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  1. I've been thinking a little about Carl Phelpstead's excellent article in Tolkien Studies 5on Tolkien's uses of poetry and verse in The Lord of the Rings. What really struck me is how different the narratives of 'The Silmarillion' (meaning not just the published Silmarillion, but works like Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolinor the Narn) are in how they use poetry.
    Or rather, how they often don't. Although the Narnends with the comment that the Tale of the Children of Húrin is the 'longest of all the lays of Beleriand', it has a conspicuous lack of verse. Unless some of the Elvish phrases that crop up are supposed to be metrical, there are, I think*, absolutely no 'chunks of poetry' in Tolkien's most developed First Age narrative. This is all the more remarkable because Phelpstead associates prosimetrum (mixing verse and prose) in Tolkien with the Icelandic sagas, and otherwise Túrin's story is perhaps the most saga-like of all Tolkien's works (a point I believe Tom Shippey makes very well).
    *(I can't recall any, and I've just skimmed through the Narnin UT and didn't find anything - but I might still have missed something. There are certainly prose passages, especially in speeches, with heavy alliteration, but I haven't found any so far that are properly metrical.)
    There are certainly places where verses could have been used - points where strong emotions or lyrical scene might have been fleshed out with some poetry.And Tolkien even had a substantial body of alliterative poetry about the story written with his verse form of the Layin The Lays of Beleriand. But he chose to make his prose rendering of the tale wholly prose anyway.
    I would guess that this is in part to heighten the grimness of the tale. Not that poetry can't be grim, but any verse does, as Phelpstead notes, serve to slow down the narrative for a moment and add pauses. In The Children of Húrin, one of the important themes and narrative effects is the sense of inexorable fate pursuing Húrin's family - at least near the end, the sense of wildly rushing to a conclusion might not have worked well with bits of poetry slowing things down. So Tolkien chose sustained prose instead.
    A similar consideration is the lack of historical distance in the Narn. Much moreso than a lot of the Silmarillion, I feel like the Narntries to immerse the reader in the moment of the narrative, rather than emphasizing the idea of it as a 'tale of olden days'. Since one of the major uses verse is to make a narrative seem more historical, this might have been another reason Tolkien avoided this particular category of verse in the Narn. (A good example of historicizing verse is poem at the end of The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which is explicitly said to be by 'a maker in Rohan' 'long afterward'.)
    Even if these two considerations explain the lack of certain types of verse, or of poetry at particular points in the tale, I do still wonder ifTolkien might have added in some prose here and there if he'd ever finished the Narn. For instance, one of the places I think would be most suitable for a poetic pause is Túrin's healing at Ivrin. There we have Gwindor's description of the pool (already in very lyrical, highly alliterating prose), the event of Túrin's restoration, and his composition of the lament Laer Cú Beleg(which, if this had been The Lord of the Rings, we'd probably expect to see at least a couple of verses of). But this, along with a number of other possible chances to use poetry, is a sceneTolkien never fleshed out in the Narnstyle. If I remember right, the original for that scene is from The Grey Annals, which is of course prose, since it's supposed to be a historical chronicle (and chronicles only very rarely include poetry).
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  2. Of Beren & Lúthienis an interesting contrast with the Narn. Whereas the Narnlaunches straight into narrative (in proper saga-style, the first line introduces a character who is the ancestor of one of the key figures of the story), the Gestestarts off with a sort of introduction, framing the tale as a tale. The published Sil says:

    Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old; but here is the tale told in fewer words and without song.
    A very nearly identical variant of the passage is quoted in The Lost Road and Other Writings. Right from the outset we have a framing of this tale as something long ago, which the Narnreally only acknowledges at the very end with its closing note. This tale also claims to be prose, as opposed to the original Lay. And it is prose - mostly.
    In the published version, there are two main 'chunks of poetry': an excerpt from the actual Lay of Leithian telling about the battle between Finrod and Sauron, and Beren's Song of Parting to Lúthien when he's trying to sneak off to Angband alone. Both of these are pretty interesting.
    The first is particularly striking, since it does the one thing that The Lord of the Ringspretty much never does: use verse to actually tell the main story. As Phelpstead notes, most of the poetry in TLotR is spoken by particular characters, not the narrator (there are a few exceptions, most notably the Mounds of Mundburgpoem). And they are usually used either to add ornament to a character or scene (like the lamentfor Boromir or most of the Hobbit rhymes), or else to recall lore or history (like Treebeard's list or the Lay of Nimrodel). The one thing we don't get is verse describing the current action: the narrator doesn't replace the prose account of the attack at Weathertop with a five verse poetic rendering of the scene.
    And actually, J.R.R. Tolkien didn't use verse to describe the action in Beren & Lúthieneither. This was introduced by Christopher Tolkien while editing The Silmrillion, and is, I think, one of the most inspired decisions he made while putting that book together. He said he thought the inclusion of the Song of Parting later (which also comes from the Lay) - see HoMe V, p. 300. The original manuscript simply read:
    Sauron had the mastery, and he stripped from them their disguise.
    This is a pretty bare account of what the Lay describes as a vivid and dramatic duel between a great Elf Lord and an evil Maia. Stylistically, using a bit of poetry here also works well with how the story had been framed. It was presented from the start as a 'tale of yore', and so explicit reminders of this, like quoting from an ancient Lay, fit in well. Beren & Lúthienis also far more romance than saga, and the use of a short section of poetry to carry along the narrative helps develop that feel (especially when that poetry is is long rhyming couplets, a lot like those used in much of Middle English literature, like Sir Orfeoor the Stanzaic Morte Arthur).
    The other piece of poetry in Beren & Lúthienwas put in by the elder Tolkien. This Song of Parting is more like the poetry we see in TLotR, since it's actually spoken by a character in the story for a particular occasion, what Phelpstead would class as a 'situational verse'. It doesn't carry the narrative forward, but serves to characterize Beren's feelings at that moment in the story. It's certainly appropriate that the one bit of poetry J.R.R Tolkien put in was a type of lover's lament, since this is of course the great love story of the First Age (and really, the archetypical love story for the entire Legendarium).
    It would be interesting to know if Tolkien might have added in more poetry if he'd ever made a complete version of Beren & Lúthien, as he really wanted to. But even as it stands, the one original verse that Tolkien included in his relatively compressed versions of the Gestemake for a big contrast with the much more developed, and yet wholly poetry-less Narn. Christopher's addition heightens the effect of the Gesteas a lyrical romance in contrast to the grim saga of Túrin.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  3. Having read this, I hurried to read Phelpstead's article (incidentally, my respect for Phelpstead's work grow with every study I read from his hand)— as you say, it is an excellent and interesting article.

    As for the differences between The Lord of the Ringsand the Silmarillion, I think that only the Narn i Hîn Húrin(in Unfinished Tales) is sufficiently developed as a prose narrative to warrant this kind of comparison. The story of Beren and Lúthien is only ever dealt with inannalisticform or in the summary form of the Quenta Silmarilliontexts— there is never any attempt to create a full-length prose narrative of this story (as with the stories of Tuor and Túrin— though unfortunately the story of Tuor was even less finished than the Narn).
    Tolkien even returned to the poetic telling of the Lay of Leithianafter finishing LotR, suggesting, at least to me, that the poetic form in rhyming couplets was, to Tolkien, the primary telling of the story (and the other versions mere summaries of this). The existence of the proseNarn, however, suggests that he did not see it that way with the story of Húrin's children, as the older poetic lay (in an alliterative meter) was apparently abandoned and when Tolkien returned to that story, it was in the prose form.
    So, for me, the lack of poetry in The Children of Húrinand the Narn(and also in ‘Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin’) is curious and interesting — when the prosimetric form had served Tolkien so well in The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings, why would he abandon it when returning to an expansive prose account of a tale from the Elder Days?
    The Parting Song in the story of Lúthien and Beren is (like the passage about the song-battle of Sauron and Finrod) taken form the lay (the parting song is canto XI, lines 3322—33, while the spell battle is in canto VII, lines 2173—2203), but with this in mind it becomes even more strange (at least to me) that Tolkien never turned his eye to the most developed version of the Túrin story when retelling that in prose form. Though some passages in the alliterative lay might not be wholly congruent with the later version of the story, many other passages could have been quoted without problems and with great effect. And yet Tolkien chose not to . . . why?
    Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
    The love of Faery is the love of love: a relationship toward all things, animate and inanimate, which includes love and respect ...

