The Road Goes Ever On by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Road Goes Ever On by J.R.R. Tolkien consists of only two verses, but the structure and approach within them are sufficient to highlight the epic journey before and after the song surfaces in the book. Beyond this connection, reflection, and foreshadowing in regard to the novel and movies, this is also a representation of hope and possibility in life in general. Just as the characters in the story have hope for a good ending—and many reach that place of contentment—ordinary people can have hope while wading through the struggles of life by keeping their place of contentment as the ultimate source of comfort. By doing both—reflecting on the story and providing such a universal, positive message — Tolkien has achieved a work of genius in this pair of verses. You can read the full poem here.

 

The Road Goes Ever On Analysis

First Stanza

In order to understand the intended message of this poem, one must be somewhat familiar with the context in which this poem was delivered. Specifically, this poem is a song from The Lord of the Rings that is delivered after Bilbo Baggins relinquishes the One Ring to his nephew and is on his way to Rivendell.

Given the fame of the books and movies, most readers will understand that this One Ring is capable of destroying the world that hobbits, humans, dwarves, and elves live in, and that Bilbo’s departure from the Shire is an early moment in the tale. With that in mind, this is a precedent for the many adventures the Fellowship—the ones chosen to destroy the Ring—eventually undertake. They go into a dwarfish “cave,” on a “snow[y]” “mountain,” by water… Essentially, this is foreshadowing for the journey that Bilbo’s nephew and his companions will endure.

By stating that “[r]oads go ever ever on,” as well, the reach of the song extends back into the previous tale of Bilbo Baggins himself by repeating “ever.” Basically, one “ever” can refer to Bilbo’s story that is behind him by the time the song is delivered, and the other “ever” can be linked to Frodo’s adventure that is still to come at the moment the verse is sang.

This is a simplistic notion, however, because this poem can have a much deeper meaning that relates to general life. All of these physical elements the Fellowship encounter can be metaphoric concepts that apply to average people living average lives. We go through dark times “where never sun has shone,” pleasant times when “grass” and “merry flowers” are alive and well, and mysterious moments that include unsure elements like “the moon.” We endure experiences that are harsh, like “winter,” “snow,” and “mountains,” but also experience refreshing elements that are represented through the soothing nature of the “stream” in the poem. Overall, life journeys are made up of various elements that “go ever ever on,” and they are expressed through these relatable concepts of nature.

There is also a romantic quality about the poem’s wording that soothes the harshness of “winter”-esque elements, provided by the reference to “the moon” in its mysterious beauty and personification. The “streams,” for instance, cannot “find the sea” because water is not capable of looking for something in this manner, but it is an elegant concept to consider. Essentially, it can represent the search for nourishment and refreshment through hard times, like a traveler looking for comfort in a dry area. It is soothing—even needful—and it indicates the possibility of life in the midst of struggles.

The similarities in the sounds of the words, as well, add to this romantic, life-boosting quality with phrases like “snow by winter sown” and “mountains of the moon” because they express unity and contentment, as if whatever journey a person is on will come with some level of pleasantness. In regard to the story, this could be at odds with the roughness of the journeys of both Bilbo and the Fellowship, but it could also be further foreshadowing for the pleasantness that come at the end of the story. The characters endure struggles, but they are united with faithful companions and traveling on journeys that are saturated in hope. Even in the midst of the struggles then, there is beauty, comfort, and togetherness to make the journeys worthwhile things.

Related poetry:   I Sit and Think by J.R.R. Tolkien

Essentially, the interplay of strife and contentment is a genius move to encompass the entirety of the One Ring’s tale, but also the journey of life as well. There is so much struggle and so many unknowns, but possibility and triumph make life a joyous place that “goes ever ever on.”

 

Second Stanza

By repeating the notion that “[r]oads go ever ever on,” Tolkien has again grounded the reader in the central ideas of going on a journey and the infinite nature of that journey. For this stanza, though, the idea of “home” comes into significant play. According to Tolkien, “wandering” “feet” will return “at last to home afar.” What this entails is that even the person who leaves “home” for an epic journey is still grounded in his “home,” even if that “home” has become a “far” away concept. When that return occurs, that person can “[l]ook at last on meadows green [a]nd trees and hills they long have known.”

This indicates familiarity that is sensible since people “long have known” the sights of their “home,” and this is in addition to the pleasantries of that “home” that are represented in the picturesque qualities of “meadows” “[a]nd trees” that are lively and “green.” It is a true vision of beauty to return to, and it gives reason for the contentment addressed in the first stanza, despite the struggles of life. Should a person have such a place to return to, after all, the journey would have a pleasant end. To the average person, this indicates that a pleasant place to end the journey can bring hope and happiness—something to push toward that can make the journey worth enduring. Overall, as long as hope exists for a positive ending, the journey can be worthwhile and have a beautiful place of wonder and comfort to return to—like “home.”

In regard to the story, once more, this stanza again foreshadows what is to come and reflects on what has happened. Specifically, “[e]yes that fire” are like a dragon from Bilbo’s tales, and “sword have seen” touches on the importance of Isildur’s blade to the story. Still, “home” is a key quality because the hobbits within the Fellowship return there after the stresses of the journey. It is their place of comfort and their concept to fight for, making it both their motivation and ending hope.

Essentially, these two verses are both a representation of the past and present of the story for the characters involved, and also as a connection to the reader as a message of hope and possibility. To achieve both, as it happens, is a mark of genius from Tolkien.

 

About J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa, though his childhood days included sufficient time spent in England. In addition to being famous for his stories of Middle-earth, he also taught at Oxford University and was an active member of the military during WWI. He passed away in 1973.

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