Comments on "Through Rohan over fen and field" by squire

in The Reading Room forum, July 24, 2005

Subject: Long winded comments, as requested

I've only now got time to think a little about this lovely elegy, which I have always liked without much thought - the structure seemed clear enough, and I enjoyed the little dig about the East Wind and Gimli. Now seems like a good occasion to look into it a little more deeply.

Verse Order

First Aragorn tells the tale of the West Wind - he is the Man of the West, and knows the lands that Boromir crossed on his way to Rivendell from Rohan to Hollin. He also begins the song with the West Wind, because that covers the direction Boromir was last seen going in from Minas Tirith - the beginning of his last adventure. Also, West is the direction of Valinor, so there is the added suggestion of a prayer for help in this supplication to the West.

Then Legolas tells the tale of the South Wind. Why South next, and why the Elf? There is a bit of double foreshadowing here, within and without the song. Within the song, the South and the Sea is the end of Boromir's journey down Anduin in his boat; the companions know this, but Minas Tirith and Gondor (the voice of the song) cannot. Without the song, on this adventure Legolas is doomed to encounter the Sea too (as seen in RotK), and this lament foreshadow's Legolas' (and the Elves) own coming end on Middle-earth. Lastly, the song is boxing the compass: by having the West Wing call on the North Wind in Aragorn's verse, we know the North Wind will have the answer; but the theme of the song demands that all Four Winds be called upon in order. So the South is second after West.

Next in order - and this just came to me - comes the East Wind. Gimli's line "You left the East Wind to me" I always took to mean that he should have sung a fourth verse after Aragorn, so the singing would have been Aragorn-Legolas-Aragorn-Gimli; but that never really made sense to me. Why would Aragorn get two verses? More logically, how could the East Wind have anything to say after the North Wind has given its answer?

Really, although there was no pause between Legolas and the third verse by Aragorn, it is after Legolas that the East Wind should have been sung by Gimli -- but all of them knew automatically that that would not have been appropriate, given the East Wind's hostility to Gondor. It was skipped then, not at the end. There should be no thought that Gimli, if called upon, could not have composed his verse at the same level as the Man and the Elf.

Finally, of course, after both the West and the South Winds have said who knows the answer, we get Aragorn's rendering of the North Wind's answer. Having heard of Boromir's beginning, and his final fate, we now hear of his actual end, fighting and dying on the northern boundary of Gondor. Aragorn sings the ending because he sang the beginning: a four-part round of Leader-follower-[missing follower]-Leader.


The three verses are identical not just in rhyme scheme (AABBCCDDEE) and meter (irregular five beats per line - someone else might have the technical term for this). They each follow the same dramatic format:

Wind approaches from distant but specific location, and reaches Minas Tirith (2 lines)
Minas Tirith asks in the first person for news of Boromir (2 lines)
Wind replies in the first person (4 lines)
Minas Tirith laments the absence/death of Boromir (2 lines)

Of course, the final verse, with the answer about his fate, differs in several ways from the first two, giving a satisfying (if sad) ending to the song.

Various connections occur within the parallel structure that will be analyzed after first considering each verse on its own.

The West Wind

Note in the first verse, the strong use of alliteration without it actually being the verse form: "fen and field", "West Wind comes walking", "seven streams", "have heard the horn", "walls westward". This evokes archaic poetry, and conveys the idea that this lament is an original oral composition in the archaic style, where the singer uses alliterative formulas to aid in his spontaneous singing.

The West Wind comes "walking". When was the last time anyone said a Wind walked? Given that it comes through Rohan on its way to Minas Tirith, shouldn't it at least by "riding"? Two answers come to mind: one, walking makes a great alliteration; and two, this presages two images later in the book, of the Three Hunters and later the Ents themselves walking or striding through the grasses.

"What news from the West?" is repeated in the other verses, becoming a rhythmic element that ties the song together. That it is a standard greeting to strangers is shown in the most obvious possible way: 14 pages after singing "What news from the North?" to the North Wind, Aragorn cries out the exact same phrase to the Riders of Rohan.

