“O Lòrien! The Winter Comes, The Bare and Leafless Day”. Galadriel’s Lament as She Bids The Fellowship Farewell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 361-364

Haldir’s return from the Northern Fences of Lothlórien to guide the Fellowship out from Caras Galadhon to the hythe, the small landing place upon the Silverlode where the boats promised by Celeborn await them, gives especial pleasure to Frodo for whom departure from the enchanted land is particularly hard. Their friendship grew in Cerin Amroth when Haldir took Frodo, not just into a place of beauty, but into the deeper meaning of that place to which the beauty pointed. Frodo longed to remain at rest within Lothlórien and that longing could not be satisfied until he came to Valinor itself, to “the far green country” that “opened before him under a swift sunrise” in his dream in the house of Tom Bombadil.

Frodo’s longing for true rest is constantly being refined by the ever growing burden that he bears, the burden of the Ring. As he reluctantly, makes his journey towards Mordor, yet with total dedication, he comes to know that Middle-earth can no longer be a home for him, not even the Shire. Already he has suffered the hurt of the Morgul blade that almost bound him to the will of Sauron to make him a tortured wraith alongside the Nazgûl. Elrond saved him from this fate but it has left its mark. Ahead of him still lies the terrible sting of Shelob in her lair and the tooth of Gollum that will cut the Ring from his finger and which will always remind him of how at the last he was defeated by the power of the Ring and so could not accomplish the heroic deed of casting it into the Fire. And all of these things will separate him, hurt by hurt from the world he once called home, the world that Bilbo said to Gandalf that he was still in love with, and so could not even make the journey to Rivendell that Bilbo was about to take after the long expected party all those years ago.

But if Frodo’s longing is being refined by all that he experiences upon this journey Galadriel’s longing is of a different kind. When the Company meet her swan ship upon the waters of the Silverlode they hear her sing, “sad and sweet”, not only of longing but also of loss.

O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a sea?
Ted Nasmith’s depiction of this scene upon the Silverlode

In these beautiful lines much of the long story of Galadriel is told. Her rejection of the forgiveness of the Noldor by the Valar at the ending of the First Age was because she wished to be a Queen, free from their rule, and to create her own realm within Middle-earth. This she has done with Celeborn in Lothlórien and it is here that she has created “the heart of Elvendom on earth” singing of leaves of gold so that in her song the golden tree that grew “by the strand of Ilmarin” in the Undying Lands might be remembered in her mallorn trees. But even in the creation of such beauty she and all Elves were caught up into the corruption of Sauron. Although Sauron played no direct part in the making of the three Elven Rings, one of which Galadriel bears, they are inexorably linked to his making of the One Ruling Ring so that if he triumphs all the works of the Elves will be laid bare before him and if he falls and the Ring is destroyed all the works of the Elves must eventually fall with him.

Is there a future for the Elves? Galadriel wonders if she will ever be permitted to return to Valinor after her long rebellion. Will she be condemned to share forever in the fading of the Elves and their works upon earth? Frodo senses her as “present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time”. And we too mourn the paradise that we have lost and long for a world in which that beauty might be restored and yet be free of the taint of corruption, and yet we long for more, a world that is more than memory in which all fading will be passed, our own included.

MH Shokuhi poignantly depicts Arwen amidst the fading of Lothlórien after the passing of the Three Elven Rings from the Earth.

A Far Green Country Under a Swift Sunrise. Frodo’s Dream in the House of Tom Bombadil.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 132-133

“Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was all rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”

This dream passage comes at the beginning of Frodo’s journey on the last night of the hobbits’ stay in the house of Tom Bombadil, the second of two important dreams at this part of the story, the other of which was the tower dream in Crickhollow the night before the hobbits entered the Old Forest. But Tolkien uses the same words at the end of the story at the very end of Frodo’s earthly travels following his sea voyage with Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond, the Ringbearers, into the West, and Tolkien makes a point there of remembering Frodo’s dream as it is fulfilled.

The Grey Havens by Alan Lee

A far green country under a swift sunrise. As far back as 1944 Tolkien intended to end his story with a remembrance and a fulfillment of the dream in Bombadil’s house. He meant to use these words as a frame about his story. (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien p. 104). Of course at this point of the story, with all the struggles that lie ahead of him, Frodo has no notion of this, but the story and the storyteller does. As we have considered in other posts Frodo is a part of a story far greater than he is. He is meant to have the Ring. He will be overcome by its utterly malign power but by grace he will not be destroyed either by the Ring nor by its maker, nor will he be caught up in its destruction; but neither will he find healing in Middle-earth. By the prayer of Arwen Undómiel, whose place he will take on the ship bearing her father, Frodo will be permitted to enter the Undying Lands and there he will be healed.

A Far Green Country

But why does Tolkien refer to Frodo’s healing in Undying Lands at this point of the story? It does Frodo no good in so far as we are able to tell and until we, who read The Lord of the Rings, come across these words once again at the end of the story, it has no effect upon us either. There is no comfort to be gained here for any of us.

I think that there are two things to be said. On the one hand it is an encouragement to read The Lord of the Rings again and again, as I hope you are doing. There are so many layers of meaning to be discerned within the story that we will discover more and more with every reading. But the other speaks to how Frodo, and we ourselves as his fellow creatures, must live. Frodo will carry this dream within his subconscious throughout and there, no doubt, it will do its work within his psyche as dreams will always do but the dream will point to a reality that does not require our conscious assent to be entirely itself. Even before Arwen’s prayer or before Frodo’s despair that he will ever find healing in Middle-earth, a place has been prepared for him in which, as Tolkien put it in another letter, Frodo will go “both to a purgatory and peace” (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien p. 328). There is no sense in which this purgatory is a punishment in the usual way in which this has been understood and if prayers are required to release him from it it can only be that what awaits him beyond the circles of the world is of such surpassing wonder that to be denied it, even in an earthly paradise, is punishment by comparison. Those of us who are mortal can only grasp this reality by faith and be encouraged in it by those occasional glimpses that might be afforded to us, but even these are enough to strengthen us to live our lives courageously and so fulfill our calling even as Frodo does.

I am grateful to Keith Kelly and Michael Livingston for a fine paper published by The Mythopoeic Society and which can be accessed through the link below.