Song of Eärendil

From Tolkien Gateway
Frodo's dream of Eärendil by Anke Eißmann

The Eärendillinwë,[1] also known as The Short Lay of Eärendel: Eärendillinwë,[2] was a song written by Bilbo and Aragorn, and sung by Bilbo when the Hobbits reached Rivendell.[3]

It is believed that the song is a reworking of an earlier nonsensical poem Errantry, most likely also composed by Bilbo after his return from the Quest for Erebor, lightheartedly incorporating Elvish elements. Perhaps because Bilbo was proud of Errantry's metrical devices, he transformed and (incongruously) applied that poem to the legends of the First Age.[4]

Division of the poem

  1. An introduction to Eärendil and the building of his ship
  2. A detailed description of him, the final line of which was supposedly influenced by Aragorn
  3. A description of his fruitless wanderings in search of Valinor
  4. How Elwing his wife flew to him in the form of a bird and bound the jewel to his forehead
  5. How he found Valinor
  6. Concerning his stay there
  7. How they built a new ship for him, and how Elbereth gave him wings
  8. How he left Valinor
  9. How he passed over Middle-earth and became a star

Meter and assonance

The meter is iambic tetrameter, like that of many of the poems in The Lord of the Rings. Like "Errantry", the poem also includes trisyllabic assonances.[5] These are units of three syllables in which the first and third syllables of one unit, which are accented, rhyme or off-rhyme with the first and third syllables of another. The off-rhymes are typically assonances, that is, matching vowel sounds, though some only have similar vowels, and often the consonants are similar or the same as well.

For example,

The winds of wrath came driving him,
and blindly in the foam he fled
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped.

Here "fled" rhymes with "sped", but in addition, the vowel of "foam" is the same as the first vowel of "homeward". Thus the matching units are "foam he fled" and "homeward sped". Another pair of matching units is "driving him" and "blindly in". Another is "errandless" and "[un]heralded".

The pattern is the same throughout the poem. In every set of four lines, the last three syllables of the first line match the second, third and fourth of the second line. The third and fourth lines have the same kind of matching. And the last three syllables of the second line match those of the fourth line, usually with an exact rhyme at the end.

Some American and Canadian readers may need it pointed out that in the standard pronunciation of England ("Received Pronunciation"), "paths" has the same vowel as the first syllable of "Tarmenel", and the second syllable of "beyond" has the same vowel as "strong". Likewise the first syllable of "arrows" has the same vowel as the first syllable of "dragon", "again" has the same accented vowel as "away", and "saw" has the same vowel as "shore".

An example where the vowels don't match exactly is "across" and "passed", though the sounds are similar and the "s" is repeated. The first four lines are especially atypical.

The poem

Eärendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan,
and light upon her banners laid.

In panoply of ancient kings,
in chainéd rings he armoured him;
his shining shield was scored with runes
to ward all wounds and harm from him;
his bow was made of dragon-horn,
his arrows shorn of ebony;
of silver was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony;
his sword of steel was valiant,
of adamant his helmet tall,
an eagle-plume upon his crest,
upon his breast an emerald.

Beneath the Moon and under star
he wandered far from northern strands,
bewildered on enchanted ways
beyond the days of mortal lands.
From gnashing of the Narrow Ice
where shadow lies on frozen hills,
from nether heats and burning waste
he turned in haste, and roving still
on starless waters far astray
at last he came to Night of Naught,
and passed, and never sight he saw
of shining shore nor light he sought.
The winds of wrath came driving him,
and blindly in the foam he fled
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped.

There flying Elwing came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the fire upon her carcanet.
The Silmaril she bound on him
and crowned him with the living light
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow; and in the night
from Otherworld beyond the Sea
there strong and free a storm arose,
a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
his boat it bore with biting breath
as might of death across the grey
and long forsaken seas distressed;
from east to west he passed away.

Through Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o'er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he heard on strands of pearl
where ends the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.
He saw the Mountain silent rise
where twilight lies upon the knees
of Valinor, and Eldamar
beheld afar beyond the seas.
A wanderer escaped from night
to haven white he came at last,
to Elvenhome the green and fair
where keen the air, where pale as glass
beneath the Hill of Ilmarin
a-glimmer in a valley sheer
the lamplit towers of Tirion
are mirrored on the Shadowmere.

He tarried there from errantry,
and melodies they taught to him,
and sages old him marvels told,
and harps of gold they brought to him.
They clothed him then in elven-white,
and seven lights before him sent,
as through the Calacirian
to hidden land forlorn he went.
He came unto the timeless halls
where shining fall the countless years,
and endless reigns the Elder King
in Ilmarin on Mountain sheer;
and words unheard were spoken then
of folk of Men and Elven-kin,
beyond the world were visions showed
forbid to those that dwell therein.

A ship then new they built for him
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him undying doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

From Evereven's lofty hills
where softly silver fountains fall
his wings him bore, a wandering light,
beyond the mighty Mountain Wall.
From World's End there he turned away,
and yearned again to find afar
his home through shadows journeying,
and burning as an island star
on high above the mists he came,
a distant flame before the Sun,
a wonder ere the waking dawn
where grey the Norland waters run.

And over Middle-earth he passed
and heard at last the weeping sore
of women and of elven-maids
in Elder Days, in years of yore.
But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbéd star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores where Mortals are;
for ever still a herald on
an errand that should never rest
to bear his shining lamp afar,
the Flammifer of Westernesse.


Eärendil derives from Tolkien's earlier poem Errantry (published 1933). In the drafts of The Fellowship of the Ring, Errantry evolved in stages, and reached its final published form after fifteen revisions.[6] Errantry was eventually republished in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Both Errantry and Eärendil use a meter of Tolkien's own invention: trisyllabic assonances or near-assonances.[5][7] This fact passed into the legendarium, as the Preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil says that Bilbo was probably proud of his meter and used it as a model for Earendil.

Other versions of the Legendarium

Among the various versions of the poem, there is one version which Christopher Tolkien believed that his father most likely intended for publication instead of the above version, which was published in The Fellowship of the Ring.[2][1]

See also

External links

  • Eärendillinwë, the latest form of the Song of Eärendil, which was not published in Fellowship