Where Middle-Earth Began

When mighty Beowulf took hold of Grendel with his bare hands, the demon proclaimed, “Nowhere on middle-earth, I realize, have I encountered a grip like his.” This passing reference being to the imagination of the middle ages as our world being in a middle-state between hell and heaven; between the time its savior was born, and the date He was to Come. An interesting allusion, no doubt, to the world that Tolkien would later create.

Traces of Middle-Earth and the mythology of The Lord of the Rings are scattered throughout Tolkien’s life. Like a forensic investigation, bits and pieces that evidence his genius have been found in obscure works from his earlier years. Such as when he wrote on the back of a paper the line, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” (This of course, was how The Hobbit started). Or his creation of the children’s character Tom Bombadil in 1934, who would later play a minor role in The Fellowship of the Ring twenty years later.

In 1914, when storms of war ravaged Europe, a 22-year-old Tolkien wrote the following lines of a poem which seemingly come out of the blue, “The Last Voyage of Eärendel.” There’s no character except Eärendel, and we get no sense of who he is or where he came from (in the Silmarillion, he will become the father of kings). The image above is a scene from the Silmarillion, where Eärendel (or Eärendil) is flying in his ship to battle against Ancalagon the Black, the greatest dragon who ever lived, armed with the brilliant light of a Silmaril stone.

From this curiously isolated poem in the early years of Tokien’s life, there appear immensely important themes that The Silmarillion and The Lord of The Rings would later evoke: light vs darkness, fantastical landscapes, attention to aesthetic, references to ancient peoples, crafts and legends. At face value, it’s a beautiful poem that is open to interpretation. On a deeper level, it is a mirror from whence we see our soul, and puts the question of whether we will ever have the courage, like Eärendel, to fly against the darkness within, emerge victorious, and become eternally renowned for it.

Eärendel arose where the shadow flows
At Ocean’s silent brim;
Through the mouth of night as a ray of light
Where the shores are sheer and dim
He launched his bark like a silver spark
From the last and lonely sand;
Then on sunlit breath of the day’s fiery death
He sailed from Westerland.

He threaded his path o’er the aftermath
Of the splendour of the Sun,
And wandered far past many a star
In his gleaming galleon.
On the gathering tide of darkness ride
The argosies of the sky,
And spangle the night with their sails of light
As the streaming star goes by.

Unheeding he dips past these twinkling ships,
By his wayward spirit whirled
On an endless quest through the darkling West
O’er the margin of the world;
And he fares in haste o’er the jewelled waste
And the dusk from whence he came
With his heart afire with bright desire
And his face in silver flame.

The Ship of the Moon from the East comes soon
From the Haven of the Sun,
Whose white gates gleam in the coming beam
Of the mighty silver one.
Lo! with bellying clouds as his vessel’s shrouds
He weighs anchor down the dark,
And on shimmering oars leaves the blazing shores
In his argent-timbered bark.

Then Éarendel fled from that Shipman dread
Beyond the dark earth’s pale,
Back under the rim of the Ocean dim,
And behind the world set sail;
And he heard the mirth of the folk of earth
And the falling of their tears,
As the world dropped back in a cloudy wrack
On its journey down the years.

Then he glimmering passed to the starless vast
As an isléd lamp at sea,
And beyond the ken of mortal men
Set his lonely errantry,
Tracking the Sun in his galleon
Through the pathless firmament,
Till his light grew old in abysses cold
And his eager flame was spent.

— The Book of Lost Tales, Part II.

 

Poem is copied from The Warden’s Walk. Art courtesy of Manuel Castañon.

A Fall Poem

Over and across the rooftops,

the fall leaves from proud trees stand,

glimmering like gold in the softening sun.

Feel the rustling air that brings a deathly cold,

the passing of time against all who feel so bold.

 

Beneath the dancing leaves,

of sweet red Maple, and quiet White Birch

When our love blossomed against cold frost

And a knot was tied for you, the prettiest of all,

In an old weathered chapel, in a lonely red fall.

 

In this mellow autumn sunset

The cloudless orange sky beholds,

Our winter’s store is filled, we borne no ill.

Guided well, a crimson victory’s never tasted so swell.

And now that we’ve consumed, it holds us under sweet spell.

 

How charmingly fragrant,

trees perfume themselves in fall.

The falling leaves, the dying trees, the cycle of life

—retold. The Wheel gives and takes without heed

And I, a lonely reed, will pray under misty breath my creed.

 

Under the damp, grey heavens,

Under a chill wind where all hope lessens,

The dimming gold turns grey, light is chocked,

But the memory of your coming beacons above reason,

A hope that spring will come, and thus, that love is for all season.

A prayer of thanks

A little background: I was sitting in an airport, letting the hours pass by before I boarded my flight. I had some very busy days before, and it had been some since I last worked out. I could feel my body relaxing, my muscles easing and my back aching from sitting so long. I longed to be playing sports, to feel the wind rush in my face, to feel the pain of lifting heavy weights. It’s a good kind of pain, the type that makes you stronger (both literally and figuratively). In a flash, I decided to write a poem to describe these feelings I had. I’ve since come back to it many times. I like it, and maybe by sharing it here you too might be able to benefit from saying it.

How I long again to feel my muscles stretch,
To look ahead for the ball I seek to fetch,
To the ribboned finish line that’s yet to break,
To the net that sleepily waits to be fast awake.

How I long to have sweat run through my brow,
To feel pain overtake the pillars of iron I’ve trained to plow,
Opponents, obstacles, challengers of the prize,
I seek to win somehow.

How I seek to run through mountains,
Swim in oceans, fly across space,
Seek inside my mind a treasured place,
Where body, mind and soul coalesce,

In the quiet scene of battle I guard my heart
And strengthen my will.
In the defining seconds of the game,
I remember my skill,
And rise again with zeal.

The lonely practices, the sacrifices I made,
The friendships I keep and hopes I’ve prayed
-to never fail, to never surrender,
To keep my character firm in splendor.

However grey the situation can become,
In whatever challenge I must overcome,
I can safely say “Thy kingdom come-
Thy will be done.”
Yes Lord, I attach myself to You, the only One.

The first champion of the universal race.
The only goal worthy of lifelong chase.

Amen

A prayer for humility

How dark and twisted paths does the river of time run!

Who could guess that the roaring streams of paradise,

Were quietly born in breathless heights of frost?

I run the race of life, but how would I know I’d won?

 

We build great castles as memorials of our pride,

Accumulate treasures that shine brighter than the sun,

Hold ourselves esteemed as a glowing bride,

And think, “I am mighty. From me do all rivers run.”

 

Oh puny human, how small and and defenseless you are.

“From dust you have been made, and to dust you shall return.”

You are bound to fate like a reed blowing against the wind,

Helpless as the sowers reap with the might of those above.

What could you possibly dream, and wish it were as planned?

How can you hold yourself king of all, yet master of none?

 

We sail the vile seas, cross deserts of death and climb mountains,

Our lives hang by a thread, yet there’s One who holds us up,

There’s One whom we can anchor ourselves and count in.

When all else fails, he tenderly whispers “take my cup.”

 

We are indeed masters of our ship, captains of our destiny.

For the waves we sail are guided by His gentle hand,

And the halls of eternal light are shone by His will supreme.

And though our boat may be rocked or stuck in sand,

Though our spirit be banished and heart struck by sword,

We can safely say, “Lord, let it be done according to your word.”

 


Let me live in poverty, oh Lord, completely dependent upon you. Having nothing for myself but your love. Amen.