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Things of Middle-earth

Bombadil Goes Boating

Type: Songs & Stories


The old year was turning brown; the West Wind was calling;
Tom caught a beechen leaf in the Forest falling.
‘I’ve caught a happy day blown me by the breezes!
Why wait till morrow-year? I’ll take it when me pleases.
This day I’ll mend my boat and journey as it chances
West down the withy-stream, following my fancies!’

Little Bird sat on twig ‘Whillo, Tom! I heed you.
I’ve a guess, I’ve a guess where your fancies lead you.
Shall I go, shall I go, bring him word to meet you?’

‘No names, you tell-tale, or I’ll skin and eat you,
babbling in every ear things that don’t concern you!
If you tell Willow-man where I’ve gone, I’ll burn you,
Roast you on a willow-spit. That’ll end your prying!’

Willow-wren cocked her tail, piped as she went flying:
‘Catch me first, catch me first! No names are needed.
I’ll perch on his hither ear: the message will be heeded.
“Down by Mithe”, I’ll say, “just as the sun is sinking”.
Hurry up, hurry up! That’s time for drinking!’

Tom laughed to himself:’ Maybe then I’ll go there.
I might go by other ways, but today I’ll row there.’
He shaved oars, patched his boat; from hidden creek he hauled her
through reed and sallow-brake, under leaning alder,
then down the river went singing: ‘Silly-sallow,
Flow withy-willow-stream over deep and shallow!’

‘Whee! Tom Bombadil! Whither be you going,
bobbing in a cockle-boat, down the river rowing?’

‘Maybe to Brandywine along the Withywindle;
maybe friends of mine fire for me will kindle
down by the Hays-end. Little folk I know there,
kind at the days end. Now and then I go there.’

‘Take word to my kin, bring me back their tidings!
Tell me of diving pools and fishes’ hidings!’

‘Nay then’, said Bombadil, ‘I am only rowing
just to smell the water like, not on errands going.’

‘Tee hee! Cocky Tom! Mind your tub don’t founder!
Look out for willow-shags! I’d laugh to see you flounder’.

‘Talk less, Fisher Blue! Keep your kindly wishes!
Fly off and preen yourself with the bones of fishes!
Gay lord on your bough, at home a dirty varlet
Living in a sloven house, though your basket be scarlet.
I’ve heard of fisher-birds beak in air a-dangling
To show how the wind is set: that’s an end of angling!’

The King’s fisher shut it’s beak, winked his eye, as singing
Tom passed under bough. Flash! Then he went winging;
Dropped down jewel-blue a feather, and Tom caught it
Gleaming in a sun-ray: a pretty gift he thought it.
He stuck it in his tall hat, the old feather casting:
‘Blue now for Tom’, he said, ‘a merry hue lasting!’

Rings swirled round his boat, he saw the bubbles quiver.
Tom slapped his oar, smack! at a shadow in the river.
‘Hoosh! Tom Bombadil! ‘Tis long since last I met you.
Turned water-boatman, eh? What if I upset you?’

‘What? Why, Whisker-lad, I’d ride you own the river.
My fingers on your back would set your hide a-shiver.’

‘Pish, Tom Bombadil! I’ll go and tell my mother;
“Call all our kin to come, father sister, brother!
Tom’s gone mad as a coot with wooden legs: he is paddling
Down Withywindle stream, an old tub a-straddling!”

‘I’ll give your otter-fell to the Barrow-wrights. They’ll taw you!
Then smother you in gold-rings! Your mother if she saw you,
She’d never know her son, unless ‘twas by a whisker.
Nay, don’t tease old Tom, until you be far brisker!’

‘Whoosh!’ said otter-lad, river-water spraying
over Tom’s hat and all; set the boat a-swaying,
dived down under it, and by the bank lay peering,
till Tom’s merry song faded out of hearing.

Old Swan of Elvet-isle sailed past him proudly,
Gave Tom a black look, snorted at him loudly.
Tom laughed: ‘You old cob, do you miss your feather?
Give me a new one then! The old was worn by weather.
Could you speak a fair word, I would love you dearer:
Long necks and dumb throat, but a haughty sneerer!
If one day the king returns, in upping he may take you,
Brand your yellow bill, and less lordly make you!’
Old Swan huffed his wings, hissed, and paddled faster;
In his wake bobbing on Tom went rowing after.

Tom came to Withy-wier. Down the river rushing
Foamed into Windle-reach, a-bubbling and a-splashing;
Bore Tom over stone spinning like a windfall,
Bobbing like a bottle-cork, to the hythe at Grindwall.

‘Hoy! Here’s Woodman Tom with his billy-beard on!’
laughed all the little folk of hays-end and Breredon.
‘Ware, Tom! We’ll shoot you dead with our bows and arrows!
We don’t let Forest-folk nor bogies from the Barrows
cross over Brandywine by cockle-boat nor ferry’.
‘Fie, little fatbellies! Don’t ye make so merry!

