The Lay Of Leithian : Cantos 11, 12

by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

Once wide and smooth a plain was spread,
where King Fingolfin proudly led
his silver armies on the green,
his horses white, his lances keen;
his helmets tall of steel were hewn,
his shields were shining as the moon.
There trumpets sang both long and loud,
and challenge rang unto the cloud
that lay on Morgoth's northern tower,
while Morgoth waited for his hour.
Rivers of fire at dead of night
in winter lying cold and white
upon the plain burst forth, and high
the red was mirrored in the sky.
From Hithlum's walls they saw the fire,
the steam and smoke in spire on spire
leap up, till in confusion vast
the stars were choked. And so it passed,
the mighty field, and turned to dust,
to drifting sand and yellow rust,
to thirsty dunes where many bones
lay broken among barren stones.
Dor-na-Fauglith, Land of Thirst,
they after named it, waste accurst,
the raven-haunted roofless grave
of many fair and many brave.
Thereon the stony slopes look forth
from Deadly Nightshade falling north,
from sombre pines with pinions vast,
black-plumed and drear, as many a mast
of sable-shrouded ships of death
slow wafted on a ghostly breath.
Thence Beren grim now gazes out
across the dunes and shifting drought,
and sees afar the frowning towers
where thunderous Thangorodrim lowers.
The hungry horse there drooping stood,
proud Gnomish steed; it feared the wood;
upon the haunted ghastly plain
no horse would ever stride again.
'Good steed of master ill,' he said,
'farewell now here! Lift up thy head,
and get thee gone to Sirion's vale,
back as we came, past island pale
where Thû once reigned, to waters sweet
and grasses long about thy feet.
And if Curufin no more thou find,
grieve not! but free with hart and find
go wander, leaving work and war,
and dream thee back in Valinor,
whence came of old thy mighty race
from Tavros' mountain-fencéd chase.'
There still sat Beren, and he sang,
and loud his lonely singing rang.
Though Orc should hear, or wolf a-prowl,
or any of the creatures foul
within the shade that slunk and stared
of Taur-na-Fuin, nought he cared,
who now took leave of light and day,
grim-hearted, bitter, fierce and fey.
'Farewell now here, ye leaves of trees,
your music in the morning-breeze!
Farewell now blade and bloom and grass
that see the changing seasons pass;
ye waters murmuring over stone,
and meres that silent stand alone!
Farewell now mountain, vale, and plain!
Farewell now wind and frost and rain,
and mist and cloud, and heaven's air;
ye star and moon so blinding-fair
that still shall look down from the sky
on the wide earth, though Beren die --
though Beren die not, and yet deep,
deep, whence comes of those that weep
no dreadful echo, lie and choke
in everlasting dark and smoke.
'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!'
His blade he lifted high in hand,
and challenging alone did stand
before the threat of Morgoth's power;
and dauntless cursed him, hall and tower,
o'ershadowing hand and grinding foot,
beginning, end, and crown and root;
then turned to stride forth down the slope
abandoning fear, forsaking hope.
'A, Beren, Beren!' came a sound,
'almost too late have I thee found!
O proud and fearless hand and heard,
not yet farewell, nto yet we part!
Not thus do those of elven race
forsake the love that they embrace.
A love is mine, as great a power
as thine, to shake the gate and tower
of death with challenge weak and frail
that yet endures, and will not fail
nor yield, unvanquished were it hurled
beneath the foundations of the world.
Beloved fool! escape to seek
from such pursuit; in might so weak
to trust not, thinking it well to save
from love thy loved, who welcomes grave
and torment sooner than in guard
of kind intent to languish, barred,
wingless and helpless him to aid
for whose support her love was made!'
Thus back to him came Lúthien:
they met beyond the ways of Men;
upon the brink of terror stood
between the desert and the wood.
He looked on her, her lifted face
beneath his lips in sweet embrace:
'Thrice now mine oath I curse,' he said,
'that under shadow thee hath led!
But where is Huan, where the hound
to whom I trusted, whom I bound
by love of thee to keep thee well
from deadly wandering unto hell?'
'I know not! But good Huan's heart
is wiser, kinder than thou art,
grim lord, more open unto prayer!
Yet long and long I pleaded there,
until he brought me, as I would
upon thy trail -- a palfrey good
would Huan make, of flowing pace:
thou wouldst have laughed to see us race,
as Orc on werewolf ride like fire
ngiht after night through fen and mire,
through waste and wood! But when I heard
thy singing clear -- (yea, every word
of Lúthien one rashly cried,
and listening evil fierce defied) --,
he set me down, and sped away;
but what he would I cannot say.'
