“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.

Arwen Undómiel at the Feast in Rivendell. A Woman in Whom it Was Said That The Likeness of Lúthien Had Come Again on Earth.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 220-21

There is one more person to whom Frodo pays attention at the table at which he sits in a place of honour and Tolkien devotes more space to her than he does to Elrond, Gandalf and Glorfindel put together. This is the first time that we meet the daughter of Elrond, the Lady Arwen of Rivendell, Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people, “in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again.”

Arwen, as she creates the royal standard of the King of Gondor and Arnor, by Anna Kulisz

Frodo’s attention to his fellow diners is more akin to a visitor to one of the great art galleries of the world than to a guest enjoying the company that he finds himself in. Even Gandalf, who he knows well, is presented to him, and to us, in his symbolic guise. The excellence of the food upon his plate provides him ample excuse for not worrying about his situation. When was the last time that Frodo enjoyed a good meal? Was it at the Prancing Pony almost four weeks before? He need not worry overmuch about other matters, not just yet at any rate.

Frodo has seen great beauty before in the house of Tom Bombadil in the person of Goldberry but there “less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to human heart; marvellous and yet not strange.”

Arwen has an altogether different effect. “Such loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen before nor imagined in his mind”. Goldberry’s beauty was of an order in which Frodo might feel that he could be close to even as Tom Bombadil was close. Tom might be eldest but he is close to the same soil that nurtures hobbits, the soil that he speaks of approvingly when he speaks of Farmer Maggot. Goldberry belongs to the “little rivers” in which Frodo delights, whose loveliness has nurtured his heart all his life. Arwen is of another order altogether. Frodo may, on reflection, use the word, loveliness in thinking of her, but in gazing upon Arwen he knows that he will never use that word in quite the same way again, or that he will never quite feel that the word could possibly do justice to the one he has tried to describe in this manner. Either he will have to find new words, (and what words might they be?) or he will be reduced to wordless admiration, to silence. He will have to learn how to gaze upon such beauty for a long time in order to be able to appreciate it as it should be. One day, in the Undying Lands, he will have such opportunity.

“Deeper and Nearer to Human Heart”. The Loveliness of Goldberry.

Perhaps there will come a time when he can look upon beauty such as Arwen possesses and not have to gaze, to admire, to delight in, at a distance. For Arwen Undómiel is not only a symbol but a living being with a beating heart. She is a woman in love and the man she loves is not at the feast. It is almost, it would appear, as an afterthought that Tolkien tells us that Frodo “could see no sign of Strider”. I was going to say a few weeks ago when I wrote about Gandalf putting Frodo right about Rangers that we will never refer to Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, as Strider again but here at the feast when we meet Arwen for the first time Tolkien uses the name by which Aragorn first introduced himself to Frodo and his companions in Bree. Of course, this is the name by which Frodo knows him and it is a name that brings a man who himself could be a symbol of greatness and of potency, close to a hobbit of the Shire. It has even allowed Frodo to refer to this man as “only a Ranger”. What is the place where Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people, and Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Estel, the hope of his people, can meet and fall in love? Surely it is a place where they are man and woman in total simplicity. And yet maybe none of us are quite permitted to live lives of total simplicity. Elrond has already made it clear to this young man that his daughter “shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor”. Our roles will be probably not be quite so exalted but we all have roles to play in which the people that we are are symbols appropriate to those roles as well as being mere flesh and blood.

Where can these two symbols of their people meet and fall in love?

Frodo Longs to See the Sea. The Dream at Crickhollow.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 105-106

Frodo has made up his mind. He will leave the Shire the very next morning as early as possible and he will go through the Old Forest. All is ready thanks to Merry, the great organiser, and so the hobbits make their way to bed after tidying up, of course.

And there Frodo dreams. At first he dreams of a forest with creatures snuffling at its roots. Frodo is sure that they are looking for him and that they will find him.

Frodo is sure that they will find him

And then Tolkien writes that Frodo “heard a noise in the distance” and that he thought at first that it was the wind in the trees of the forest. But then, in that way in dreams in which you know that you know something, without knowing why or how, Frodo realises that the sound that he can hear is that of the sea. Actually, Tolkien does not spell, sea, as I have done in its generic form as not being the land. He speaks of the Sea. The Sea. The great Sea that parts Middle-earth from the Undying Lands. The Sea over which the Elves may pass in order to reach those lands but which is a way that is denied to mortals.

We learn that this is not the first time that Frodo has heard this sound in his dreams, that it is a recurring and troubled theme within them. And so we are brought within his inner life. Dreams will play an important part in The Lord of the Rings. As in our own experience they will always leave us with as many questions as answers. Tolkien had too much insight into the mystery of the human psyche to write write one of those all too popular books on “the interpretation of dreams” in which particular objects or images within a dream are assigned particular meanings. Such an understanding of dreams would either make Frodo in some sense, omniscient, or it would give that quality to us, the reader. As it is, both Frodo and us as well have to stumble through life in the dark, walking by faith and not by sight.

“Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge.”

Ted Nasmith’s evocation of The Sea

So Frodo is taken in his dream from a vision of a forest and creatures snuffling about just as he had heard the Black Rider sniffing for him. Everything in this part of the dream takes him downwards and this is the journey that he must now take. Even in his dream this feels a hopeless affair. The creatures will find him. But then Tolkien uses the word, Suddenly, and we look upwards with him to a tall white tower, alone on a high ridge. We are taken from the journey that he must take to the journey that he longs to take, even though he does not know what that journey is.

“A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea.”

The great Tolkien scholar, Verlyn Flieger, comments on this passage in her book, Splintered Light. She speaks of an “implied desire to climb up and look outward to the immense unknown.” And then she speaks of a “very real attribute of the human psyche: the desire to seek something without knowing what it is.” Or to use the great insight of Augustine of Hippo, to keep on searching restlessly until we find our rest in the ultimate, or in God.

Significantly, Tolkien does not give us our last glimpse of Frodo at the end of the story as he does to his companions as they gaze outwards to the last glimpse of the light of the phial of Galadriel as the ship dips over the horizon. He takes us onwards with Frodo until journeys end as Frodo “beholds white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise”. Frodo must take the journey into danger and darkness but his heart longs for something else and one day he will find it.

I am grateful to the blog written by Jonathan McIntosh, The Flame Imperishable, for many of the insights in this week’s post and for the quote from Verlyn Flieger. You can find it at https://jonathansmcintosh.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/frodos-dream-tower/