Compare and Contrast…

9 09 2011

The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.

… A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

… The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies the crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 1995), 308-309.


אדון עולם אשר מלך בטרם כל יציר נברא
לעת נעשה בחפצו כל אזי מלך שמו נקרא
ואחרי ככלות הכל לבדו ימלוך נורא
והוא היה והוא הווה והוא יהיה התפארה
והוא אחד ואין שני להמשיל לו להחבירה
בלי ראשית בלי תכלית ולו העז והמשרה
והוא אלי וחי גואלי וצור חבלי בעת צרה
והוא נסי ומנוס לי מנת כוסי ביום אקרא
בידו אפקיד רוחי בעת אישן ואעירה
ועם רוחי גויתי יהוה לי ולא אירא

Adon ‘Olam




3 responses

10 09 2011

Tolkien’s skill with symbolism and reflection seems to have gone far beyond allegory, so Durin may represent many things. He is like Adam who ruled over unnamed creation-before-himself. He’s also the opposite of human or supernatural, “unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix” (Tolkien, ‘On Fairy-Stories’). He is a golden past age (now wilted) connected with kingship, which Tolkien seems to have portrayed in his broader work as a reflection of earth reigned by heaven. He is also a quality that waits or is desired to be re-awoken, a quality of desire that still exists and may in the future be consummated.

You could say that the one character of Durin conveys elements each of the creation, the king-creator and the human who praises. If so it seems best to compare the atmosphere and promise of the two texts rather than the roles of individual people. You find in both the sense of glory that existed and will exist again around the current state of nature. Each contains a notion of underlying goodness regardless of trouble. While the creator is left unspoken of in these stanzas, Durin’s youth and his reign (harmonious with creation, importantly) could be read to represent nature’s submission as part of its glory. There is also an essential sense of rebirth or awakening in both.

On the other hand, Tolkien is willing to portray divinity through a pantheistic mythological lens. He also gives a very sensate portrayal of eternal reality, known most intimately not beyond creation but within it.

11 09 2011
Simon Holloway

That was beautiful, and I’m so pleased that somebody took my tongue-in-cheek suggestion seriously. Your quote as regards “super” expressing a superlative prefix is excellent: what was he referring to? That strikes me as an apt description of Tom Bombadil – a protagonist whose presence in the story I have never particularly appreciated, and who seems to belong in a separate composition altogether. As for your final line, although it makes me think of his elves in particular, it reflects quite an interesting observation of his work in general.

Your second paragraph hit the nail on the head, and I would only add to that the metrical correlation. Both texts are comprised of lines possessing precisely four beats (I doubled up the lines in Adon ‘Olam for typographical purposes), which enables the first text to flow seamlessly into the second, or vice versa. I might also add the theme of loneliness, which has always struck me about both compositions.

Durin walks alone and names his world alone, then reigns (figuratively, then literally) as king without there being any indication – leastways, not in my truncated version – of his possessing subjects. The poem closes with a scene of desolation, although the only thing now missing is his presence. Likewise in Adon ‘Olam is there no reference to that which the king reigns over, save the presence of a first-person suffix that informs us in the final four lines of there being an additional subject. It is that subject, by the way, and not the poem’s primary subject, who experiences the sense of rebirth that you picked up on. As for the poem’s primary subject, of him and of Durin could be said the same:

“Alone he reigned before the earth was created, and alone he will reign hence: the king unchanged by the world he formed and unaffected by it.”

11 09 2011

The context in ‘On Fairy-Stories’ (which can be downloaded, is a typically imaginative piece of Tolkien’s academic work.
“Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.”
I agree that Tom Bombadil expresses this part of Tolkien’s imagination, whether or not he does so well for a reader who is not already aware of it. Durin is less limited to the archetype, while still being a personified aspect of nature. The name ‘Mirrormere’ is expressive in this.

The observation of loneliness is good. The aloneness feels very similar in each. You could say that the Durin poem is elegaic, though it has more joy and hope than a related poem like The Wanderer ( or The Ruin. If Durin’s walking alone is a timeless aspect of himself then your truncation heightens a sense that is already there, though he also doesn’t strike me as one who would hold himself back from full engagement and identification with his loyal folk.

Adon ‘Olam seems less an elegy and more a song of praise. For the speaker the sense is the opposite of loneliness, which could perhaps not be true if the king himself were wholly unchanged and unaffected by his creation? The sense is of loyalty and closeness rather than merely protection and commitment, even while the person or experience of that king outside creation (or, for Durin, the rest of creation) is hidden. Durin’s poem suggests that the end will not be like the beginning, since the forge and the harp are only waiting for him to awake. The first part of Adon ‘Olam implies the opposite, but perhaps that is the weight of the last half; you could compare it with Psalm 8.

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