Living in a Poem

Carole Ann Penney '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Poetry, in the form of songs, is scattered throughout the The Lord of the Rings. Poetry's presence shines hope on a dark and dreary situation :

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land.
Despair not! For though dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last,
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun,
The day's end, or the days begun.
For east or west all woods must fail. . . [110]

Frodo does not end the poem known to the reader because of the ellipses at the end. The word "fails" lingers in the air bringing about the small likelihood of a successful outcome at the end of their adventure. Only after the adventures have passed and been recorded does Frodo finally finish the poem, leaving only the possibility of future adventures :

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun. [1005]


1. What is the role of poems in The Lord of the Rings? How does this role compare to that of poems in Phantastes? Are the structures of these poems similar?

2. How does the content and structure of the first poem compare to that of the one at the end of The Lord of the Rings? What do the tones of the poems suggest? Are the tones different? What is the significance in the negative connotation of the words in the first poem "dark. . . end. . . past. . . setting. . . fail" contrasted to the second poem's positive connotation: "new. . . secret. . . run"? Why did J.R.R. Tolkien decide to begin the first poem with "Despair" and end the second poem with "Sun"?

3. How does the poem discuss the procession and the resolution of the story?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 25 February 2004