Songs for the Philologists

From Tolkien Gateway
Songs for the Philologists
Songs for the Philologists 1936.png
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien, E.V. Gordon, and others
PublisherLondon: English Department, University College

Songs for the Philologists is a booklet containing thirty poems and songs, some of which are written by E.V. Gordon and J.R.R. Tolkien, others are folk songs from various traditions. It is perhaps the rarest and most difficult to find Tolkien related book, as it was printed privately in 1936 and has never been reprinted since.

The verses are written in a number of languages, including Modern English, Middle English, Old English, Old Norse (Icelandic and Swedish), Latin, and Gothic.

In 2023, a revised and edited transcript of the book was made available by Ronald Kyrmse (see the bottom of the page), with corrections based on The Road to Middle-earth (1982).[1]

Physical appearance[edit | edit source]

Songs for the Philologists is privately printed in the Department of English at University College, London, in 1936. It is the first and only edition, 8vo (214mm.), pp. iv, 30, [2]; orig. printed pale blue wrappers, saddle-stitched; with staples.

The text is in both English and Anglo-Saxon and is printed in both Roman and Anglo-Saxon types. On the verso of the title: "Printed by G. Tillotson, A.H. Smith, B. Pattison and other members of the English Department, University College, London." SUNY-Buffalo and Oxford University only in OCLC.[2]

Background[edit | edit source]

During his tenure at Leeds University, Tolkien formed, with Gordon, a society known as the "Viking Club" devoted to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer. Sometime in 1934, Tolkien and Gordon prepared a set of typescripts of verses, including original compositions of their own devising as well as traditional songs in Old and Modern English and other languages. The typescripts were distributed to students from the club for their amusement.[3]

Among those who received copies was former student A.H. Smith, then of University College London, who used his copies of the typescripts as a printing exercise for his own students in 1936. An unknown (but undoubtedly small) number of pamphlets were hand-set and privately printed by students on a replica wooden common press (not unlike the replica press located on the 2nd floor of U.Va.’s Alderman Library in the Stettinius Gallery). Smith realized, after the pamphlets had already been printed, that he had not obtained permission from Tolkien and Gordon, so the pamphlet was never distributed. Instead, copies were kept in storage at the pressrooms on Gower Street.

The building was bombed in WWII. The pressrooms burned, along with the presses and any stock stored on the premises. The only copies of the pamphlet that survived were those that had been taken by the students who printed it. It is not known how many copies survived, though H. Winifred Husbands, one of the students involved in the printing, has estimated the number to be no less than thirteen.[4]

Tolkien's songs[edit | edit source]

The Root of the Boot as printed in the book

Of the 30 poems and songs in the collection, 13 were contributed by Tolkien:
("#" indicates the order of appearance)

  1. From One to Five #8 — tune: Three Wise Men of Gotham.
  2. Syx Mynet #9 — in Old English, tune: I Love Sixpence.
  3. Ruddoc Hana #10 — in Old English, tune: Who Killed Cock Robin?
  4. Ides Ælfscýne #12 — in Old English, tune: Daddy Neptune, translated as "Elf-fair Lady" by T. Shippey.
  5. Bagme Bloma #13 — in Gothic, tune: O Lazy Sheep!, translated as "Flower of the Trees" by T. Shippey.
  6. Éadig Béo Þu! #14 — in Old English, tune: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, translated as "Good Luck to You" by T. Shippey.
  7. Ofer Wídne Gársecg #15 — in Old English, tune: The Mermaid, translated as "Across the Broad Ocean" by T. Shippey.
  8. La, Huru #17 — in Old English, tune: O'Reilly.
  9. I Sat Upon a Bench #19 — tune: The Carrion Crow.
  10. Natura Apis: Morali Ricardi Eremite #20 — tune: O'Reilly.
  11. The Root of the Boot #22 — tune: The Fox Went Out, an early version of The Stone Troll.
  12. Frenchmen Froth #26 — tune: The Vicar of Bray.
  13. Two Little Schemes: Lit' and Lang' #28 — tune: Polly Put the Kettle On.

Four of the songs (Bagme Bloma, Éadig Béo Þu!, Ides Ælfscýne, and Ofer Wídne Gársecg) were reprinted, with Modern English translations, in Tom Shippey's book The Road to Middle-earth. Shippey had also incorporated the revisions and changes to these songs made by Tolkien himself.[5]

The remaining songs[edit | edit source]

A device on the back cover, used by the print shop of University College
  1. Grace #1 — tune: The King of France.
  2. Fara Með Vikingum #2 — in Icelandic, "To Go with the Vikings".
  3. Ja, Lattu Gamminn #3 — in Icelandic.
  4. Bring Us In Good Ale #4
  5. Bjort Mey Og Hrein #5 — in Icelandic.
  6. Rokkvisa #6 — in Icelandic, "Rock-song".
  7. Olafur Liljuros #7 — in Icelandic.
  8. Gaudeamus #11 — in Latin, "Let Us Rejoice".
  9. Icelandic Song #16 — in Icelandic, tune: O'Reilly.
  10. Su Klukka Heljar #18 — in Icelandic, "That Bell of Hell", tune: The Bells of Hell, by E.V. Gordon.
  11. Gubben Noach #21 — in Swedish, "Old Man Noah", with an Icelandic translation.
  12. Bi, Bi Og Blaka #23 — in Icelandic.
  13. Guþ Let [Vinper] Vaxa #24 — in Icelandic, tune: Laus Deo.
  14. Salve! #25 — in Latin, "Greetings!"
  15. When I'm Dead [Hwan Ic Beo Dead] #27 — in Old English, Scots, and Gothic, by E.V. Gordon.
  16. Visur Islendinga #29 — in Icelandic, "Icelandic Song".
  17. Gomul Kynni #30 — in Icelandic.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. E.V. Gordon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ronald Kyrmse (ed.) Songs for the Philologists
  2. Collier, P. "Songs for the Philologists (20.02.05 by Pieter Collier)" (accessed 14 September, 2022)
  3. Carpenter, H. [1977] J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography pp. 112
  4. Schwartzburg, M. "This Just In: A Tolkien Black Swan" (accessed 14 September, 2022)
  5. Shippey, T. [1982] "Appendix B "Four 'Asterisk' Poems"". The Road to Middle-earth pp. 227