What were the seven streams? Again, poetry is the first answer - it could have been any number of streams, but seven serves another good alliteration. But Dernwyn's earlier response is also correct: Before Gondor's geography was settled in Tolkien's mind, he had the idea that Seven Streams lay between the Gap of Isengard and Minas Tirith, an echo of the Seven Streams of Ossiriand in The Silmarillion. Later he relocated them to the coast of Gondor, between the White Mountains and the Sea. So by the final map, if Boromir crossed Seven Streams on his journey, they were not "the" Seven Streams, and the line in the verse is either poetic license, or a slip on Tolkien's part.

Note that in the song, Boromir crosses the seven streams (between Gondor and Rohan), then waters wide and grey (the flooded riverplain of Tharbad, where he lost his horse) -- and having lost his horse, thereafter "walks" in empty lands, which we know are the deserted regions between Tharbad and Rivendell, "empty country" in which Aragorn has told us "no folk dwell" (FotR, The Ring Goes South). In other words, the song accurately relates the details and course of his journey.

"He passed away into the shadows of the North". This is tricky. Why is the North shadowed, at least as far as the West Wind's sight (and hearing) is concerned? There is no shadow there yet, at least not the Shadow of Sauron: Elrond has said so, at least. I can only conclude that this is a metaphor for the Lost Realm of Arnor: from Minas Tirith's point of view, and that of the West Wind out of Rohan and Dunland, the regions further North are unknown and of little note since the North Kingdom passed. Alternatively, by Boromir's own telling, it could be Rivendell "of which many had heard, but few knew where it lay". Certainly it does not refer to the Shadow of evil, but to the shadow of terra incognita.

The South Wind

I think this is actually the saddest verse. The South Wind represents the Sea here, and the Sea stands for death in many ways throughout the story. Here it bears "wailing" and "moans" at the gate before it even speaks. The questioner "grieves" although Boromir is only "tarrying": the suggestion is that Minas Tirith already suspects what has happened.  The South Wind basically confirms that Boromir is dead: "so many bones there dwell" means that one more body counts for little against the multitude of deaths the Wind knows of. Whether Boromir's burial by boat was regulation Gondorian practice, the verse suggests just that: "so many have passed down Anduin to find the flowing Sea". The Wind concludes with the advice to ask the North Wind for the actual circumstances of his death -- that is something the South Wind has no time or ability to find out, swamped as it is with the countless burials it witnesses. The wailing of the gulls is repeated, emphasizing their identity with the lament for the dead.

Again, note the alliteration.

"From the mouths of the Sea the South Wind flies" is odd: Anduin ends at the sea in a delta called the Mouths of Anduin. Here the phrase is transposed to the Sea, thus making the South Wind the actual "voice" of the Sea. Hence in some ways it is the Sea speaking, and indeed the speech could be from either entity. This idea is repeated at the end with the final phrase "from the grey sea's mouth".

"On the white shores and the dark shores" is hard. I take it not to mean sand beaches and stone/shingle beaches (as it might literally be taken), but rather to convey some idea of judgement of the souls of the washed-up dead: good souls on the white, bad souls on the dark. Another related dualism is the contrast of "the sandhills and the stones": sandhills give way to the sea, stones resist it. The phrase neatly captures the interplay between land and sea, and also between life and death.

One other odd element of this verse: In Middle-earth generally, the Sea is to the West. The South is often preceived as a "dark" or "dangerous" direction, compared to the North where the Shire, Aragorn, and the Elves live. But from Gondor's point of view, being in the south itself, the South contains not just its enemies in the lands of the Harad, but also the Sea with all its connotations of life, death, and fate. This mixture of South and West in the soul of Gondor is indicative of its complex place in Middle-earth's moral geography: a great kingdom brought low, last home of downfallen Numenor, decadence with the seeds of renewed vigor still dormant.

The North Wind

If the West Wind arrived at Minas Tirith in the silence of its ignorance, and the South Wind with the moans of its mourning, the North arrives with "its loud horn calls." This wind does not wait for questions, but announces it has news.. The sound image represents both the horn of a herald approaching with tidings, and of course Boromir's horn call as well, which we later learn was heard indeed in Minas Tirith. The North Wind's answer is the conclusion to the West Wind's report of Boromir's career (on which the South Wind was silent): His last fight, his unspoken but implied death, his funeral preparations, and his burial in the falls of Rauros. The constant repetition of his and he makes this report a true paean to his nobility and bravery and physical manliness (as Paul Kocher points out, they do not give him qualities he did not have in life, but focus on what good one can speak of the dead).

