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Once upon a Time

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Once upon a Time is a poem consisting of three stanzas, written by J.R.R. Tolkien. The poem tells a story about Goldberry, Tom, and the lintips.[1]

The poem could probably be a reworking of the earlier An Evening in Tavrobel.[2]

It was first published in October 1965 within Winter's Tales for Children 1 (pp. 44-5). In 1969 it was published in the collection The Young Magicians (p. 255-6). In 2013, the poem was published in Tolkien Studies: Volume 10 together with an introduction and comments by Kris Swank.

The Poem

Once upon a day on the fields of May
There was snow in summer were the blossoms lay;
the buttercups tall sent up there light
in a steam of gold, and wide and white
there opened in the green grass-skies
the earth-stars with their steady eyes
watching the Sun climb up and down.
Goldberry was there with a wild-rose crown,
Goldberry was there in a lady-smock
blowing away a dandelion clock,
stooping over a lily-pool
and twiddling the water green and cool
to see it sparkle round her hand:
once upon a time in elvish land.

Once upon a night in the cockshut light
the grass was grey but the dew was whight;
shadows were dark, and the Sun was gone,
the earth-stars shut, but the high stars shone,
one to another winking their eyes
as they waited for the Moon to rise.
Up he came, and on leaf and grass
his white beams turned to twinkling glass,
and silver dripped from stem and stalk
down to where the lintips walk
through the grass-forests gathering dew.
Tom was there without boot or shoe,
with moonshine wetting his big brown toes:
once upon a time, the story goes.

Once upon a moon on the brink of June
a-dewing the lintips went too soon.
Tom stopped and listened, and down he knelt:
'Ha! little lads! So it was you I smelt?
What a mousy smell! Well, this dew is sweet,
So drink it up, but mind my feet!'
The lintips laughed and stole away,
but old Tom said: 'I wish they'd stay!
The only things that won't talk to me,
say what they do or what they be.
I wonder what they have got to hide?
Down from the Moon maybe they slide,
or come in star-winks, I don't know'.
Once upon a time and long ago.

See also


  1. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: II. Reader's Guide, p. 689
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (eds), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Once upon a Time and An Evening in Tavrobel", p. 284