From Tolkien Gateway

Errantry is a Hobbit poem which was evidently composed by Bilbo Baggins, shortly after his return from the Lonely Mountain in T.A. 2941,[1] and probably having heard Elvish tales of the First Age, but without treating them seriously. The attribution to Bilbo is made because of its similarity to the Song of Eärendil, which is believed to be a version of this poem, transformed and applied to the legend of Eärendil.[2]

While it referred to original Elvish names, they were probably fictitious.


Errantry was actually one of the cyclical nonsense poems which amused Hobbits, although this one is the longest and most elaborate of the kind found in the Red Book.[2]

The poem has complex trisyllabic (near-)assonances[3] with an original metre invented by Bilbo, and was obviously proud of them. Such do not appear in other pieces in the Red Book.[2]

Each stanza is supposed to be read first at speed and then slow down to pronounce words with clarity, with the exception of the last stanza that must begin slowly.[4]


In the beginning of the poem, the protagonist prepares to go on an adventure, building a boat filled with “yellow oranges and porridge”. The protagonist heads off, calling upon the winds of argosies to help him pass seventeen rivers in his way. After crossing the final river, Derrilyn, he abandoned the boat to cross on foot through meadows to the nearby Shadow-land, before moving along again. Eventually, the protagonist took a rest, deciding to sing.[5]

List of terms

Below is a list of terms that are used within the poem.


Tolkien felt the need to compose the poem in an attempt to use the model of the nursery rhyme What is the rhyme to porringer?[4][10] The meter is his own invention (using trisyllabic assonances or near-assonances) and never wrote another in this style.[3] 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.

It is a three-page long poem first published on 9 November 1933 in The Oxford Magazine. Tolkien himself considered it his most attractive poem.


Warren Lewis (brother of C.S. Lewis) found it "excellent in itself" and considered Tolkien's metric invention very interesting and "a real discovery"[11]

By 1950 the poem became famous outside Tolkien's environment and circulated anonymously in print and "folklore": a lady unknown to Tolkien heard it somewhere and was so taken by the words that traced its origin to the English Universities and ultimately to Tolkien, surprising him. Comparing the version the lady knew against the original, Tolkien noticed that the "hard words" are preserved more in the "oral tradition".[3]

This poem was set to music by Donald Swann. The sheet music and an audio recording are part of the song-cycle The Road Goes Ever On.[12]

See also