the lay of leithian by jrr tolkien, left unfinished

the story of beren and lúthien ~ finished by geoff zeiger


There once, and long and long ago, 475
before the sun and moon we know
were lit to sail above the world,
when first the shaggy woods unfurled,
and shadowy shapes did stare and roam
beneath the dark and starry dome 480
that hung above the dawn of Earth,
the silences with silver mirth
were shaken, and the rocks were ringing,
the birds of Melian were singing,
the first to sing in mortal lands, 485
the nightingales with her own hands
she fed, that fay of garments grey;
and dark and long her tresses lay,
beneath her silver girdle-seat,
and down unto her silver feet. 490

She had wayward wandered on a time
from gardens of the Gods, to climb
the everlasting mountains free
that look upon the outmost sea,
and never wandered back, but stayed 495
and softly sang from glade to glade.
Her voice it was that Thingol heard,
and sudden singing of a bird,
in that old time when new-come Elves
had all the wide world to themselves. 500
Yet all his kin now marched away,
as old tales tell, to seek the bay
on the last shore of mortal lands,
where mighty ships with magic hands
they built and sailed beyond the seas. 505
The Gods them bade to lands of ease
and gardens fair, where earth and sky
together flow, and none shall die.
But Thingol stayed, enchanted, still,
one moment to hearken to the thrill 510
of that sweet singing in the trees.
Enchanted moments such as these
from gardens of the Lord of Sleep,
where fountains play and shadows creep,
do come, and count as many years 515
in mortal lands. With many tears
his people seek him ere they sail,
while Thingol listens in the dale.
There after but an hour, him seems,
he finds her as she lies and dreams, 520
pale Melian with her dark hair
upon a bed of leaves. Beware!
There slumber and a sleep is twined!
He touched he tresses, and his mind
was drowned in the forgetful deep, 525
and dark the years rolled o'er his sleep.

Thus Thingol sailed not on the seas
but dwelt amid the land of trees,
and Melian he loved, divine,
whose voice was potent as the wine 530
the Valar drink in golden halls
where flower blooms and fountain falls.
But when she sang it was a spell:
no flower stirred nor fountain fell.
A king and queen thus lived they long, 535
and Doriath was filled with song,
and all the Elves that missed their way
and never found the western bay,
the gleaming walls of their long home,
by the grey seas and the white foam, 540
who never trod the golden land
where towers of the Valar stand,
all these were gathered in their realm
beneath the beech and oak and elm.

In later days when Morgoth first, 545
fleeing the Gods, their bondage burst,
and on the mortal lands set feet,
and in the North his mighty seat
founded and fortified, and all
the newborn race of Men were thrall 550
unto his power, and Elf and Gnome
his slaves, or wandered without home,
or scattered fastnesses walled with fear
upraised upon his borders drear,
and each one fell, yet reigned there still 555
in Doriath beyond his will
Thingol and deathless Melian,
whose magic yet no evil can
that cometh from without surpass.
Here still was laughter and green grass, 560
and leaves were lit with the white sun,
and many marvels were begun.

In sunshine and in sheen of moon,
with silken robe and silver shoon,
the daughter of the deathless queen 565
now danced on the undying green,
half Elven-fair and half divine;
and when the stars began to shine
unseen but near a piping woke,
and in the branches of an oak, 570
or seated on the beech-leaves brown,
Dairon the dark with ferny crown
played with bewildering wizard's art
music for breaking of the heart.
Such players have there only been 575
thrice in all Elfinesse, I ween:
Tinfang Gelion who still the moon
enchants on summer nights of June
and kindles the pale firstling star;
and he who harps upon the far 580
forgotten beaches and dark shores
where western foam for ever roars –
Maglor whose voice is like the sea,
and Dairon, mightiest of the three.

