Tolkien has experienced a resurgence of interest in the last two decades-in a large part thanks to Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. However I do not wish to look at the movies, or indeed at any of Tolkien’s more prevalent work. I wish to focus on his poetry, the poems woven into the narrative of his popular novels (including revised versions published in The History of Middle-earth series) as well as his stand-alone pieces that may have little to do with Middle-earth and the accompanying characters. Tolkien was a medieval scholar at heart.
The languages and peoples he studied are the core of medieval studies around the world, and this shows in his own creative works, both in and out of Middle-earth. The epic, the elegy, the riddle and the lyrical poem are the most pre-dominate forms of medieval poetry, and Tolkien’s own poetry reflects its medieval roots. His lengthy poems tend to lean towards elegy or epic adventure with references to the fantastical. Tolkien writes amusing ditties and in-depth riddles, yet his long poems of epic adventures and inevitable fates are what capture my interest.
The poems are written in modern English (with an occasional foray into Elvish), yet they manage to convey a heaviness that seems present largely in medieval works. In a way his work ties in with some of the Victorians who availed the Middle-Ages for inspiration. One poem of his in particular, The Little House of Lost Play: Mar Vanwa Tyalieva, reminds me of Rossetti’s Goblin Market in form as they both call back to medieval children’s poems. Fangorn’s Song of Lore can be considered wisdom poetry, just as any of the Maxims, either the one from the Exeter book or Maxims II from a British Library manuscript (261).
Maxims II starts, “A King must rule a kingdom. Cities are visible from afar,/the skillful work of giants”. It is a poem that stated what was according to the writer. It goes on in this vain covering where fish out to be, and even how “Good must strive against evil”. The Maxims are wisdom and folklore passed down orally through the generations, and Tolkien’s poem does much the same. Fangorn’s Song of Lore describes the hierarchy and place of all that it lists, with, “Beaver the builder, buck the leaper,/Bear bee-hunter, boar the fighter”.
The goal of both poems is identical, to state or inform of fact. Medieval poetry and Tolkien is a topic that has been done quite often, but I plan to focus on analyzing only Tolkien’s poetry. I am not looking at the narrative the poems are present in, nor any characterization or action that occurs outside the poem. The stories the poems are woven into are not what I am interested in at this point. I will use other poems, such as Sir Orfeo or The Ruin, as a magnifying glass to look into Tolkien’s poetry.
Tolkien’s poetry has been looked at as part of his larger body of work and its role in narrative has been analyzed. I will use these analysis in my paper, but that will not be what I am doing. Tolkien writes outside of Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings and these smaller works are often not included in analysis of his work. I plan to have a fairly even mix of poems that are considered part of Middle-earth and others that are not meant to be associated with Middle-earth. The form of Tolkien’s poetry has also been analyzed quite thoroughly.
His use of alliteration and rhyme have been ten ways from Sunday, as well as the physical structure of the poems. I may use this research to choose which poems to compare to which, but I will not delve overly much into this topic as it has been previously done. What is viewed as reality in the context of the poem is also of potential interest to me. There are fantastical and religious elements in both Tolkien’s poems and the medieval poems, and I hope to present which ones are meant in the literal sense and which are note.
I believe that what is strictly symbol in Tolkien’s poems will echo the medieval poems. For all that may be similar I also hope to point out the differences in the poems. Some will directly echo their medieval counterparts and others will not. Looking into why this is may tie in at some point to Tolkien’s sub creation and how he wrote Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, as the purpose of the poems plays a part in their content and meaning. I want to look at Tolkien as a poet and look into his style, his writing and meaning and that means taking a magnifying glass to his roots and interests.
Tolkien’s poetry has been looked at as part of the Lord of the Rings, and for how it is presented in the mythos of Middle-earth but I am hoping to look at it as just poetry. Archetype plays a rather large part in poems such as The Wanderer and in Tolkien’s Earendil the Mariner. In the essays I have found when Tolkien’s poetry is involved in discussion on archetypes it is how the poem contributes to cementing or building an archetype in the prose. I want to extend that and look at the archetype present in just the lines of the poem.
The first thing I need to do is continue reading some of the academic essays already out on Tolkien’s poetry and then familiarize myself with all of Tolkien’s poems. Much of the academic essays I am hoping to read should arrive through Inter-library loan in the coming week. In particular I am waiting for Tolkien’s Poems by Eilmann and Turner as it includes much of the research I have mentioned previously, such as the analysis of form. Research into which medieval poems Tolkien was known to be familiar with will also have to be done.
While I may have to touch on prose, plot and character in my critical I wish for my creative to simply be poetry. The specific themes I am looking at in Tolkien’s poetry I hope to revamp in a slightly more modern style. For example some of his poems center on the call of the sea, or sea-longing. These poems consist of epic adventurers, or mystical elves and involve a profound realization of desire and goal. My poem would still revolve around the call of the sea, but I would write several different poems focusing multiple ways on the sea.
One might feature a suicidal fascination with water and drowning, while another would touch on a fantasy element (possibly a mermaid who cannot live without the sea), and a third would be a small serious description of the power of the sea. A poem about war and a battle to the death in my critical would mean a poem focusing on a different kind of battle in my creative. Or perhaps a poem that reveals the sacrifice demanded of war, then takes a sudden turn and is nothing but a still-life painting abandoned in a museum.
A single larger poem may also be plausible. Many of the themes and connections in Tolkien’s poems can be woven together. I could take an omniscient perspective and write a poem that travels though the different themes. The downside to this is that it may be difficult to start, or complete, without having the critical largely done. If any large additions are made to my critical I would have to reflect that in the creative, and if the creative is one large work that would present some difficulties.