Ere long they knew, for Huan came,
his great breath panting, eyes like flame,
in fear lest her whom he forsook
to aid some hunting evil took
ere he was nigh. Now there he laid
before their feet, as dark as shade,
two grisly shapes that he had won
from that tall isle in Sirion:
a wolfhame huge -- its savage fell
was long and matted, dark the spell
that drenched the dreadful coat and skin,
the werefwolf cloak of Draugluin;
the other was a batlike garb
with mighty fingered wings, a barb
like iron nail at each joint's end --
such wings as their dark cloud extend
against the moon, when in the sky
from Deadly Nightshade screeching fly
Thû's messengers.
'What hast thou brought,
good Huan? What thy hidden thought?
Of trophy of prowess and strong deed,
when Thû thou vanquishedst, what need
here in the waste?' Thus Beren spoke,
and once more words in Huan woke:
his voice was like the deeptoned bells
that ring in Valmar's citadels:
'Of one fair gem thou must be thief,
Morgoth's or Thingol's, loath or lief;
thou must here choose twixt love and oath!
If vow to break is still thee loath,
then Lúthien must either die
alone, or death with thee defie
beside thee, marching on your fate
that hidden before you lies in wait.
Hopeless the quest, but not yet mad,
unless thou, Beren, run thus clad
in mortal raiment, mortal hue,
witless and redeless, death to woo.
'Lo! good was Felagund's device,
but may be bettered, if advice
of Huan ye will dare to take,
and swift hideous change will make
to forms most curséd, foul and vile,
or werewolf of the Wizard's Isle,
of monstrous bat's envermined fell
with ghostly clawlike wings of hell.
'To such dark straits, alas! now brought
are ye I love, for whom I fought.
Nor further with you can I go --
whoever did a great hound know
in friendship at a werewolf's side
to Angband's grinning portals stride?
Yet my heart tells that at the gate
what there ye find, 'twill be my fate
myself to see, though to that door
my feet shall bear me nevermore.
Darkened is hope and dimmed my eyes,
I see not clear what further lies;
yet maybe backwards leads your path
beyond all hope to Doriath,
and thither, perchance, we three shall wend,
and meet again before the end.'
They stood and marvelled thus to hear
his mighty tongue so deep and clear;
then sudden he vanished from their sight
even at the onset of the night.
His dreadful counsel then they took,
and their own gracious forms forsook;
in werewolf fell and batlike wing
prepared to robe them, shuddering.
With elvish magic Lúthien wrought,
lest raiment foul with evil fraught
to dreadful madness drive their hearts;
and there she wrought with elvish arts
a strong defence, a binding power,
singing until the midnight hour.
Swift as the wolvish coat he wore,
Beren lay slavering on the floor,
redtongued and hungry; but there lies
a pain and longing in his eyes,
a look of horror as he sees
a batlike form crawl to its knees
and drag its creased and creaking wings.
Then howling undernoon he springs
fourfooted, swift, from stone to stone,
a dark shape down the slope doth skim,
and wheeling flitters over him.
Ashes and dust and thirsty dune
withered and dry beneath the moon,
under the cold and shifting air
sifting and sighing, bleak and bare;
of blistered stones and gasping sand,
of splintered bones was built that land,
o'er which now slinks with powdered fell
and hanging tongues a shape of hell.
Many parching leagues lay still before
when sickly day crept back once more;
many choking miles yet stretched ahead
when shivering night once more was spread
with doubtful shadow and ghostly sound
that hissed and passed o'er dune and mound.
A second morning in cloud and reek
struggled, when stumbling, blind and weak,
a wolvish shape came staggering forth
and reached the foothills of the North;
upon its back there folded lay
a crumpled thing that blinked at day.
The rocks were reared like bony teeth,
and claws that grasped from opened sheath,
on either side the mournful road
that onward led to that abode
far up within the Mountain dark
with tunnels drear and portals stark.
They crept within a scowling shade,
and cowering darkly down them laid.
Long lurked they there beside the path,
and shivered, dreaming of Doriath,
of laughter and music and clean air,
in fluttered leaves birds singing fair.
They woke, and felt the trembling sound,
the beating echo far underground
shake beneath them, the rumour vast
of Morgoth's forges; and aghast
they heard the tramp of stony feet
that shod with iron went down that street:
the Orcs went forth to rape and war,
and Balog captains marched before.
They stirred, and under cloud and shade
at eve stepped forth, and no more stayed;
as dark things on dark errand bent
up the long slopes in haste they went.
