Tolkien Gateway

Lay of Leithian Canto IV

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 first speaks of Beren: “He lay upon the leafy mould/his face upon earth’s bosom cold/aswoon with overwhelming bliss/enchanted of an elven kiss”. Then it tells of Lúthien’s return and their dance, and how Dairon espied them, and as he loved Lúthien he betrayed them to Thingol. Then how Lúthien led Beren into Menegroth after Thingol promised her that his life would be spared. There he requested the hand of Lúthien, and Thingol, as he was bound to his oath not to harm Beren, in his wrath gave the bride-price as a Silmaril. Then Beren laughed as if it were a small thing, and left the hall with the promise to bring one back. This fourth canto can be considered the true beginning of the quest.

The Canto

He lay upon the leafy mould
his face upon the earth’s bosom cold
aswoon in overwhelming bliss
enchanted of an elvish kiss
seeing within his darkened eyes
the light that for no darkness dies
though all in ashes cold be laid.
Then folded in the mists of sleep
he sank into abysses deep
drowned in an overwhelming grief
for parting after meeting brief;
a shadow and a fragrance fair
lingered, and waned, and was not there.
Forsaken, barren, bare as stone
the daylight found him cold, alone.
‘Where art thou gone? The day is bare
the sunlight dark and cold the air!
Tinúviel, where went thy feet?
O wayward star! O maiden sweet!
O flower of Elfland all too fair
for mortal heart! The woods are bare!
The woods are bare!’ he rose and cried.
‘Ere spring was born, the spring hath died!’
And wandering in path and mind
he groped as one gone sudden blind
who seeks to grasp the hidden light
with faltering hands in more than night.
And thus in anguish Beren paid
for that great doom upon him laid,
the deathless love of Lúthien,
too fair for love of mortal Men;
and in his doom was Lúthien snared,
the deathless in his dying shared;
and Fate them forged a binding chain
of living love and mortal pain.

Beyond all hope her feet returned
at eve, when in the sky there burned
the flame of stars; and in her eyes
there trembled the starlight of the skies,
and from her hair the fragrance fell
of elvenflowers in elven-dell.

Thus Lúthien, whom no pursuit,
no snare, no dart that hunters shoot,
might hope to win or hold, she came
at the sweet calling of her name;
and thus in his her slender hand
was linked in far Beleriand;
in hour enchanted long ago
her arms about his neck did go,
and gently down she drew to rest
his weary head upon her breast.
A! Lúthien, Tinúviel,
why wentest thou to darkling dell
with shining eyes and dancing pace,
the twilight glimmering in thy face?
Each day before the end of eve
she sought her lover, nor would him leave,
until the stars were dimmed, and day
came glimmering eastward silver-gray.
Then trembling-veiled she would appear
and dance before him, half in fear;
there flitting just before his feet
she gently chid with laughter sweet;
‘Come! dance now, Beren, dance with me!
For fain thy dancing I would see.
Come! thou must woo with nimbler feet,
than those who walk where mountains meet
the bitter skies beyond this realm
of marvelous moonlit beech and elm.’
In Doriath Beren long ago
new art and lore he learned to know;
his limbs were freed; his eyes alight.
kindled with a new enchanted sight;
and to her dancing feet his feet
attuned went dancing free and fleet;
his laughter welled as from a spring
of music, and his voice would sing
as voices of those in Doriath
where paved with flowers are floor and path.
The year thus on to summer rolled,
from spring to a summertime of gold.

Thus fleeting fast their short hour flies,
while Dairon watches with fiery eyes,
haunting the gloom of tangled trees
all day, until at night he sees
in the fickle moon their moving feet,
two lovers linked in dancing sweet,
two shadows shimmering on the green
where lonely-dancing maid had been.
‘Hateful art thou, O Land of Trees!
May fear and silence on thee seize!
My flute shall fall from idle hand
and mirth shall leave Beleriand;
music shall perish and voices fail
and trees stand dumb in dell and dale!’

