Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bagme Bloma...

In 1936 J.R.R Tolkien composed a poem in the Gothic language which was published in a collection called Songs of the Philologists. He said that Gothic was a beautiful language, and ''reached the eminence of liturgical use,'' only to be supplanted by Latin due to the tragic history of the Gothic people. I myself tried (but ultimately failed) to learn Gothic some years ago by purchasing a Primer, which is still upstairs with my other language books. I was left with few Gothic words but a strong sense of the form and aesthetic appeal to Tolkien. There was a Gothic bishop at the Council of Nicaea, 325. Another bishop, Wulfila, an Arian, translated the New Testament from Greek into Gothic. His translation survives in the Codex Argenteus, which was probably the principle source of vocabulary for modern scholars like Tolkien. Certainly Tolkien's poem isn't ''real'' Gothic; some words he constructed in a conjectured Gothic form based on other Germanic words. See what you think.
Brunaim bairiþ Bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.
The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering, the flower of the trees in bloom, fair-haired and supple-limbed, the ruler of the mountain.
Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.
The winds call, they shake gently, she bends her boughs low in sport; smooth, straight and white-barked, trembling she speaks a language, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.
Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.
Evening grows dark with clouds, the lightning flashes, the fine leaves fly free, but firms and faithful the white birch stands bare and waits, ruling the mountain.
This translation is not Tolkien's own but that of Rhona Beare, who wrote to Tolkien in 1958 about a few inconsistencies and curiosities in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's reply, letter 211 in The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, is well worth reading. I think this is remarkable.
Art: Ted Nasmith. It is a very treeish poem, and the image of ''ruling the mountain'' put me in mind of Fladrif and his people. Fladrif was an Ent who, along with Fangorn and Finglas, was among the oldest to still walk the woods in the latter days of the Third Age. He used to live on the mountain slopes west of Isengard but removed to the high places among the birchwoods when the orcs came and hewed down much of the woods there to feed the fires of Orthanc. He will not come down.

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