The opening line tells of the North Wind coming past the "roaring falls", which is then echoed by the concluding phrase in its tale: "Rauros, golden Rauros-falls" -- surely an instance where Tolkien admits that the word Rauros, whatever tale of linguistic invention he might give, comes from the English "roar" as of a waterfall. To conclude the song on a strong formal note, the final speech of Minas Tirith in answer to the North Wind's news is to repeat the phrase -- as if the shock of his loss causes it to repeat in grief what it has just been told.

"Cloven shield, broken sword" suggests a warrior who fought to the end until overwhelmed; no surrender or dishonorable death. Also, this reminds me: have we talked about the fact that Boromir's sword too was broken? Is it just a realistic detail, or does it have a stronger meaning as to his fate?

"Bore him upon its breast" suggests that perhaps the Pieta image is not completely off the mark for Boromir's funeral scene: surely this is his missing mother finally returned to take him from his earthly existence.


"What news do you bring to me tonight? Have you moon or by starlight?" The first verse is set at night. The South Wind is queried "at eve"; and the North brings its fatal news "today". I would have expected the opposite procession: Boromir departs to the West and is sought by day; the South would be looked to at evening, the end of the day, when hope for his return fades; and his death of course would be announced in the dead of night. Why the opposite? And why is the South not at dawn, so it would be night-dawn-day? The existing sequence night-eve-day is backwards in time, or out of order altogether. My best guess is that the night question represents the mystery of Boromir's whereabouts: it is dark, the watch of the Tower is blinded by night, only the West Wind can tell where Boromir is since last seen departing in that direction. The eve question is more symbolic than sequential: "I grieve" suggests that Minas Tirith knows the answer in its heart, which is in keeping with the whole South Wind verse. The Sea to the South is the final resting place of everyone, and the eve represents the fading of Gondor's hope for Boromir's safe return. Finally, the day question to the North Wind reveals the "clear and cold" truth: Boromir is dead. Thus: night, eve, day = mystery, despair, resolution.

Other triplets contained within the formal structure: West walks, South flies, North rides. Boromir is Tall, Fair, Bold. The winds approach Minas Tirith's walls, gate, tower. The questions are "Have you seen?", "Where now is?", and "What news of?" The West Wind speaks of the lands, the South of the sea, and the North of the river and the falls.

Boromir's horn is heard at the beginning of his journey, the West Wind suggests; and at the end, the North Wind reports (as in fact it was, at Rivendell and at Amon Hen). The South Wind, telling of his burial, does not mention his horn.

Good Night

Well, I'm too tired to give any kind of grand summary. But I'm glad to have taken the time here: the song is beautifully structured and filled with meanings and connections to the moral and mythical universe of Middle-earth, and particularly Gondor as perceived by Aragorn and the Sea as perceived by Legolas.



Comments on "Gondor! Gondor!" by squire

in The Reading Room forum, July 26, 2005

Subject: I love this song: It introduces Gondor and the King to the story

Gondor! Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!
West Wind blew there; the light upon the Silver Tree
Fell like bright rain in gardens of the Kings of old.
O proud walls! White towers! O wingéd crown and throne of gold!
O Gondor, Gondor! Shall Men behold the Silver Tree,
Or West Wind blow again between the Mountains and the Sea?

Do we have any clues as to whether this is an existing poem or whether Aragorn extemporised?
I'll make a stab at this and guess that, in contrast to the funeral song for Boromir, this song is meant to represent "written" or at least "pre-composed" verse.
For starters, there are almost no closely alliterative phrases. There is alliteration of W in the central paean, and West Wind and Gondor, Gondor, but nothing like what we saw in the Boromir memorial.

Also, there is a subtle but meaningful structure that I've noted before in Galadriel's farewell song (see RR post of 7/4/05): The words of the first two lines take us, phrase by phrase, into the heart of Gondor, the garden of the Kings and the Silver Tree -- then in inverted order the same phrases are repeated at the end, as we leave Gondor again:

A. Between Mountains and the Sea

B. West Wind blows

C. The Silver Tree

Couplet on the Garden and the City and the Kings

C. The Silver Tree

B. West Wind Blows

A. Between Mountains and the Sea.

Because of this clever and intricate literary construction, I don't feel this is a spontaneous composition.

