February 17, 2016
Two new(ish) poems by J. R. R. Tolkien
by Taylor Sperry
While he’s best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (which has a staggering 150 million copies in print worldwide), J. R. R. Tolkien was also an accomplished poet.
[ASIDE: His seductively-titled poem “Goblin Feet,” published in 1915, was written for his longtime friend Edith Bratt, whom he married when he learned he was to be sent to the Western Front in World War I.]
The Guardian‘s Alison Flood reports that two of Tolkien’s poems have just been rediscovered in the 1936 annual of Our Lady’s School in Oxfordshire, where they were published when Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. Our Lady’s headteacher, Stephen Oliver, tracked down the poems after scholar Wayne Hammond found a note in which Tolkien mentioned the school’s magazine, the Abingdon Chronicle.
“My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming,” Oliver told The Guardian. “I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school.”
One of those poems, “The Shadow Man,” was later included in Tolkien’s 1962 collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil; the other, “Noel,” is a Christmas poem, which Flood describes as “set in scenery that would not be out of place in Middle-earth.”
Tolkien was a famously devout Catholic who frequently debated religion with his close friend and The Chronicles of Narnia author, C. S. Lewis, whom, according to legend, Tolkien brought “back into the fold of Christian faith” after World War I.
“Noel,” Oliver said, “is a beautiful and unusual take on the Christmas story, set in a wintry landscape” and portrays “the lord of snows,” whose “mantle long and pale / Upon the bitter blast was spread / And hung o’er hill and dale.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.