Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Lay...

A countless company     that king did lead
through the darkened dales     and drear mountains
out of ken of his foes     and he comes not more
in the tale; but the triumph     he turned to doubt
of Morgoth the evil,     whom mad wrath took.
Nor spies sped him,      nor spirits of evil,
nor his wealth of wisdom     to win him tidings,
whither the nation     of the Gnomes was gone.
Now a thought of malice,    when Thalion stood,
bound, unbending,    in his black dungeon,
then moved in his mind     that remembered well
how Men were accounted     all mightless and frail
by the Elves and their kindred;     how only treason
could master the magic     whose mazes wrapped
the children of Corthûn,    and cheated his purpose.

"Is it dauntless Húrin,"    quoth Delu-Morgoth,
"stout steel-handed,    who stands before me,
a captive living     as cowards might be?
Knowest thou my name,     or need'st be told
what hope he has     who is haled to Angband -
the bale most bitter,     the Balrogs' torment?"

"I know and I hate.     For that knowledge I fought thee
by fear unfettered,     nor fear I now,"
said Thalion there,     and a thane of Morgoth
on the mouth smote him;     but Morgoth smiled:
"Fear when thou feelest,     and the flames lick thee,
and the whips of the Balrogs     thy white flesh brand.
Yet a way canst win,     an thou wishest, still
to lessen thy lot     of lingering woe.
Go question the captives     of the accursed people
I have taken, and tell me     where Turgon is hid;
how with fire and death     I may find him soon,
where he lurketh lost     in lands forgot.
Thou must feign thee a friend     faithful in anguish,
and their inmost hearts     thus open and search.
Then, if truth thou tellest,     thy triple bonds
I will bid men unbind,     that abroad thou fare
in my service to search     the secret places
following the footsteps     of these foes of the Gods."

"Build not thy hopes     so high, O Bauglir -
I am no tool     for thy evil treasons;
torment were sweeter     than a traitor's stain."

"If torment be sweet,     treasure is liever.
The hoards of a hundred     hundred ages,
the gems and jewels     of the jealous Gods,
are mine, and a meed     shall I mete thee thence,
yea, wealth to glut     the Worm of Greed."

"Canst not learn of thy lore     when thou look'st on a foe,
O Bauglir unblest?     Bray no longer
of the things thou has thieved     from the Three Kindreds.
In hate I hold thee,     and thy hests in scorn."

"Boldly thou bravest me.     Be thy boast rewarded,"
in mirth quod Morgoth,     "to me now the deeds,
and thy aid I ask not;     but anger thee nought
if little they like thee.     Yea, look thereon
helpless to hinder,     or thy hand to raise."

Then Thalion was thrust     to Thangorodrim,
that mountain that meets     the misty skies
on high o'er the hills     that Hithlum sees
blackly brooding     on the borders of the north.
To a stool of stone     on its steepest peak
they bound him in bonds,     an unbreakable chain,
and the Lord of Woe     there laughing stood,
then cursed him for ever     and his kin and seed
with a doom of dread,     of death and horror.
There the mighty man     unmovéd sat;
but unveiled was his vision,     that he viewed afar
all earthly things     with eyes enchanted
that fell on his folk-     a fiend's torment.
(J.R.R Tolkien, The Lays of Beleriand, Chapter I).

Changes and explanations of names in this part of the narrative:

Gnomes > Noldor
Thalion > An epithet or surname often given to Húrin; it means "hardened."
Corthûn > A primitive name for Tûn, the hill upon which Gnomish Tirion stood in Valinor. In The Silmarillion it is called Túna.
Delu-Morgoth > A form of Morgoth's name but of unknown meaning.
Bauglir > An epithet of Morgoth that survives into The Silmarillion; it is Sindarin for "constrainer." Comparable forms: Belcha, Belegur, &c.
The Worm of Greed > A reference to Glórund, who became Glaurung in later versions of the legendarium.
The Three Kindreds > Teleri, Noldoli and Solosimpi, elvish houses; or the Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri, as in The Silmarillion.
Thangorodrim > here conceived to be a single peak and incidentally the first occurrence of that name in the legendarium.

This poem, which is far longer than these staves (it is some 2000 lines), was written by Tolkien soon after he took up the professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, in 1925. It is one of the two major poems concerned with the legends of the Elder Days, written in alliterative verse; the other poem is the Lay of Leithian. The alliterative poem is especially important not only because it represents a key moment in the evolution of Tolkien's conception of Beleriand and the hopeless war of the Gnomes and their allies upon Morgoth but also because it exemplifies Tolkien's own mastery of the alliterative form and just how rich the old English style can be. There are other staves in this poem of great majesty, among my favourites even so:

To the throne of Thingol     the three were come,
and their speech sped them;     for he spake them fair,
and held in honour     Húrin the steadfast,
Beren Ermabwed's     brother-in-arms.
Remembering Morwin,      of mortals fairest,
he turned not Túrin     in contempt away;
said: "O son of Húrin,     here shalt sojourn
in my cavernous court     for thy kindred's sake.
Nor as slave or servant,     but a second king's son
thou shalt dwell in dear love,     till thou deem'st it time
to remember thy mother     Morwin's loneliness.
Thou wisdom shalt win     unwist of Men
and weapons shalt wield     as the warrior Elves,
and Thalion's son     no thrall shall be.

This was the moment, in great wonder, when Thingol, who before the coming of Beren into the woods held Men in scorn, took Túrin to be his foster son in honour of his father's valour; a very precious moment in the history of Elves and Men. The language is rolling and melodious, "cavernous court," "nor as slave or servant," "dwell in dear love," etc. It pains me when people say that English is a bastard language. It might be for people who use words like perambulate, or aspersion; not so for Tolkien, or for me.

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