The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343
As so often in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien chooses Sam Gamgee to try to express the inexpressible. The Fellowship have arrived at Cerin Amroth after walking blindfolded all day through Lothlórien. At last messages come from the Lady Galadriel and all the blindfolds are removed. Frodo has had a growing sense that he is journeying back into the Elder Days and that here the ancient world is more than a memory, it still lives.
“Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name.”
For Frodo language is no longer adequate for what he is experiencing.
“He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.”
This is the unmediated experience in which the ordinary, here expressed as colours with which we are all familiar, is transfigured. Such an experience is possible in any place and at any moment. It always comes as a surprise, surprised by joy as Wordsworth put it, and which C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography. It is never possible to manufacture such an experience, to somehow create the right conditions for it to happen, but Frodo has developed a capacity better than many do to receive it through long practice of a love of beauty and a deep longing for it.
And so does Sam. Whereas Frodo knows that language is hopelessly inadequate for what he is experiencing and so remains silent Sam has no such inhibitions. He does not have any regard for his own ability to put things into words and so retains a childlike simplicity of speech. Whereas his old adversary, Ted Sandyman, constantly congratulates himself for his own cleverness, his ability to see through things and not be caught out, Sam has no such confidence. At the beginning of the story Sam expresses his desire to go on the journey in two simple ways. He wants to go with Frodo wherever Frodo goes and he wants to see Elves. Ted Sandyman would have laughed at him for this and no doubt he did but though Sam might be a little hurt by the scorn of others he is not deflected from his course by it. He is the truly simple one who wills one thing.
And so he is chosen as the right member of the Fellowship to put into words the experience of Cerin Amroth.
“It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,” he said. “I thought that the Elves were all for moon and stars; but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.”
A song has words but it is rare that they have the intention to explain things. The language of a song is the language of the heart, sometimes of the gut, but rarely of the head. And the music of a song, whether it is a marching tune to send soldiers into battle, or a gentle ballad to help lovers express how they feel about each other, can never be an explanation of anything. So Haldir does take Sam’s meaning, the meaning of Sam’s heart and he smiles.
“You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,” he said. And this is most certainly true. But might we say that what Sam feels is not a power that originates in Galadriel but that which flows through her, enabling her to subcreate this earthly paradise in praise of Eru?
In his joyous essay, The Ethics of Elfland, G.K Chesterton tries to put into words what Frodo and Sam experience here and he does rather well! In it Chesterton says that perhaps God, like a child (like Sam Gamgee?) never tires of repetition so that the world can never be monotonous to God. “It may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.” And that repetition in nature is never “a mere recurrence” but an encore.
And it is in this encore in Cerin Amroth that Frodo and Sam delight and applaud.