The Geste of Beren and Lúthien

This wonderful epic poem is the core work in the Tolkien corpus. It may be read in it's entirety in "The Lays of Beleriand" available in Hard or Paperback at any bookshop. Why the core work? On the headstone of the Tolkien grave at Wolvercote are two words from his whole life's work: "Beren & Lúthien".

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern's shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.
His shields were shining as the moon,
his lances keen of steel were hewn,
of silver grey his crown was wrought,
the starlight in his banners caught;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the stars in challenge strong;
enchantment did his realm enfold,
where might and glory, wealth untold,
he wielded from his ivory throne
in many-pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard —
all these he had and loved them less
than a maiden once in Elfinesse;
for fairer than are born to Men
a daughter had he, Lúthien.

The first 22 lines (of 4,223) of The Geste of Beren and Lúthien
by J.R.R. Tolkien

4 comments:

Roger R. said...

CS Lewis commented thus on the last four lines: "The description of Lúthien has been too often and too justly praised to encourage the mere commentator in intruding".

Anonymous said...

The thing that always strikes me about this
is that Tolkien must have really liked some of that verse, as he stole it from that poem, and placed it within the lines Gimli recites about Khazad-Dum in FotR:


There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard —
appears in both passages.

I wish I had the time to discuss this in great detail, there is so much richness in it to discuss-- the rhyme, the meter, the form, the choice of words, and how the stanza builds to the last line "A daughter had he, Luthien."

Lays of Beleriand is a great book, IMO.

Thanks for sharing. I hope others have more time to spare on this.

~Inferno.

jesusandME said...

of silver grey his crown was wrought,
the starlight in his banners caught;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the stars in challenge strong;
Here is that theme again linking elves and stars. I have always loved that Tolkien associated the one with the other.. And it always makes me think of magic, which usually makes me feel a little guilty seeing as the hobbits are so specifically told that elven lore is not 'magic' as such. So I guess that makes the next line 'enchantment did his realm enfold,' even more reassuring!

The whole thing sounds so much like a fairytale, it has the ability to whisk you off into another world even more I think than his prose. Perhaps that's why he believed that writing in rhyme and meter was so very important, it weaves an enchantment of its own over the story that it is telling.....

What does surprise me about the Sil and the Lays (and the Hobbit too I suppose) is that so many of the Elves dwell in caverned halls underground.. I always pictured them as dwellers in the living parts of nature, but then as a dwarf might say, what makes a rock any less alive than the rest of the world?!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to compare the Lay of Leithian with the Lay of the Children of Húrin. Particularly as the latter was abandoned for the former, and then the former was abandoned too. I prefer Túrin's tale to Beren and Lúthien (call me morbid!) but I'm not sure I prefer the poem. The alliterative style is so different, yet many of the same skills are demonstrated:

Lo! the golden dragon of the God of Hell,
the gloom of the woods of the world now gone,
the woes of Men, and the weeping of Elves
fading faintly down forest pathways,
is now to tell, and the name most tearful
of Níniel the sorrowful, and the name most sad
of Thalion's son Túrin o'erthrown by fate.


A very different mood - yet still it's all mood, all atmosphere, instantly setting the tone of the tale. Here it's doom and gloom from the start, whereas the structure and style of Leithian is definitely high romance. Lots of alliteration in both - obviously in Túrin, because it's alliterative verse - but just as skillful.

Shame, really, he didn't finish either in verse.