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Lay of Leithian Canto I

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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 first Canto of the Lay of Leithian tells of Elu Thingol, and Lúthien Tinúviel and Doriath. It runs to 98 lines, one of the shorter cantos if not the shortest save the unfinished last one.

The Canto

A king there was in days of old;
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern’s shad,
his hand was over glen and glade.
His shields were shining as the moon
his lances keen of steel were hewn,
of silver grey his crown was wrought
the starlight in his banners caught;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the stars in challenge strong;
enchantment did his real enfold,
where might and glory, wealth untold,
he wielded from his ivory throne
in many-pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes’ mail
buckler and corselet, ade and sword
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard–
all these he had and loved them less
than a maiden once in Elfinesse;
for fairer than are born to Men
a daughter had he, Lúthien
such lissom limbs no more shall run
on the green earth beneath the sun;
so fair a maid no more shall be
from dawn to dusk, from sun to sea.
Her robe was blue as summer skies
but gray as evening were here eyes;
‘twas sewn with golden lilies fair
but dark as shadow was her hair.
Her feet were light as bird on wing
her laughter lighter than the spring;
the slender willow, the bowing reed
the fragrance of a flowering mead
the light upon the leaves of trees
the voice of water, more than these
her beauty was and blissfulness
her glory and her loveliness;
and her the king more dear did prize
than hand or heart or light of eyes.
They dwelt amid Beleriand
while Elfin power yet held the land
in the woven woods of Doriath;
few ever thither found the path;
few ever dared the forest-eaves
to pass, or stir the listening leaves
with tongue of hounds a-hunting fleet
with horse, or horn, or mortal feet.
To North there lay the Land of Dread
whence only evil pathways led
o’er hills of shadow bleak and cold
or Taur-nu-Fuin’s haunted hold
where Deadly Nightshade lurked and lay
and never came or moon or day
to South the wide earth unexplored;
to West the ancient Ocean roared
unsailed and shoreless, wide and wild;
to East in peaks of blue were piled
in silence folded, mist-enfurled,
the mountains of the Outer World,
beyond the tangled woodland shade
thorn and thicket, grove and glade
whose brooding boughs with magic hung
were ancient when the world was young.
There Thingol in the Thousand Caves
whose portals pale that river laves
Esgalduin that fairies call
in many a tall and torchlit hall
a dark and hidden king did dwell
lord of the forest and the fell;
and sharp his sword and high his helm
the king of beech and oak and elm.
There Lúthien the lissom maid
would dance in dell and grassy glade
and music merrily, thin and clear,
went down the ways, more fair than ear
of mortal Men at feast hath heard
and fairer than the song of bird.
When leaves were long and grass was green
then Dairon with fingers lean
as daylight melted into shade
a wandering music sweetly bade
enchanted fluting, warbling wild
for love of Thingol’s elfin child.
There bow was bent and shaft was sped
the fallow deer as phantoms fled
and horses proud with branded mane
with shining bit and silver rein
went fleeting by on moonlit night
as swallows arrow-swift in flight;
a blowing and a sound of bells
a hidden hunt in hollow dells.
There songs were made and things of gold
and silver cups and jewels untold
and the endless years of Faëry land
rolled over far Beleriand
until a day beneath the sun
when many marvels were begun.

Concerning the Canto

This canto starts out with one of the more popular paragraphs, concerning Thingol. The descriptions of jewels is contrasted with the love of his daughter, whose description soon follows. Then it introduces Endor, and orients the reader. Note the reference to fairies, not uncommon in older works. It speaks of Dairon, whose name was later spelled Daeron, but more is said of him in a later paragraph. One thing about the Lay is that it commonly connects Beleriand and Faërie. One line that is not in this canto but used in several others is Beleriand, Beleriand/borders of the faëry land.