I’ve seen hobbit-folk digging holes to hide ‘em,
Frightened if a horny gat or a badger eyed ‘em,
afeared of the moony-beams, their own shadows shunning
I’ll call the orcs on you: that’ll send you running!’

‘You may call, Woodman Tom. And you can talk your beard off.
Three arrows in your hat! You we’re not afeared of!
Where would you go now? If for beer you’re making,
The barrels ain’t deep enough in Breredon for your slaking!’

‘Away over Brandywine by Shirebourn I’ll be going,
but too swift fro a cockle-boat the river now is flowing
I’d bless little folk that took me in their wherry,
Wish them evenings fair and many mornings merry.’

Red flowed the Brandywine; with flame the river kindled
As sun sank beyond the Shire, and then to grey it dwindled.
Mithe Steps empty stood. None was there to greet him.
Silent the Causeway lay. Said Tom: ‘A merry meeting!’

Tom stumped along the road, as the light was failing.
Rushey lamps gleamed ahead. He heard a voice him hailing
‘Whoa there!’ Ponies stopped, wheels halted sliding.
Tom went plodding past, never looked beside him.

‘Ho there! Beggarman trampling the Marish!
What’s your business here? Hat all stuck with arrows!
Someone warned you off, caught you at your sneaking?
Come here! Tell me what it is you’re seeking!
Shire-ale, I’ll be bound, through you’ve not a penny.
I’ll bid them lock their doors, and then you won’t get any!’

‘Well. Well, Muddy-feet! From one that’s late fro meeting
away back by the Mithe that’s a surly greeting!
You old farmer fat that cannot walk for wheezing,
Cart-drawn like a sack, ought to be more pleasing.
Penny-wise tub-on-legs! A beggar can’t be chooser,
Or else I’d bid you go, and you would be the loser.
Come, Maggot! Help me up! A tankard now you owe me.
Even in cockshut light an old friend should know me!’

Laughing they drove away, in Rushey never halting,
Through the inn open stood and they could smell the malting.
They turned down Maggt’s Lane, rattling and bumping,
Tom in the farmer’s cart dancing round and jumping.
Stars shone on Bamfurlong, and Maggot’s house was lighted;
Fire in the kitchen burned to welcome the benighted.

Maggot’s sons bowed at door, his daughters did they curtsy.
His wife brought tankards out fro those that might be thirsty.
Songs they had and merry tales, the supping and the dancing;
Goodman maggot there for all his belt was prancing,
Tom did a hornpipe when he was not quaffing,
Daughters did the Springle-ring, goodwife did the laughing.

When others went to bed in hay, fern or feather,
Close in the inglenook they laid their heads together,
Old Tom and Muddy-feet, swapping all the tidings
From Barrow-downs to Tower Hills: of walkings and of ridings;
Of wheat-ear and barley-corn, of sowing and of reaping;
Queer tales from Bree, and talk at smithy, mill and cheaping;
Rumours in whispering trees, south-wind in the larches,
Tall Watchers by the Ford, Shadows on the marches.
Old Maggot slept at last in chair beside the embers.
Ere dawn Tom was gone: as dreams one half remembers,
Some merry, some sad, and some of hidden warning.
None heard the door unlocked: a shower of rain at morning
His footprints washed away, at Mithe left no traces,
At Hays-end they heard no song nor sound of heavy paces.

Three days his boat lay by the hythe at Grindwall,
And then one morn was gone back up Withywindle.
Otter-folk, hobbits said, came by night and loosened her,
Dragged her over weir, and up stream they pushed her.

Out of Elvet-isle Old Swan came sailing,
in beak took her painter up in the water trailing,
drew her proudly on, otters swam beside her;
the King’s fisher perched on bow, on thwart the wren was singing,
merrily the cockle-boat homeward they were bringing.
To Tom’s creek they came at last. Otter lad said ‘Whish now!
What coot without his legs, or a finless fish now?’
O! silly-sallow-willow-stream! The oars they’d left behind them!
Long they lay at Grindwall hythe for Tom to come and find them.
From the preface to "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" in The Tolkien Reader:
["The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"] and ["Bombadil Goes Boating"] evidently come from the Buckland. They show more knowledge of that country, and of the Dingle, the wooded valley of the Withwindle, than any Hobbits west of the Marish were likely to possess. They also show that the Bucklanders knew Bombadil, though, no doubt, they had little understanding of his powers ars the Shire-folk had of Gandalf's: both were regarded as benevolent persons, mysterious maybe and unpredictable but nonetheless comic. ["The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"] is the earlier piece, and is made up of various hobbit-versions of legends concerning Bombadil. ["Bombadil Goes Boating"] uses similar traditions, though Tom's raillery is here turned in jest upon his friends, who treat it with amusement (tinged with fear); but it was probabaly composed much later and after the visit of Frodo and his companions to the house of Bombadil.

The Tolkien Reader, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" preface, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"

Contributors: Meril 7Dec04.

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