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Things of Middle-earth

Lay of Leithian

Type: Songs & Stories

Meaning: release from bondage

Other Names: Lay of Lúthien


The second-longest of all the narrative poems of Middle-earth, the longest being the Lay of the Children of Húrin. This verse, never completed by Tolkien, is nonetheless over 4,220 lines and fourteen cantos long. It tells the story of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel in a couplet rhyme scheme.
Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien. Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old....

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 19, Of Beren and Lúthien

'Farewell, sweet earth and northern sky,
for ever blest, since here did lie,
and here with lissom limbs did run,
beneath the moon, beneath the sun,
Lúthien Tinúviel
more fair than mortal tongue can tell.
Though all to ruin fell the world,
and were dissolved and backward hurled
unmade into the old abyss,
yet were its making good, for this—
the dawn, the dusk, the earth, the sea—
that Lúthien on a time should be!'

The Lays of Beleriand, HoME Vol 3, Ch 3, The Lay of Leithian, Canto XI, Lines 3322-3333

Thus befell the contest of Sauron and Felagund which is renowned. For Felagund strove with Sauron in songs of power, and the power of the King was very great; but Sauron had the mastery, as is told in the Lay of Leithian:

He chanted a song of wizardry,
Of piercing, opening, of treachery,
Revealing, uncovering, betraying.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying,
Sang in answer a song of staying,
Resisting, battling against power,
Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
Of changing and of shifting shape,
Of snares eluded, broken traps,
The prison opening, the chain that snaps.

Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
And all the magic and might he brought
Of Elvenesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
Singing afar in Nargothrond,
The sighting of the Sea beyond,
Beyond the western world, on sand,
On sand of pearls in Elvenland.

Then the gloom gathered; darkness growing
In Valinor, the red blood flowing
Beside the Sea, where the Noldor slew
The Foamriders, and stealing drew
Their white ships with their white sails
From lamplit havens. The wind wails,
The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the Sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn—
And Finrod fell before the throne.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 19, Of Beren and Lúthien

LEK-  loose, let loose, release. N lhein, lhain free(d); lheitho to release, set free; lheithian release, freeing. Q leuka, lehta loose, slacken. Ilk. legol nimble, active, running free; cf. Legolin, a river-name. [A note on a slip accompanying these etymologies gives: 'Leth- set free (cf. led); EN leithia to release, leithian release; cf. Lay of Leithian.' I have referred to this note in III. 154, at which time I overlooked the present entry.]

The Lost Road and Other Writings, HoME Vol 5, Part 3, The Etymologies

The Lay of Leithian was J.R.R. Tolkien's most beloved poetic work. The chapter "Of Beren and Lúthien" in The Silmarillion was based on the Lay of Leithian.

Commentary by Nerdanel

Nerdanel 9Jul03
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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