The Bidding of the Minstrel
The short (36 lines in its final version) poem consists of an exhortation to recount the tale of "Eärendel the wandering", perhaps referring to Éalá Éarendel Engla Beorhtast composed earlier that year, and a reply from the eponymous minstrel. In total four drafts were written at St John Street, Oxford in the winter of 1914. Earlier titles were The Minstrel renounces the song and The Lay of Eärendel.
'Sing us yet more of Eärendel the wandering,
chant us a lay of his white-oared ship,
more marvellous-cunning than mortal man's pondering,
foamily musical out of the deep.
Sing us a tale of immortal sea-yearning
the Eldar one made ere the change of the light,
weaving a winelike spell, and a burning
wonder of spray and the odours of night;
of murmurous gloamings out on far oceans;
of his tossing at anchor off islets forlorn
to the unsleeping waves' never-ending sea-motions;
of bellying sails when a wind was born,
and the gurgling bubble of tropical water
tinkled from under the ringéd stem,
and thousands of miles was his ship from those wrought her
a petrel, a sea-bird, a white-wingéd gem,
gallantry bent on measureless faring
ere she came homing in sea-laden flight,
circuitous, lingering, restlessly daring,
coming to haven unlooked for, at night.'
'But the music is broken, the words half-forgotten,
the sunlight was faded, the moon is grown old,
the Elven ships foundered or weed-swathed and rotten,
the fire and the wonder of hearts is acold.
Who now can tell, and what harp can accompany
with melodies strange enough, rich enough tunes,
pale with the magic of cavernous harmony,
loud with shore-music of beaches and dunes,
how slender his boat; of what glimmering timber;
how ther sails were all silvern and taper her mast,
and silver her throat with foam and her limber
flanks as she swanlike floated past!
The song I can sing is but shreds one remembers
Of golden imaginings fashioned in sleep,
A whispered tale told by the withering embers
Of old things far off that but few hearts keep.'