Now it befell on summer night, 585
upon a lawn where lingering light
yet lay and faded faint and grey,
that Lúthien danced while he did play.
The chestnuts on the turf had shed
their flowering candles, white and red; 590
there darkling stood a silent elm
and pale beneath its shadow-helm
there glimmered faint the umbels thick
of hemlocks like a mist, and quick
the moths on pallid wings of white 595
with tiny eyes of fiery light
were fluttering softly, and the voles
crept out to listen from their holes;
the little owls were hushed and still;
the moon was yet behind the hill. 600
Her arms like ivory were gleaming,
her long hair like a cloud was streaming,
her feet a-twinkle wandered roaming
through misty mazes in the gloaming;
and glowworms shimmered round her feet, 605
while moths in moving garland fleet
above her head went wavering wan –
all this the moon now looked upon,
uprisen slow, and round, and white
above the branches of the night. 610
Then clearly thrilled her voice, and rang;
in sudden ecstasy she sang;
a song of nightingales she learned
and with her elvish magic turned
to such bewildering delight 615
the moon hung moveless in the night.
And this it was that Beren heard,
and this he saw, without a word,
enchanted dumb, yet filled with fire
of such a wonder and desire 620
that all his mortal mind was dim;
her magic bound and fettered him,
and faint he leaned against a tree.
Forewandered, wayworn, gaunt was he,
his body sick and heart gone cold, 625
grey in his hair, his youth turned old;
for those that tread that lonely way
a price of woe and anguish pay.
And now his heart was healed and slain
with a new life, and with new pain. 630

He gazed, and as he gazed her hair
within its cloudy web did snare
the silver moonbeams sifting white
between the leaves, and glinting bright
the tremulous starlight of the skies 635
was caught and mirrored in her eyes.
Then all his journey's lonely fare,
the hunger and the haggard care,
the awful creatures of the night
and lurking perils out of sight; 640
now all these horrors like a cloud
faded from mind. The waters loud
falling from pineclad heights no more
he heard, those waters grey and frore
that bittersweet he drank and filled 645
his mind with madness – all was stilled.
He recked not now the burning road,
the paths demented where he strode

endlessly... and ever new
horizons stretched before his view, 650
as each blue ridge with weary feet
was climbed, and down he went to meet
battle with creatures old and strong,
and monsters in the dark, and long
long watches in the haunted night 655
while evil shapes with baleful light
in clustered eyes did crawl and snuff
beneath his tree – not half enough
the price he deemed to come at last
to that pale moon when day had passed, 660
to those clear stars of Elfinesse,
the heart's-ease and the loveliness.

Lo! all forgetting he was drawn
unheeding toward the glimmering lawn
by love and wonder that compelled 665
his feet from hiding; music welled
within his heart, and songs unmade
on themes unthought-of moved and swayed
his soul to sweetness; out he came,
a shadow in the moon's pale flame – 670
and Dairon's flute as sudden stops
as lark before it steeply drops,
as grasshopper within the grass
listening for heavy feet to pass.
"Flee, Lúthien!" and "Lúthien!" 675
from hiding Dairon called again:
"A stranger walks the woods! Away!"
But Lúthien would wondering stay;
fear had she never felt or known,
till fear then seized her, all alone, 680
seeing that shape with shaggéd hair
and shadow long that halted there.
Then sudden she vanished like a dream
in dark oblivion, a gleam
in hurrying clouds, for she had leapt 685
among the hemlocks tall, and crept
under a mighty plant with leaves
all long and dark, whose stem in sheaves
upheld an hundred umbels fair;
and her white arms and shoulders bare, 690
her raiment pale, and in her hair
the wild white roses glimmering there,
all lay like spattered moonlight hoar
in gleaming pools upon the floor.
Then stared he wild in dumbness bound 695
at silent trees, deserted ground;
and blindly groped across the glade
to the dark trees' encircling shade,
and, while she watched with veiléd eyes
touched her soft arm in sweet surprise. 700
Like startled moth from deathlike sleep
in sunless nook or bushes deep
she darted swift, and to and fro
with cunning that Elvish dancers know
about the trunks of trees she twined 705
a path fantastic. Far behind,
enchanted, wildered and forlorn,
Beren came blundering, bruised and torn:
Esgalduin the Elven-stream
in which amid tree shadows gleam 710
the stars flowed strong before his feet.
Some secret way she found, and fleet
passed over and was seen no more,
and left him forsaken on the shore.
"Dark the sundering flood rolls past! 715
To this my long way comes at last –
a hunger and a loneliness,
enchanted waters pitiless."

