A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Pray for the Wanderer. Pray for Me. The Hymn to Elbereth in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.231,32

As Frodo and Bilbo depart the Hall of Fire in order to enjoy some quiet talk together they hear “a single clear voice” rise in song. It is a hymn to Elbereth, the Lady Varda of the Valar, Queen of the Blessed Realm of Valinor, Elentári, Queen of Stars, and it is a song of praise and an expression of longing.

O Elbereth Starkindler
White glittering, slanting down sparkling like a jewel, 
The glory of the starry host!
Having gazed far away 
From the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth, 
To thee, everwhite, I will sing,
On this side of the Sea,
Here on this side of the Ocean. 

O Elbereth Starkindler, 
From heaven gazing afar, 
To thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death! 
O look towards me, Everwhite!

And so the mood in the hall moves from merriment to longing. And if merriment is an expression of contentment, of being happy just where we are then this hymn tells us that those who sing it long to be somewhere else entirely. The gaze of the elven singer looks out from this place of peace to the stars above, the same stars to which the Elves first looked as they awoke in Middle-earth. The name that the Valar gave them was, Eldar, the people of the stars, for at their beginning, Elbereth/Varda “began a great labour, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn; wherefore she whose name out of the deeps was time and the labours of Eà was Tintalle, the Kindler… Queen of the Stars”.

It was for fear of Melkor/Morgoth, dweller in the dark of Middle-earth, that Elbereth kindled the stars in the sky, fear that awakening in darkness the Elves would meet first its lord and worship him, bowing down before his great might, part in fear and part in admiration. And her labour was not in vain for as they awoke from sleep they gazed first upon those stars “and have revered Varda Elentári above all the Valar”.

An Imagining of The Evening Star

Throughout their long history the Elves have looked upwards towards the starlight and westward to the Queen of Heaven. As in all the stories of the children of Ilúvatar, of both Elves and Humankind, immortal and mortal, the simplicity of this gaze is soon lost. The Valar, led by Oromë, the hunter, set out to find the firstborn and to lead them to safety in the Blessed Realm, but some never complete the journey, lingering among the beauty of what they know while others, the Noldor, followers of Fëanor, tire of a life of absolute safety and obedience in the realm their angelic lords and return to Middle-earth to freedom, glory and ultimately, for most of them, destruction. But the feeling expressed in this hymn to Elbereth is of a longing, a cry “beneath the shadow of death” that has been woven in the very fabric of their being from the moment of that first gaze upwards, a gaze both from eye and heart.

The Awakening of the Elves by Ted Nasmith

The language of this hymn is Sindarin, the language of the Grey-elves, the Elves who never came to Valinor and yet the longing is as deep as it is among those of the Noldor who survive the terrible wars in Beleriand in the First Age, the exiles from the Blessed Realm like Galadriel and at the very end of The Lord of the Rings all these stories will be brought together when Frodo sings the old walking song, the song of the road one last time, and almost in response the hymn to Elbereth will be taken up once more by Gildor Inglorien, by Elrond and by Galadriel as they make their last journey into the West across the Sea.

Gildor Inglorien and the High Elves at the beginning of the story and its end

This is my last of a series of meditations meditation upon Frodo’s words, “It seemed to me to fit somehow”. On the next day, which we will take up from next week, Elrond will gather together a great council whose task it will be to decide what to do with the Ring of Power that Bilbo found beneath the Misty Mountains and which Frodo has brought into Rivendell. As we have seen in these last weeks none of the events that have led to this moment are in any way random and disconnected but all are a part of the great story that flows onward to the “one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar” at the end of all things. This is how everything fits somehow. Frodo has caught a glimpse of this story to which he belongs but which he can never explain.

And a final note upon my title. Some of you will have recognised the words there as from the great hymn, “Ave Maris Stella”, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star, a hymn that Tolkien knew very well indeed. In the echo of this hymn in the song of the Elves we pray for Frodo the wanderer and ourselves also.

