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 and consists of 587 words, the shortest canto save the last, unfinished one.

Concerning the Canto

This canto starts out with one of the more popular paragraphs, concerning Thingol.

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould...
—vv. 1-2

The descriptions of jewels is contrasted with the love of his daughter, whose description soon follows.

There beryl, pearl, and opal pale

and metal wrought like fishes' mail
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.
—vv. 15-6, 19-22

Then it introduces Endor and orients the reader.

To North there lay the Land of Dread

whence only evil pathways led
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...
—vv. 49-50, 55-58

Note the reference below to fairies, not uncommon in older works. One thing about the Lay is that it commonly connects Beleriand and Faërie.

Esgalduin that fairies call
in many a tall and torchlit hall
—vv. 67-68

Note also that the name of Dairon is spelt here with an "i", as opposed to Daeron of later works.

When leaves were long and grass was green

then Dairon with his fingers lean,
as daylight melted into shade,

a wandering music sweetly made...
—vv. 79-82

It ends on a note of change, signifying the end of the introduction and the beginning of the tale.

...until a day beneath the sun,
when many marvels were begun.
—vv. 97-98

The Canto

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in caverns' shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.
Of leaves his crown, his mantle green,
his silver lances long and keen;
the starlight in his shield was caught,
ere moon was made or sun was wrought.

In after-days, when to the shore
of Middle-earth from Valinor
the Elven-hosts in might returned,
and banners flew and beacons burned,
when kings of Eldamar went by
in strength of war, beneath the sky
then still his silver trumpets blew
when sun was young and moon was new.
Afar then in Beleriand,
in Doriath's beleaguered land,
King Thingol sat on guarded throne
in many-pillared halls of stone:
there beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard:
all these he had and counted small,
for dearer than all wealth in hall,
and 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 grey as evening were her eyes;
her mantle sewn with lilies fair,
but dark as shadow was her hair.
Her feet were swift as bird on wing,
her laughter merry as 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.

She dwelt in the enchanted land
while elven-might yet held in hand
the woven woods of Doriath:
none ever thither found the path
unbidden, none the forest-eaves
dared pass, or stir the listening leaves.
To North there lay a land of dread,
Dungortheb where all ways were dead
in hills of shadow bleak and cold;
beyond was Deadly Nightshade's hold
in Taur-nu-Fuin's fastness grim,
where sun was sick and moon was dim.
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.

Thus Thingol in his dolven hall
amid the Thousand Cavers tall
of Menegroth as king abode:
to him there led no mortal road.
Beside him sat his deathless queen,
fair Melian, and wove unseen
nets of enchantment round his throne,
and spells were laid on tree and stone:
sharp was his sword and high his helm,

the king of beech and oak and elm.
When grass was green and leaves were long,
when finch and mavis sang their song,
there under bough and under sun
in shadow and in light would run
fair Lúthien the elven-maid,
dancing in dell and grassy glade.

When sky was clear and stars were keen,
then Daeron with his fingers lean,
as daylight melted into eve,
a trembling music sweet would weave
of flutes of silver, thin and clear
for Lúthien, the maiden dear.

There mirth there was and voices bright;
there eve was peace and morn was light;
there jewel gleamed and silver wan
and gold on graceful fingers shone,
and elanor and niphredil
bloomed in the grass unfading still,
while the endless years of Elven-land
rolled over far Beleriand,
until a day of doom befell,
as still the elven-harpers tell.