Tolkien Gateway

Lay of Leithian Canto III

Lúthien by Ted Nasmith
Lay of Leithian cantos
  1. Canto I
  2. Canto II
  3. Canto III
  4. Canto IV
  5. Canto V
  6. Canto VI
  7. Canto VII
  8. Canto VIII
  9. Canto IX
  10. Canto X
  11. Canto XI
  12. Canto XII
  13. Canto XIII
  14. Canto XIV

This Canto starts out with the tale of Thingol and Melian. Then it gives a description of Lúthien their daughter, and tells how Beren watched in amazement. Dairon warns Lúthien, and she hides, but Beren touches her arm by accident. Again Beren searches, and months later catches her again, naming her Tinúviel. Below is recounted the second meeting.

The Canto

There once, and long and long ago
before the sun and moon we know
were lit to sail above the world
when first the shaggy woods unfurled
and shadowy shapes did stare and roam
beneath the dark and starry dome
that hung above the dawn of Earth
the silences with silver mirth
were shaken; the rocks were ringing
the birds of Melian were singing
the first to sing in mortal lands
the nightingales with her own hands
she fed, that fay of garments gray;
and dark and long her tresses lay
beneath her silver girdle’s seat
and down unto her silver feet.
She had wayward wandered on a time
from gardens of the Valar, to climb
the everlasting mountains free
that look upon the outmost sea
and never wandered back, but stayed
and softly sang from glade to glade.
Her voice it was that Thingol heard
and sudden singing of a bird
in that old time when new-come Elves
had all the wide world to themselves.
Yet all his kin now marched away
as old tales tell, to seek the bay
on the last shore of mortal lands
where mighty ships with magic hands
they made, and sailed beyond the sea.
The Valar them bade to lands of ease
and gardens fair, where earth and sky
together flow, and none shall die.
But Thingol stayed, enchanted, still
one moment to hearken to the thrill
of that sweet singing in the trees.
enchanted moments such as these
from gardens of the Lord of Sleep
where fountains play and shadows creep
do come, and count as many years
in mortal lands. With many tears
his people seek him ere they sail
while Thingol listens in the dale.
There after but an hour, him seems,
he finds her where she lies and dreams
pale Melian with her dark hair
upon a bed of leaves. Beware!
there slumber and a sleep is twined!
he touched her tresses and his mind
was drowned in the forgetful deep
and dark the years rolled o’er his sleep.
Thus Thingol sailed not on the seas
but dwelt amid the land of trees
and Melian he loved, divine
whose voice was potent as the wine
the Valar drink in golden halls
where flower blooms and fountain falls;
but when she sang it was a spell
and no flower stirred nor fountain fell.
A king and queen thus lived they long
and Doriath was filed with song
and all the Elves that missed their way
and never found the western bay
the gleaming walls of their long home
by the gray seas and the white foam
who never trod the golden land
where the towers of the Valar stand
all these were gathered in their realm
beneath the beech and oak and elm.
In later days when Morgoth first
fleeing the Valar, their bondage bust
and on the mortal lands set feet
and in the North his mighty seat
founded and fortified, and all
the newborn race of Men were thrall
unto his power, and Elf and Gnome
his slaves, or wandered without home
or scattered fastnesses walled with fear
upraised upon his borders drear
and each one fell, yet reigned there still
in Doriath beyond his will
Thingol and deathless Melian
whose magic yet no evil can
that cometh from without surpass.
Here still was laughter and green grass
and leaves were lit with the white sun
and many marvels were begun.
In sunshine and in sheen of moon
with silken robe and silver shoon
the daughter of the deathless queen
now danced on the undying green
half elven-fair and half divine;
and when the stars began to shine
unseen but near a piping woke
and in the branches of an oak
or seated on the beech-leaves brown
Dairon the dark with ferny crown
played with bewildering wizard’s art
music for breaking of the heart.
Such players have there only been
thrice in all Elfinesse, I ween:
Tinfang Gelion who still the moon
enchants on summer nights of June
and kindles the pale firstling star;
and he who harps upon the far
forgotten beaches and dark shores
where western foam for ever roars
Maglor whose voice is like the sea;
and Dairon, mightiest of the three.
Now it befell on summer night
upon a lawn where lingering light
yet lay and faded faint and gray
that Lúthien danced while he did play.
The chestnuts on the turf had shed
their flowering candles, white and red;
