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This poem is taken from The Fellowship of the Ring, book II, chapter 1 (page 263):

Through Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o'er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he heard on strands of pearl
where ends the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.

  • Why does the music long end the world? – S E Jun 30 at 16:56
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    Music long doesn't end the world. He journeyed to the end of the world, where (on strands of pearl) he heard the long music. – Peter Shor Jun 30 at 17:03
  • What does back and jewels wan mean? – S E Jun 30 at 17:06
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    Strands of pearl usually means pearl necklaces, but here I think it means pearly beaches. – Peter Shor Jun 30 at 17:46
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – S E Jun 30 at 17:51
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The syntax is completely mangled here in order to allow the incredibly strict scheme of internal assonance and rhymes (which is really a tour de force). You have to untangle it before you can understand it. Mangling syntax so as to make your rhyme scheme work was out of fashion in poetry well before Tolkien's time, but Tolkien, one of whose academic specialties was mediaeval literature, didn't care.

Through Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o'er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he heard on strands of pearl
where ends the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.

Assuming strands is a pun, what it means is:

He was carried back through a night without end
on black waves that roared,
over miles of sunless, sunken shores
that drowned before day and night began,
until he heard long music sound
on beaches of pearls at the earth's rim
where billows foam, while tossing around
the yellow gold and pale gems.

| improve this answer | |
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    This is a great translation, but note that "before the Days began" doesn't refer to "before Time began" here; it literally refers to the creation of the Sun and the Moon, which is also when the first men in Arda awoke. Before the Sun and Moon were created, the world shone in alternating gold and silver from the Two Trees of Valinor. – Gaurav Jul 1 at 21:14
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    Also, I don't know what Tolkien means by "strands of pearl" here, but the place where Earendil landed is near the "The city of the Teleri, on the north shore of the Bay is Alqualondë, or Haven of the Swans, whose halls and mansions are made of pearl". The gold and jewels probably refer to the beaches in Eldamar being "strewn with gems given by the Noldor" according to Wikipedia. – Gaurav Jul 1 at 21:18
  • @Gaurav: thanks very much for the information. I've changed "Time began" to "day and night began" so as to be more accurate. However, I would like to think that the "jewels wan" are pearls, so I've left the "beaches of pearls" intact (even though, strictly speaking, it might be incorrect). – Peter Shor Jul 1 at 22:09

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