Lots of people have been talking about the poems in Tolkien’s works lately. I think Olga started it, with a characteristically delightful discussion of elf-song in The Hobbit. Alan of The Prancing Pony Podcast has posted a pondering about “The Road Goes Ever On”. On Twitter, Olga and I discovered that we both sing the poems, though not out loud if anyone else can hear.
Here are some of the tunes I use, for the sake of provoking argument. They’re arranged in order of increasing embarrassment at my congenital lack of solemnity.
Hymn to Elbereth: Princess Leia’s Theme
The tempo fits. It doesn’t feel wrong to stretch the name “Elbereth” over half a measure. And I love the idea of elf-voices as french horns.
Bombadil’s Song against the Barrow Wights: Estuans interius
From Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Of course everything Tom says can be sung to the same tune, and I love Morwen Thorongil’s composition for when he’s in a good mood. But when Bombadil is out to destroy, he needs something darker. Strangely enough, the 12th-Century satirist Walter of Châtillon who wrote “Estuans Interius” was like old Tom, in that he used the same meter for almost everything.
Errantry: Sir Arthur Sullivan’s The Major General’s Aria
from Pirates of Penzance, of course. You can use this for “Earendil was a Mariner” too, with a little twisting, but it doesn’t work so well.
Legolas’s song of Nimrodel: “Nadine”
Corey Olsen likes to take a line from Legolas’s song as an example of a perfect line of iambic meter:
Amroth beheld the fading shore / Now low beyond the swell,
And cursed the faithless ship that bore / Him far from Nimrodel.
Against which I’d put Chuck Berry’s heptameters:
I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin’ toward a coffee-colored Cadillac
The worst of all: Namárië
Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen (singin’ ooh wah diddy, diddy dum diddy do)
yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron! (ooh wah diddy, diddy dum diddy do)
Yéni ve (yéni ve)
Yéni ve lintë yuldar avanier…
and that’s when the paramedics arrived.