J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings Poetry

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

I have read The Lord of the Rings in its entirety only twice. I have seen the movies several times. I have listened to an audio dramatization numerous times. Every time I am struck by the intense drama of the story. Particularly of interest is the books’ description and recitation of the ancient verse I quoted at the start of this post. It is a nutshell description of how the rings of power came to be and to whom they were given. I always have to read these two stanzas more than once when I come to them.

You probably know that The Smoak House is not often a place for literary discussions, but I mention this piece of verse because even though I am not particularly interested in poetry these lines always capture my attention. There is something so haunting about them. Even though I know there are no such things as Elven-kings or Dwarf-lords or a dark wicked place called Mordor, there is something about the people, places, and events contained in these eight lines that gives me a sense of foreboding.

Perhaps it is the mention of “Mortal Men doomed to die” that gives me the chills. I believe that if the line mentioned Hobbits, for example, and men were not addressed, then I could somehow look at it objectively. However I am a man and therefore feel a kindred with the nine who bear nine of the rings of power. And if you know anything about the story of these nine human ringbearers then you will know how truly sad that one line is because we are told that men desire power and that this desire allowed the Dark Lord, Sauron, to deceive and enslave them as undead wraiths who do his bidding.

I do not know if Tolkien meant for this verse to be anything other than a clever rhyme that gave an overview of the rings, but I for one am always chilled by them. The descriptive language and the dark back drop provided by the larger story add an ominous tone to this short piece. It gives the reader a place to stop and reflect on what is happening in the story and it properly communicates the gravity of the situation: that Sauron is on the hunt for the Ring he once lost and what his finding it would mean for the world, particularly those of the free West.

Frodo Lives


4 Responses to “J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings Poetry”

  1. February 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I usually get more chills from the poetry surrounding Tom Bombadil.

    And by chills, I mean guffaws.

  2. February 26, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    @Matt: Ha! I know what you mean.

    Say, did you ever get a gander at Daniel Dean’s Bombadil outfit from our New Year’s Party? Nice.

  3. 3 Thomas
    February 27, 2009 at 9:39 am

    If you liked those verses, you might enjoy reading epic poetry. Pick up a translation of the Aeneid, the Odyssey, or the Iliad and have a second look. But make sure your translation is written in verse.

  4. February 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    @Thomas: Cool, thanks.

    Actually I have read the Iliad and the Odyssey before, but that was back before I cared about literature (and it was for school). So I should really read those again. Thanks for reminding me of them!

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