From Tolkien Gateway

Imram (The Death of Saint Brendan) is a poem written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in Time and Tide on 3 December 1955.[1] The title is Irish for "voyage"; Immrama were Celtic tales about Irish explorers who sought the Land of Promise in the Atlantic.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

In his deathbed, Saint Brendan is questioned by a disciple about his sea travels to the west. He does not remember much, save for a Cloud, a Tree and a Star. Sailing with his company, he had travelled for a year when they were covered by a Cloud. This came from a very high mountain that rose shoreless in the sea, the remnants of a land of powerful kings. They kept sailing till the Cloud was left behind, reaching a beautiful isle. Landing there, they crossed a silent dale and found a giant Tree with white leaves and a trunk as a tower. Brendan and his company felt they were in a dream and wished to remain there, but then the Tree shook. Leaves felt and a song from the Elvenkind was sung from high. Brendan's disciple asks him about the Star, and he explains that he saw it after they crossed a old road above the round world. The disciple insists on knowing what he saw beyond in the Living Land, as it is said Brendan was the only one who visited it, but Brendan answers that if he wants to know that land full of flowers, "in a boat then, brother, far afloat / you must labour in the sea, / and find for yourself things out of mind: / you will learn no more of me." Then Saint Brendan died and journed where no ship can return.

History of composition[edit | edit source]

Tolkien first composed the poem to be included in The Notion Club Papers (1945), in which Philip Frankley is the author and reads it to the Club. This causes amazement to Lowdham, which comments the correlations of the poem with his mind exploration of the Atlantis mythos.[2] As Christopher Tolkien comments, his father put a great effort in the composition of the poem before and after, as it is reflected in the several versions of the poem. The first text was titled The Ballad of St. Brendan's Death, while the following versions were The Death of Saint Brendan. Some of these versions were included in the narrative of different manuscripts of The Notion Club Papers. Tolkien kept reworking the poem with the title Imram till it was published in Time and Tide in 1955. Christopher included the full poem in Sauron Defeated, as it was hard to find.[3]

First stanza[edit | edit source]

At last out of the deep sea he passed,
and mist rolled on the shore;
under clouded moon the waves were loud,
as the laden ship him bore
to Ireland, back to wood and mire
and the tower tall and grey,
where the knell of Clúain-ferta's bell
tolled in green Galway.
Where Shannon down to Lough Derg ran
under a rain-clad sky
Saint Brendan came to his journey's end
to find the grace to die.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: I. Chronology, p. 480
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Sauron Defeated, "Part Two: The Notion Club Papers Part Two: Night 69", pp. 261-265
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Sauron Defeated, "Part Two: The Notion Club Papers Part Two: Note on 'The Death of Saint Brendan' with the text of the published form 'Imram'", pp. 295-296