there darkling stood a silent elm
and pale beneath its shadow-helm
there glimmered faint the umbels thick
of hemlocks like a mist, and quick
the moths on pallid wings of white
with tiny eyes of fiery light
were fluttering softly, and the voles
crept out to listen from their holes;
the little owls were hushed and still;
the moon was yet behind the hill.
Her arms like ivory were gleaming
her long hair like a cloud was streaming
her feet atwinkle wandered roaming
in misty mazes in the gloaming;
and glowworms shimmered round her feet
and moths in moving garland fleet
above her head went wavering wan–
and this the moon now looked upon
uprisen slow, and round, and white
above the branches of the night.
Then clearly thrilled her voice and rang;
with sudden ecstasy she sang
a song of nightingales she learned
and with her elvish magic turned
to such bewildering delight
the moon hung moveless in the night.
And this it was that Beren heard
and this he saw, without a word
enchanted dumb, yet filled with fire
of such a wonder and desire
that all his mortal mind was dim;
her magic bound and fettered him
and faint he leaned against a tree.
Forwandered, wayworn, gaunt was he
his body sick and hear gone cold
gray his hair, his youth turned old;
for those that tread that lonely way
a price of woe and anguish pay.
And now his heart was healed and slain
with a new life and with new pain.
He gazed, and as he gazed her hair
within its cloudy web did snare
the silver moonbeams sifting white
between the leaves, and glinting bright
the tremulous starlight of the skies
was caught and mirrored in her eyes.
Then all his journey’s lonely fare
the hunger and the haggard care
the awful mountains’ stones he stained
with blood of weary feet, and gained
only a land of ghosts, and fear
in dark ravines imprisoned sheer–
there mighty spiders wove their webs
old creatures foul with birdlike nebs
that span their traps in dizzy air
and filled it with clinging black despair
and there they lived, and the sucked bones
lay white beneath on the dank stones–
now all these horrors like a cloud
faded from mind. The waters loud
falling from pineclad heights no more
he heard, those waters gray and frore
that bittersweet he drank and filled
his mind with madness – all was stilled.
He recked not now the burning road
the paths demented where he strode
endlessly … and ever new
horizons stretched before his view
as each blue ridge with bleeding feet
was climbed, and down he went to meet
battle with creatures old and strong
and monsters in the dark, and long
long watches in the haunted night
while evil shapes with baleful light
in clustered eyes did crawl and snuff
beneath his tree – not half enough
the price he deemed to come at last
to that pale moon when day had passed
to those clear stars of Elfinesse
the hearts-ease and the loveliness.
Lo! all forgetting he was drawn
unheeding toward the glimmering lawn
by love and wonder that pompelled
his feet from hiding; music welled
within his heart, and songs unmade
on themes unthought-of moved and swayed
his soul with sweetness; out he came
a shadow in moon’s pale flame–
and Dairon’s flute as sudden stops
as lark before it steeply drops
as grasshopper within the grass
listening for heavy feet to pass.
‘Flee, Lúthien!’, and ‘Lúthien!’
from hiding Dairon called again;
‘A stranger walked the woods! Away!’
But Lúthien would wondering stay;
fear had she never felt or known
till fear then seized her, all alone
seeing that shape with shagged hair
and shadow long that halted there.
Then suddenly she vanished like a dream
in dark oblivion, a gleam
in hurrying clouds, for she had leapt
among the hemlocks tall, and crept
under a mighty plant with leaves
all long and dark, whose stem in sheaves
upheld an hundred umbels fair;
and her white arms and shoulders bare
her raiment pale, and in her hair
the wild white roses glimmering there
all lay like spattered moonlight hour
in gleaming pools upon the floor.
Then stared he wild in dumbness bound
at silent trees, deserted ground;
he blindly groped across the glade
so the dark trees’ encircling shade
and, while she watched with veiled eyes
touched her soft arm in sweet surprise.
Like startled moth from deathlike sleep
in sunless nook or bushes deep
she darted swift, and to and fro
with cunning that elvish dancers know
about the trunks of trees she twined
a path fantastic. Far behind
enchanted, wildered and forlorn
Beren came blundering, bruised and torn;
Esgalduin the elven-stream
in which amid tree-shadows gleam
the stars, flowed strong before his feet.
Some secret way she found, and fleet
passed over and was seen no more
and left him forsaken on the shore.
