and their ancestors managed to flee their home but others died beneath the dragon’s feet. The last line of the ninth stanza is a good example of caesura. It occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might come before an important turn or transition in the text. 

The final stanza is a repetition, in part, of the first and fifth. Here though the speaker concludes more powerfully, determined to return to their home and reclaim what is theirs. 

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