This poem is one of several that features as a song in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels. This particular poem first appeared in the third chapter of the first book in the series, The Fellowship of the Ring. It is sung by Frodo Baggins while he and his companions are walking through the Southfarthing of the Shire. They’re on their way to Buckland. It is noted in the novel that Bilbo Baggins wrote the lyrics and set them to a very old tune.
The poem, which appears as a song sung aloud in the novel, speaks on the power of following a path, leaving one’s home, at least for a time, and seeing the world. The speaker encourages one to stop for nothing, for now, and see what is around each corner. There could be something incredible waiting to be discovered. The poem concludes with the speaker suggesting that after all is complete, one can travel home to the comfort of their own bed.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red’ by J.R.R.Tolkien is a three-stanza poem/song that is separated into sets of ten lines. These stanzas follow a consistent rhyme scheme of AABBCC, and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. The lines are all around the same length as well, containing somewhere around six to eight syllables per line.
Tolkien makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red’. These include alliteration, repetition, 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 instance, “sudden” and “Standing stone” in the fifth line of the first stanza. Or, “Sand” and “stone” in the ninth line of the second stanza.
Repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In this particular poem, there are several examples. Most obvious is the eighth and tenth lines of each stanza where phrases such as “Let them pass!” or “Pass them by!” are used twice.
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 five and six of the first stanza and lines one and two of the second stanza.
Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!
In the first stanza of ‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title. He makes a couple of simple statements about life, including that there is a bed under the roof. Both of these initial images are peaceful, evoking a feeling of warmth and comfort.
These images are followed by ones that take the reader outside of the home and onto a path. They don’t need to be inside as their feet are not “weary”. There is still the chance that “we” may meet and see something special, something no one else has ever seen. While the character Frodo Baggins is singing this song in the novel, the lyrics were, in the cannon of The Lord of the Rings, written by his uncle, Bilbo Baggins. They speak generally of adventure, travel, and companionship.
The final lines of this stanza encourage the singers and listeners to keep walking, keep travelling and exploring.
Still around the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!
In the second stanza of ‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red’ the same themes are extended. The speaker again alludes to the possibility that there is something interesting to be seen around the corner. If only they’d keep walking, keep searching they’re sure to find the “hidden paths” and beautiful sights. They might not take the hidden paths today, but it’s good to know they’re there and they can be journeyed on in the future.
This stanza concludes similarly to how the previous did. Tolkien uses repetition of the words “Let them go!” to encourage the walkers to let the sights they pass go and keep moving on. There are many things they can see. The last line wishes everything they pass “well”.
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!
In the final stanza of ‘Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red,’ there are several lines that will be familiar to those who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, specifically The Return of the King. Here, the filmmakers found their inspiration for a song sung by the character Pippin in one of the most dramatic scenes of the film.
The speaker creates a mood in these lines that is much more carefree and optimistic than that which appears in the movie. He speaks of the future and the “paths” they have to “tread” until they meet up with the bright stars at night. After travelling, seeing all there is to see, the travellers should return home to “bed”. The journey will fade into the background and they will be met with “Fire and lamp, and meat and bread”. The time they spent journeying has been successful and fulfilling. Now, they are able to go to “bed” feeling as though they’ve seen and done something.