Faramir Remembers “Númenor that was”

I am on a holiday with my wife in the county of Pembrokeshire in west Wales, the county in which my father in law was born and grew up. I am sitting in a pub with a glass of ale at my hand. I do not wish to write something new this week and so I decided to republish an old post in the hope that I would get some new readers for it. Do let me know what you think. When I first wrote this it was the first of three posts on “Númenor that was”, “Elvenhome that is” and “That which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.” Why don’t you read all three.

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

Faramir looks westward with Frodo and Sam

So says Faramir to Frodo and Sam motioning to them to stand with himself and his men facing westwards into the setting sun at the refuge of Henneth Annûn before they sit to eat. And in this simple action the people of Gondor recollect both their history and their identity day by day.

They remember the peril that Eärendil “ventured for love of the Two Kindreds” at the end of the First Age of the Earth. For when the forces of Morgoth had all but overthrown the kingdoms of the Elves and Men in Beleriand Eärendil had journeyed to Valinor to plea for the mercy of the Valar in their uttermost need, and mercy was granted to them. They remember how Morgoth was overthrown and in punishment was “thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World into the Timeless Void”. They remember how Elros and Elrond, the sons of Eärendil, were granted a choice that none had ever been offered either before nor since. The Valar offered to them either to live as one of the deathless that was the destiny of the Elves upon the Earth or to choose mortality that was the destiny of Humankind. And they remember how Elrond chose the destiny of the Elvenkind and so came to live in Rivendell in Middle-earth and how Elros chose mortality and was granted as gift for himself and his people the great isle of Númenor in the Western Seas just within sight of Valinor.

The Shores of Númenor by Izzi Saeta Cabrera

They remember how at first their ancestors lived in contentment with the choice that Elros had made and the land that had been granted as gift; but how, even as their power grew, they grew envious of those that were deathless, coming to see their own mortality as a punishment laid upon them by the Valar who they now regarded as tyrants. This discontent and envy grew and festered over many years even as their might grew. Indeed, we might say, unease and power seemed to grow in equal measure. Eventually so great was that power that they were able to overthrow and make prisoner Sauron even after he had forged the One Ring and had made Barad-dûr in Mordor the heart of his dominions within Middle-earth. But their victory over Sauron was achieved, not as a rejection of his darkness but in envy of his power and so, even as a prisoner, Sauron was able to make that envy grow directing it now against the Valar. Eventually with Sauron’s encouragement they assaulted Elvenhome itself believing that if they could conquer it they would achieve the immortality that they desired, that it was the land itself that somehow granted to its people their deathlessness. But a great wave arose that destroyed the fleets and even the Isle of Númenor and so it is that when Faramir and his men stand in silence they remember “Númenor that was”.

The Fall of Númenor

But even as the faithlessness of the kings of Númenor and those that followed them comes to mind every time the people of Gondor stand before they eat so too does the memory of those who were faithful at great cost to themselves. For among the people of Númenor there were those known as Elf-friends who still loved the Valar and were content with the choice of Elros. When the fleets of Númenor sailed in assault upon Valinor they refused to go with them and the great wave that destroyed Númenor carried Elendil, his sons, Isildur and Anárion and all their peoples, in nine great ships to the shores of Middle-earth where they founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.

All this is called to mind as the peoples of Gondor remember “Númenor that was”, and it is a memory of gift, of choice, of growing discontent and envy that led to unfaithfulness and also to the faithfulness of Elendil and his people, the Elf-friends. And each time they do this they know that they themselves are the fruit of this story and how they too must live.

In this week’s reflection we have remembered  “Númenor that was” and perhaps it has caused us to think of our own discontents with our lives and what has been given to us and what it might mean for us to be faithful even as were the Elf-friends. Next week we shall think with Faramir and his men of “Elvenhome that is” and all that comes to mind as they gaze towards it.