The song remembers the beauty and wonder of Gondor in the now-ancient years of the lost Kings. Not only did the White Tree flower in memory of Numenor and Valinor, but the blessed West Wind blew on the Kingdom and the light of heaven fell on the Tree in memory of the original rain-like light which came from the Tree's ancestor. The Singer tells all this in past tense, so we know these things are no longer found in Gondor, then he asks if they ever will be again. In short, the song asks, Will the King Return?

It's not hard to see why Aragorn should sing this song, written directly to him personally, when he first sees Gondor in the distance.


In response to squire's and others' posts on the poem, N. E. Brigand reposted this analysis by NZ Strider from the previous LotR discussion (2002-2003)

 Comments on "Gondor! Gondor!" by NZ Strider

in The Reading Room forum, March 3, 2003

Not a question as such, but someone may have a comment (or a refutation; or hoots of derision). Anyway, I enjoy Tolkien’s poetry and think that some of it is more complicated than his critics have wished to admit. So this is metrical analysis -- just skip this if that sort of thing bores you to tears as I suspect it does most people...

Anyway, Tolkien generally composed his songs and poems in iambic tetrameter; now while the general opinion of critics on his poetry in modern verse forms has been low, I would argue that his poetry in such verse forms becomes much stronger -- as soon as he explores another form than iambic tetrameter. Aragorn’s six lines as he looks longingly towards Gondor, before decisively turning away from it, are in a fairly complex form:

Gondor! Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!
West Wind blew there; the light upon the Silver Tree
Fell like bright rain in gardens of the Kings of old.
O proud walls! White towers! O wingéd crown and throne of gold!
O Gondor, Gondor! Shall Men behold the Silver Tree,
Or West Wind blow again between the Mountains and the Sea?

Lines 1, 2, 4, & 5 have a very strong caesura or pause after the fourth (1 & 2) or fifth (4 & 5) syllable; e.g.:

(line 1)
Gondor! Gondor, || between the Mountains and the Sea!


(line 5)
O proud walls! White towers! || O wingéd crown and throne of gold!

To return to line 1. The first four syllables in that line scan as two trochees: DUM duh | DUM duh
The next eight syllables scan as four iambs: duh DUM (x 4).


GONdor | GONdor || beTWEEN | the MOUN-|-tains AND | the SEA

Or, schematically: ´ - | ´ - || - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´

The last eight syllables of each of the six lines scan as four iambs; this second half of each line is the only regular part of the poem. What makes this poem so complex is the metrical battle which is going on in regard to the first half of each line.

If you try delivering this first line out loud, carefully emphasising each stressed syllable, you’ll note the switch in the metre at the caesura; and you’ll notice how the first half of the line “pulls” in a different direction from the second half. The heavy caesura emphasises the two halves’ differing orientations and interrupts the flow of delivery when speaking the line. Besides, it’s difficult to switch from one metre to the next in mid-line.

Line two probably scans identically to the first line, although one might argue whether it is “WEST wind” or “west WIND” -- but, “west wind” really is one word (and can be spelt as one) with the stress falling on the “west”:

WEST wind | BLEW there || the LIGHT | uPON the SIL-|-ver TREE

 i.e.:  ´ - | ´ - || - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´

In the third line it becomes interesting. The line scans thus:

FELL like bright RAIN in GARdens OF the KINGS of OLD

´ - | - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´

There is no clear caesura, and half of the first half-line now leans in the same direction of the second half-line. The line is now almost fully pointed in one direction with no interrupting caesura.

Line 4: On conventional metrical analysis the interjection “O” at the start is simply disregarded, so we get:

proud WALLS | white TOWERS || o WING-|-ed CROWN | and THRONE | of GOLD

-´ | - ´ || - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´

Six iambs -- the whole line now leans one way, with only the caesura interrupting its flow. But, remember, there’s an extra unstressed syllable at the beginning of the line; line 4, technically, is a little longer than lines 1, 2, and 3.