  4. I think that only the<i style=": rgb255, 255, 255; ">Narn i Hîn Húrin[/i](in<i style=": rgb255, 255, 255; ">Unfinished Tales[/i]) is sufficiently developed as a prose narrative to warrant this kind of comparison. The story of Beren and Lúthien is only ever dealt with inannalisticform or in the summary form of the<i style=": rgb255, 255, 255; ">Quenta Silmarillion[/i]texts

    Maybe to some extent - but his Quentawritings could sometimes get a bit out of hand and take on the character of fuller narratives. This is exactly what happened with Beren &amp; Lúthien, though by the time he got to the Song of Parting Tolkien had restarted the project and was continuing in a more constrained style. And the presence of part of the Lay even so is, of course, striking. And anyway, I think it's also worth looking at what Christopher Tolkien did in editing his father's works - and I thought the addition of that particular piece of prosimetrum was, even if very different from anything his father did, very interesting and very effective. But yes, as regards the elder Tolkien's writings as such, the Narn certainly takes centre stage.
    I've tried to track down the source for the passage where Túrin composes the Laer Cú Beleg, but it doesn't ever seem to get much specific mention other than being from 'heterogeneous materials', a 'labyrinth of drafts and notes'. It's notfrom the Grey Annals, at any rate, but I can't say much beyond that. Although, even if Tolkien had been minded to put in a bit of verse, he would have had to compose something new - the Lay of the Children of Húrin describes Túrin making a lament, but doesn't actually supply any of it.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

  5. An idle thought: most medieval (European) literature was in verse, and Tolkien seems to have felt that was in some way 'proper' as well. When he references the nature of the Narn, he posits a Sindarin original in a chanted, an almost certainly alliterative, metre (composed by a Man named Dírhaval). But it was in translation rendered as prose (in the main recorded conceit, Tolkien is making a prose translation of an Old English work by Ælfwine, itself already in prose translated from the Sindarin verses). This and the prose saga tradition point to entirely Germanic points of reference for narrative form.
    But it occurs to me that there's one other major medieval prose tradition Tolkien would have known well. Specifically, I was struck by an interesting comment in an introduction to a translation of the Mabinogion:
    Certainly, poets were acquainted with traditional stories, as reflected in the many allusions scattered throughout their work; yet it would seem from the surviving evidence that verse itself was not used for extended narrative in medieval Wales---the preferred medium, unlike most Indo-European countires, was prose.The Mabinogion, translated by Sioned Davies, 2007, Introduction, p. xiv
    Not that the Mabinogion stories are entirelyprose - they are also prosimetrum to some extent (in particular, there are a number of englynion, short three line poems that are in function not completely unlike dróttkvættverses in Old Norse,scattered in the Four Branches). One of the texts we know Tolkien was fond of and spent some time on,Kulhwch and Olwen, has quite a lot of poetry in it (metrical lists and the like, as well as at least one englyn). But the other tale he seems to have given some special attention to, Peredur, is entirely prose (I think), without even a single englynto break things up.
    I'm not sure how far you could take Pereduras a stylistic model though. As Phelpstead points out, some Norse sagas are wholly prose (Hrafnkels saga Freysgoðacomes to mind), and generally the stylistic and transmission notes Tolkien gives are very Germanic in orientation. But I still think it's an interesting thought, at least.
    It is hard indeed to believe that one of so great wisdom, and of power—for many wonderful things he did among us—could perish, and so much lore be taken from the world.

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