Things of Middle-earth
The Last Ship
Type: Songs & Stories
Fíriel looked out at three o'clock:The Tolkien Reader, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", "The Last Ship".
the grey night was going;
far away a golden cock
clear and shrill was crowing.
The trees were dark, and the dawn pale,
waking birds were cheeping,
a wind moved cool and frail
through dim leaves creeping.
She watched the gleam at window grow,
till the long light was shimmering
on land and leaf; on grass below
grey dew was glimmering.
Over the floor her white feet crept,
down the stair they twinkled,
through the grass they dancing stepped
all with dew besprinkled.
Her gown had jewels upon its hem,
as she ran down to the river,
and leaned upon a willow-stem,
and watched the water quiver.
A kingfisher plunged down like a stone
in a blue flash falling,
bending reeds were softly blown,
lily-leaves were sprawling.
A sudden music to her came,
as she stood there gleaming
with fair hair in the morning's flame
on her shoulders streaming.
Flutes were there, and harps were wrung,
and there was sound of singing,
like wind-voices keen and young
and far bells ringing.
A ship with golden beak and oar
and timbers white came gliding;
swans went sailing on before,
her tall prow guiding.
Fair folk out of Elvenland
in silver-grey were rowing,
and three with crowns she saw there stand
with bright hair flowing.
With harp in hand they sang their song
to the slow oars swinging;
'Green is the land the leaves are long,
and the birds are singing.
Many a day with dawn of gold
this earth will lighten,
many a flower will yet unfold,
ere the cornfields whiten.
'Then whither go ye, boatmen fair,
down the river gliding?
To twilight and to secret lair
in the great forest hiding?
To Northern isles and shores of stone
on strong swans flying,
by cold waves to dwell alone
with the white gulls crying?'
'Nay!' they answered. 'Far away
on the last road faring,
leaving western havens grey,
the seas of shadow daring,
we go back to Elvenhome,
where the White Tree is growing,
and the Star shines upon the foam
on the last shore flowing.
'To mortal fields say farewell,
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.
Here grass fades and leaves fall,
and sun and moon wither,
and we have heard the far call
that bids us journey thither'.
The oars were stayed. They turned aside:
'Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?
Fíriel! Fíriel!' they cried,
'Our ship is not full-laden.
One more only we may bear.
Come! For your days are speeding.
Come! Earth-maiden elven-fair,
our last call heeding.'
Firiel looked from the river-bank,
one step daring;
then deep in clay her feet sank,
and she halted staring.
Slowly the elven-ship went by
whispering through the water;
'I cannot come!' they heard her cry.
'I was born Earth's daughter!'
No jewels bright her gown bore,
as she walked back from the meadow
under roof and dark door,
under the house-shadow.
She donned her smock of russet brown,
her long hair braided,
and to her work came stepping down.
Soon the sunlight faded.
Year still after year flows
down the Seven Rivers;
cloud passes, sunlight glows,
reed and willow quivers
at morn and eve, but never more
westward ships have waded
in mortal waters as before,
and their song has faded.
Preface to "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" in The Tolkien Reader:
["The Last Ship"] must be derived ultimately from Gondor. [It is] evidently based on the traditions of Men, living in shorelands and familiar with rivers running into the Sea. [...] [The poem] mentions the seven Rivers that flowed into the Sea in the South Kingdom, and uses the Gondorian name, of High-elvish form, Fíriel, 'mortal woman.' In the Langstrand and Dol Amroth there were many traditions of the ancient Elvish dwellings, and of the haven at the mouth of the Morthond from which 'westward ships' had sailed as far back as the fall of Eregion in the Second Age. [The piece], therefore, [is] only re-handlings of Southern matter, though this may have reached Bilbo by way of Rivendell.
1. Lefnui, Morthond-Kiril-Ringló, Gilrain-Serni, and Anduin.
2. The name was borne by a princess of Gondor, through whom Aragorn claimed descent from the Southern line. It was also the name of a daughter of Elanor, daughter of Sam, but her name, if connected with the rhyme, must be derived from it; it could not have arisen in Westmarch.
The Tolkien Reader, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" preface, "The Last Ship".
Contributors: Meril. 6Dec04.