As always, dear readers, welcome.
If you’re fond of British comedy, you may have come across a famous duo from long ago, Flanders and Swann.
These were (words and commentary) Michael Flanders—the one on the left—(1922-1975) and (composer and accompaniment) Donald Swann—the one on the right (1923-1994). Once at the same school, they eventually collaborated on two long-running two-man shows, At the Drop of a Hat,
and At the Drop of Another Hat, in which Flanders introduced songs and did comic monologues and he and Swann sang songs, all of their own composition. Here’s a LINK to one of their numbers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkYrj2DQlVc (This is a very clever use of the final rondo from Mozart’s Horn Concerto #4 in E flat—and here’s the original very beautiful concerto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roqBo-uBYIQ Someone has supplied the words on the screen, but makes one mistake, writing “Tricky”, where Flanders actually uses the musical term “tutti”, meaning all of the instruments are supposed to join in at this point.)
however, was, besides being Flanders’ collaborator, a well-known and very active composer, one of his compositions being a little cycle of songs with words taken from the works of a favorite author, JRR Tolkien, which, as an LP, combined the songs with readings/recitings from his work by Tolkien himself, Poems and Songs of Middle Earth (1967).
The score for the songs also appeared as a book, The Road Goes Ever On (1967; 1978; 1993).
One of the settings from this score has been in my head recently, and has prompted this posting. Number 5 in the cycle of songs, it’s entitled “Namarie”, and is drawn from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 6, “Farewell to Lorien”. In fact, the original has no title, being the second of two songs sung by Galadriel as she sends the Fellowship off on their journey once more. It’s clear that JRRT felt a special love—almost longing—for Lothlorien and he himself appears reluctant to leave it as the farewell is a very elaborate one, almost as operatic as the entrance of Lohengrin, in Wagner’s 1850 opera of the same name.
Once the company has assembled and its ordinary tasks—explaining the boats, giving Sam rope—are completed, Galadriel appears:
“They turned a sharp bend in the river, and there, sailing proudly down the stream towards them, they saw a swan of great size. The water rippled on either side of the white breast beneath its curving neck. Its beak shone like burnished gold, and its eyes glinted like jet in yellow stones; its huge white wings were half lifted.”
(Although this isn’t credited, the beautiful attention paid to the natural world makes me think that this is a Ted Nasmith illustration.)
“A music came down the river as it drew nearer; and suddenly they perceived that it was a ship, wrought and carved with elven-skill in the likeness of a bird. Two elves clad in white steered it with black paddles. In the midst of the vessel sat Celeborn, and behind him stood Galadriel, tall and white; a circlet of golden flowers was in her hair, and in her hand she held a harp, and she sang…”
(As you can see, this is a loose reading of the text by Denis Gordeev—one steersman and Celeborn is sitting behind Galadriel, but what I find persuasive is Galadriel and her harp. In general, I really like Gordeev’s style, which looks back to people like Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth, artists from the golden age of book illustrators. There doesn’t appear to be much information about him readily available, but if you google his name, there is a good deal of his art on-line and he’s illustrated everything from Tolkien to Robert Louis Stevenson.)
Here’s the text:
Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen,
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron!
Yeni ve linte yuldar avanier
mi oromardi lisse-miruvoreva
Andune pella, Vardo tellumar
nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni
Si man i yulma nin enquantuva?
An si Tintalle Varda Oiolosseo
ve fan yar maryat Elentari ortane
ar ilye tier undulave lumbule;
ar sindanoriello caita mornie
i falmalinnar imbe met, ar hisie
untupa Calaciryo miri oiale.
Si vanwa na, Romello vanwa, Valimar!
Namarie! Nai hiruvalye Valimar.
Nai elye hiruva. Namarie!
And here’s Frodo’s translation (which is in prose form in the book—this is from the Tolkien Gateway site, which includes JRRT reciting the poem: https://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Nam%C3%A1ri%C3%AB#Translation ) :
Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The years have passed like swift draughts
of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West,
beneath the blue vaults of Varda
wherein the stars tremble in the song of her voice, holy and queenly.
Who now shall refill the cup for me?
For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the Stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds,
and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness
lies on the foaming waves between us,
and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!
And here is Donald Swann’s setting, which has stayed with me since I first heard it years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690OiCByWRc –this is the whole LP, but “Namarie” is at 33:43.
There is a special ache in this, in part, as I said, because of JRRT’s own feelings about Lothlorien,
but it is hardly the only lament in The Lord of the Rings. If you think for a moment, you can add to this (and the previous one):
1. the fragment which Frodo works on in Lothlorien for Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
2. the song which Aragorn and Legolas make for Boromir (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)
3. we might see the chant which Treebeard sings to Merry and Pippin as a kind of grieving for lands he has visited, but which are now gone (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)—Swann set this as well, on the LP at 29:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690OiCByWRc
4. the fragment which Aragorn recites when the company reaches Edoras and stands by the grave mounds of the past kings of Rohan (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall”)
5. “a maker in Rohan said in his song of the Mounds of Mundberg”—a lament for those fallen at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)
6. and a possible sixth, with only five lines given, would be the song which the Riders of the King’s House, sang—“a song of Theoden Thengel’s son that Gleowine his minstrel made” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”
Although of a thoughtful nature, I don’t believe that Tolkien was a melancholy man, and all of these clearly have their place in the story: Galadriel has already said that the world of the elves is doomed to fade, Boromir has died bravely and the urge is to commemorate that, Treebeard understands that, for all his enormous life-span, his people, lacking the Entwives, must also fade, Aragorn and the company can see the green mounds which show the long history of the Rohirrim, Sauron’s initial attack is defeated, but at a terrible cost, and Theoden has died an heroic death.
As well, as a scholar of Old English, JRRT has the strong lament tradition of its surviving literature in his head, which includes poems like “The Ruin”, “Deor”, and “The Wife’s Lament”, with that same feel of grieving over the end of things. For a very useful website with translations for these and many others, see: https://oldenglishpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/
But, for all of the art in laments, they are just that, laments, and, as this has always been a positive blog, let me end with this, which I couldn’t resist. Having read this posting, you’ll know exactly how I found it.
And you can see more images at: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/fa7b6dd5-6a8e-4b6d-af58-1b42948922c0/updates
Thanks, as ever, for reading,
If a swan boat arrives, climb aboard—but expect to be a little sad,
And know that, as always, there’s