Line 5: Again disregarding the initial interjection, we get:

GONdor | GONdor || shall MEN | beHOLD | the SIL-|-ver TREE

´ - | ´ - || - ´ | - ´ | - ´ | - ´

Two trochees, a caesura, four iambs -- we’re back to the pattern of the first two lines, with the two halves of the line looking in different directions. To capitulate: Lines 1 & 2 have the two half-lines looking in opposite directions; in line 3 the orientation of the first half-line partially shifts to that of the second half-line; in line 4 the shift is completed; but line 5 reverses this development and has the first half-line again looking in a different direction from the second half-line. But, note, line 5 retains that extra unstressed syllable at the beginning that appeared in line 4.\

Now the final line:

or WEST | wind BLOW | aGAIN | beTWEEN | the MOUN-|-tains AND | the SEA

This line has no caesura to interrupt the flow and consists entirely of iambs. Moreover, it consists of seven, not six, iambs. A fully stressed syllable has joined that extra unstressed syllable to make line six the longest and weightiest line of them all. The backwards and forwards development of the first half-line is brought to a decisive conclusion -- what started as two trochees (lines 1 & 2) marked off by a caesura, shifted to a trochee and an iamb (line 3) not marked off by a caesura, then two iambs marked off by a caesura, then back to two trochees marked off by a caesura, and finally, and decisively in the weightiest line, to three iambs not marked off by a caesura. The final, weightiest line flows unimpeded and looks entirely in one direction.

What we have to remember here is that the speaker of these lines, Aragorn, is considering in his mind two directions in which he might turn -- towards Gondor or after Merry and Pippin. He feels pulls in both directions, but the stronger is definitely towards Merry and Pippin. He looks wistfully towards Gondor, half- and then fully turns away, casts a final glance behind him, but then turns decisively away to follow after Merry and Pippin. The metrical structure of the poem reïnforces Aragorn’s thoughts in this matter exactly.


Further comments on "Gondor! Gondor!" by squire

in The Reading Room forum, July 29, 2005

Subject: Urk! Screeching halt alert

Well, NZ (mark-2003-model), count me among those who enjoy reading such a fine analysis of the song's metrics. I confess I have been absolutely baffled as to how to recite the poem because the meter was so choppy. Now I see that it is on purpose.

Or so it seems. When I read your conclusion, though:

"What we have to remember here is that the speaker of these lines, Aragorn, is considering in his mind two directions in which he might turn -- towards Gondor or after Merry and Pippin. He feels pulls in both directions, but the stronger is definitely towards Merry and Pippin. He looks wistfully towards Gondor, half- and then fully turns away, casts a final glance behind him, but then turns decisively away to follow after Merry and Pippin. The metrical structure of the poem reïnforces Aragorn’s thoughts in this matter exactly."

This is post-facto reasoning. Because the meter contradicts itself, you look in the story to find contradictory emotions, and project onto the song's meter Aragorn's conflict between rescuing the hobbits and going to Gondor.

But nothing in the song's lyrics (remember the lyrics?) give any hint that that is what is driving the conflicting meter. By your reasoning, anyone who sings this song about the ancient tragedy of Gondor's lost king should feel a conflict between Gondor and some other subject, due to the internal contradictions of the meter.

If this was given to us in musical form, we might hear the composer overlay onto the regular meter of the lyrics a tune whose key changes or broken rhythyms could convey Aragorn's mixed emotions, while the lyrics remained solidly on the subject of the missing King in Gondor (as I read the lyrics, anyway, as per my post above). Such a double-layering of meaning is a classic device of sung speech.

You are projecting a musical device onto spoken poetry. The words' meter takes the place of music; but now the identified conflict is internal to the poem's diction. I have a hard time with the idea that the lyrics as written contain a metrical message that contradicts the apparent subject of the poem so completely.

Rather I would look for a way to interpret the complex metrical shenanigans you've identified, with the emotions that the lyrics themselves arouse. For instance, we might suppose that the singer cannot bring himself to imagine the past or the future, because of the split between those happy times and Gondor's present abandonment. Only when focusing on the King's house itself, buried deep in the thoughts that the poem arouses, does the meter run clean and true, in line 4 as you point out.

Given such an interpretation (consistent also with my own analysis that the inverse-symmetrical poem seeks a center then returns back out from it), one might then stand back, and admire how this clever song of Gondor, with its conflicting emotions expressed in the meter and the lyrics, works on two levels in the book because it happens to so appropriately echo Aragorn's present conflict of desire and duty as well.