A summer waned, an autumn glowed,
and Beren in the woods abode, 720
as wild and wary as a faun
that sudden wakes at rustling dawn,
and flits from shade to shade, and flees
the brightness of the sun, yet sees
all stealthy movements in the wood. 725
The murmurous warmth in weathers good,
the hum of many wings, the call
of many a bird, the pattering fall
of sudden rain upon the trees,
the windy tide in leafy seas, 730
the creaking of the boughs he heard;
but not the song of sweetest bird
brought joy or comfort to his heart,
a wanderer dumb who dwelt apart;
who sought unceasing and in vain 735
to hear and see those things again:
a song more fair than nightingale,
a wonder in the moonlight pale.

An autumn waned, a winter laid
the withered leaves in grove and glade; 740
The beeches bare were gaunt and grey,
and red their leaves beneath them lay.
From cavern pale the moist moon eyes
the white mists that from earth arise
to hide the morrow's sun, and drip 745
all the grey day from each twig's tip.
By dawn and dusk he seeks her still;
by noon and night in valleys chill,
nor hears a sound but the slow beat
on sodden leaves of his own feet. 750

The wind of winter winds his horn;
the misty veil is rent and torn.
The wind dies; the starry choirs
leap in the sky to silent fires,
whose light comes bitter cold and sheer 755
through domes of frozen crystal clear.

A sparkle through the darkling trees,
a piercing glint of light he sees,
and there she dances all alone
upon a treeless knoll of stone! 760
Her mantle blue with jewels white
caught all the rays of frosted light.
She shone with cold and wintry flame,
as dancing down the hill she came,
and passed his watchful silent gaze, 765
a glimmer as of stars ablaze.
And snowdrops sprang beneath her feet,
and one bird, sudden, late and sweet,
shrilled as she wayward passed along.
A frozen brook to bubbling song 770
awoke and laughed, but Beren stood
still bound enchanted in the wood.
Her starlight faded, and the night
closed o'er the snowdrops glimmering white.

Thereafter on a hillock green 775
he saw far off the Elven-sheen
of shining limb and jewel bright
often and oft on moonlit night;
and Dairon's pipe awoke once more,
and soft she sang as once before. 780
Then nigh he stole beneath the trees,
and heartache mingled with heart's-ease.

A night there was when winter died;
then all alone she sang and cried
and danced until the dawn of spring, 785
and chanted some wild magic thing
that stirred him, till it sudden broke
the bonds that held him, and he woke
to madness sweet and brave despair.
He flung his arms to the night air, 790
and out he danced, unheeding, fleet,
enchanted, with enchanted feet.
He sped towards the hillock green,
the lissom limbs, the dancing sheen;
he leapt upon the grassy hill 795
his arms with loveliness to fill:
his arms were empty, and she fled;
away, away her white feet sped.
But as she went he swiftly came
and called her by the tender name 800
of nightingales in Elvish tongue,
that all the woods now sudden rung:
"Tinúviel! Tinúviel!"
And clear his voice was as a bell;
its echoes wove a binding spell: 805
"Tinúviel! Tinúviel!"
Such love and longing filled his voice
that, one moment, without choice,
one moment without fear or shame,
Lúthien stood, and like a flame 810
he leapt towards her as she stayed,
and caught and kissed that elfin maid.
As love there woke in sweet surprise
the starlight trembled in her eyes.
A! Lúthien! A! Lúthien! 815
more fair than any child of Men;
O! fairest maid of Elfinesse,
what madness doth thee now possess!
A! lissom limbs and shadowy hair
and chaplet of white snowdrops there; 820
O! starry diadem and white
pale hands beneath the pale moonlight!
She left his arms and slipped away
just at the breaking of the day.

lúthien tinúviel



lúthien tinúviel