‘Darkly the sundering flood falls past!
To this my long way comes at last–
a hunger and a loneliness
enchanted waters pitiless.’
A summer waned, and autumn glowed
and Beren in the woods abode
as wild and wary as a faun
that sudden wakes at rustling dawn
and flits from shade to shade, and flees
the brightness of the sun, yet sees
all stealthy movements in the wood.
The murmurous warmth in weathers good
the hum of many wings, the call
of many a bird, the pattering fall
of sudden rain upon the trees
the windy tide in leafy seas
the creaking of the boughs, he heard;
but not the song of sweetest bird
brought joy of comfort to his heart
a wanderer dumb who dwelt apart;
who sought unceasing and in vain
to hear and see those things again:
a song more fair than nightingale
a wonder in the moonlight pale.
An autumn waned, a winter laid
the withered leaves in grove and glade;
the beeches bare were gaunt and gray
and red their leaves beneath them lay.
From cavern pale the moist moon eyes
the white mists that from earth arise
to hide the morrow’s sun and drip
all the gray day from each twig’s tip.
By dawn and dusk he seeks her still;
by noon and night in valleys chill
nor hears a sound but the slow beat
on sodden leaves of his own feet.
The wind of winter winds his horn;
the misty veil is rent and torn.
The wind dies; the starry choirs
leap in the silent sky to fires
whose light comes bitter-cold and sheer
through domes of frozen crystal clear.
A sparkle through the darkling trees
a piercing glint of light he sees
and there she dances all alone
upon a treeless knoll of stone!
Her mantle blue with jewels white
caught all the rays of frosted light.
She shone with cold and wintry flame
as dancing down the hill she came
and passed his watchful silent gaze
a glimmer as of stars ablaze.
And snowdrops sprang beneath her feet
and one bird, sudden, late and sweet
shrilled as she wayward passed along.
A frozen brook to bubbling song
awoke and laughed; but Beren stood
still bound enchanted in the wood.
Her starlight faded and the night
closed o’er the snowdrops glimmering white.
Thereafter on a hillock green
he saw far off the elven-sheen
of shining limb and jewel bright
often and oft on moonlit night;
and Dairon’s pipe awoke once more
and soft she sang as once before.
Then nigh he stole beneath the trees
and heartache mingled with hearts-ease.
A night there was when winter died;
then all alone she sand and cried
and danced until the dawn of spring
and chanted some wild magic thing
that stirred him, till it sudden broke
the bonds that held him, and he woke
to madness sweet and brave despair.
He flung his arms to the night air
and out he danced unheeding fleet
enchanted , with enchanted feet.
He sped towards the hillock green
the lissom limbs, the dancing sheen;
he leapt upon the grassy hill
his arms with loveliness to fill:
his arms were empty, and she fled;
away, away her white feet sped.
But as she went he swiftly came
and called her with the tender name
of nightingales in elvish tongue
that all the woods now sudden rung:
‘Tinúviel! Tinúviel!’
And clear his voice was as a bell;
its echoes wove a binding spell:
‘Tinúviel! Tinúviel!’
His voice such love and longing filled
one moment stood she, fear was stilled;
one moment only; like a flame
he leaped towards her as she stayed
and caught and kissed that elfin maid.
As love there woke in sweet surprise
the starlight trembled in her eyes.
A! Lúthien! A! Lúthien!
more fair than any child of Men;
O! loveliest maid of Elfinesse
what madness does thee now possess!
A! lissom limbs and shadowy hair
and chaplet of white snowdrops there;
O! starry diadem and white
pale hands beneath the pale moonlight!
She left his arms and slipped away
just at the breaking of the day.

Concerning the Canto

This canto, in contrast to the previous one, shows peace and hope, and the beauty of Doriath. It tells of the meeting and love of Thingol and Melian, mirroring in a way the future meeting and love of Beren and Lúthien; one elf to maia, the other man to elf. This canto also includes the short paragraph about the minstrels: Tinfang Gelion, Maglor, and Dairon, the first of which has only this place laid aside for him in all the known writings of Tolkien. Beren's mixture of sorrow and bliss and the fleeing of Lúthien is shown, and at the last when he catches her in the vivid description of her dancing it culumnates. Then is a paragraph unlike the rest of the Lay, unless it were Thingol's thoughts of pity on Lúthien; a sort of cry from the poet to the one he writes about, asking her why she took her doom, and left elven immortality. On a final note, she slips away "just at the breaking of the day".