It seemed a hush had fallen there
upon the waiting woodland air;
and often murmured Thingol’s folk
in wonder, and to their king they spoke:
‘This spell of silence who hath wrought?
What web hath Dairon’s music caught?
It seems the very birds sing low;
murmurless Esgalduin doth flow;
the leaves scarce whisper on the trees,
and soundless beat the wings of bees!’

This Lúthien heard, and there the queen
her sudden glances saw unseen.
But Thingol marvelled, and he sent
for Dairon the piper, ere he went
and sat upon his mounded seat—
his grassy throne by the grey feet
of the Queen of Beeches, Hirilorn,
upon whose triple piers were borne
the mightiest vault of leaf and bough
from world’s beginning until now.
She stood above Esgalduin’s shore,
where long slope sfell beside the door,
the guarded gates, the portals stark
of the Thousand echoing Caverns dark.
There Thingol sat and heard no sound
save far off footsteps on the ground;
no flute, no voice, no song of bird,
no choirs of windy leaves there stirred;
and Dairon coming no word spoke,
silent amid the woodland folk.
Then Thingol said: ‘O Dairon fair,
thou master of all musics rare,
O magic heart and wisdom wild,
whose ear nor eye may be beguiled,
what omen doth this silence bear?
What horn afar upon the air,
what summons do the woods await?
Mayhap the Lord Tavros from his gate
and tree-propped halls, the forest-god,
ride his wild stallion golden-shod
amid the trumpets’ tempest loud,
amid his green-clad hunters proud,
leaving his deer and friths divine
and emerald forests? Some faint sign
of his great onset may have come
upon the Western winds, and dumb
the woods now listen for a chase
that here once more shall thundering race
beneath the shadoe of mortal trees.
Would it were so! The Lands of Ease
hath Tavros left not many an age,
since Morgoth evil wars did wage,
since ruin fell upon the North
and the Gnomes unhappy wandered forth.
But if not he, who comes or what?’
And Dairon answered: ‘He cometh not!
No feet divine shall leave that shore,
where the Shadowy Seas’ last surges roar,
and many evils wrought. Alas!
the guest is here. The woods are still,
but wait not; for a marvel chill
them holds at the strange deeds they see,
but kings see not—though queens, maybe,
may guess, and maidens, maybe, know.
Where one went lonely two now go!’

‘Whither thy riddle points is plain’
the king in anger said, ‘but deign
to make it plainer! Who is he
that earns my wrath? How walks he free
within my woods amid my folk,
a stranger to both beech and oak?’
But Dairon looked upon Lúthien
and would he had not spoken then,
and no more would he speak that day,
Though Thingol’s face with wraith was grey.
Then Lúthien stepped lightly forth:
‘Far in the mountain-leaguered North,
my father,’ said she, ‘lies the land
that groans beneath King Morgoth’s hand.
Thence came one hither, bent and worn
in wars and travail, who had sworn
undying hatred of that king;
the last of Bëor’s sons, they sing,
and even hither far and deep
within thy woods the echoes creep
through the wild mountain-passes cold,
the last of Bëor’s house to hold
a sword unconquered, neck unbowed,
a heart by evil power uncowed.
No evil needst thou think of fear
of Beren son of Barahir!
If aught thou hast to say to him
then swear to hurt not flesh or limb,
and I will lead him to thy hall,
a son of kings, no mortal thrall.’
Then long King Thingol looked on her
while hand nor foot nor tongue did stir,
and Melian, silent, unamazed,
on Lúthien and Thingol gazed.
‘No blade nor chain his limbs shall mar’
the king then swore. ‘He wanders far,
and news, mayhap, he hath for me,
and words I have for him, maybe!’
Now Thingol bade them all depart
save Dairon, whom he called: ‘What art.
what wizardry of Northern mist
hath this illcomer brought us? List!
Tonight go thou by secret path,
who knowest all wide Doriath and watch that Lúthien—daughter mine,
what madness doth thy heart entwine,
what web from Morgoth’s dreadful halls
that caught thy feet and the enthralls!—
that she bid not this Beren flee
back whence he came. I would him see!
Take with thee woodland archers wise.
Let naught beguile your hearts or eyes!’

Unfinished - to be continued