Ever the sheer cliffs rose beside,
where birds of carrion sat and cried;
and chasms black and smoking yawned,
whence writhing serpent-shapes were spawned;
until at last in that huge gloom,
heavy as overhanging doom,
that weighs on Thangorodrim's foot
like thunder at the mountain's root,
they came, as to a sombre court
walled with great towers, fort on fort
of cliffs embattled, to that last plain
that opens, abysmal and inane,
before the final topless wall
of Bauglir's immeasurable hall,
whereunder looming awful waits
the gigantic shadow of his gates.
In that vast shadow once of yore
Fingolfin stood: his shield he bore
with field of heaven's blue and star
of crystal shining pale afar.
In overmastering wrath and hate
despate he smote upon that gate,
the Gnomish king, there standing lone,
while endless fortresses of stone
engulfed the thin clear ringing keen
of silver horn on baldric green.
His hopeless challenge dauntless cried
Fingolfin there: 'Come, open wide,
dark king, your ghastly brazen doors!
Come forth, whom earth and heaven abhors!
Come forth, O monstrous craven lord,
and fight with thine own hand and sword,
thou wielder of hosts and banded thralls,
thou tyrant leaguered with strong walls,
thou foe of Gods and elvish race!
I wait thee here. Come! Show thy face!'
Then Morgoth came. For the last time
in those great wars he dared to climb
from subterranean throne profound,
the rumour of his feet a sound
of rumbling earthquake underground.
Black-armoured, towering, iron-crowned
he issued forth; his mighty shield
a vast unblazoned sable field
with shadow like a thundercloud;
and o'er the gleaming king it bowed,
as huge aloft like mace he hurled,
that hammer of the underworld,
Grond. Clanging to ground it tumbled
down like a thunder-bolt, and crumbled
the rocks beneath it; smoke up-started,
a pit yawned, and a fire darted.
Fingolfin like a shooting light
beneath a cloud, a stab of white,
sprang then aside, and Ringil drew
like ice that gleameth cold and blue,
his sword devised of elvish skill
to pierce the flesh with deadly chill.
With seven wounds it rent his foe,
and seven mighty cries of woe
rang in the mountains, and the earth quook,
and Angband's trembling armies shook.
Yet Orcs would after laughing tell
of the duel at the gates of hell;
though elvish song thereof was made
ere this but one -- when sad was laid
the mighty king in barrow high,
and Thorndor, Eagle of the sky,
the dreadful tidings brought and told
to mourning Elfinesse of old.
Thrice was Fingolfin with great blows
to his knees beaten, thrice he rose
still leaping up beneath the cloud
aloft to hold star-shining, proud,
his stricken shield, his sundered helm,
that dark nor might could overwhelm
till all the earth was burst and rent
in pits about him. He was spent.
His feet stumbled. He fell to wreck
upon the ground, and on his neck
a foot like rooted hills was set,
and he was crushed -- not conquered yet;
one last despairing stroke he gave:
the mighty foot pale Ringil clave
about the heel, and black the blood
gushed as from smoking fount in flood.
Halt goes for ever from that stroke
great Morgoth; but the king he broke,
and would have hewn and mangled thrown
to wolves devouring. Lo! from the throne
that Manwë bade him build on high,
on peak unscaled beneath the sky,
Morgoth to watch, now down there swooped
Thorndor the King of Eagles, stooped,
and rending beak of gold he smote
in Bauglir's face, then up did float
on pinions thirty fathoms wide
bearing away, though loud they cried,
the mighty corse, the Elven-king;
and where the mountains make a ring
far to the south about that plain
where after Gondolin did reign,
embattled city, at great height
upon a dizzy snowcap white
in mounded cairn the mighty dead
he laid upon the mountain's head.
Never Orc nor demon after dared
that pass to climb, o'er which there stared
Fingolfin's high and holy tomb,
till Gondolin's appointed doom.
Thus Bauglir earned the furrowed scar
that his dark countenance doth mar,
and thus his limping gait he gained;
but afterward profound he reigned
darkling upon his hidden throne;
and thunderous paced his halls of stone,
slow building there his vast design
the world in thraldom to confine.
Wielder of armies, lord of woe,
no rest now gave he slave or foe;
his watch and ward he thrice increased,
his spies were sent from West to East
and tidings brought from all the North,
who fought, who fell; who ventured forth,
who wrought in secret; who had hoard;
if maid were fair or proud were lord;
well nigh all things he knew, all hearts
well nigh enmeshed in evil arts.
Doriath only, beyond the veil
woven by Melian, no assail
could hurt or enter; only rumour dim
of things there passing came to him.
A rumour loud and tidings clear
of other movements far and near
among his foes, and threat of war
from the seven sons of Fëanor,
from Nargothrond, from Fingon still
gathering his armies under hill
and under tree in Hithlum's shade,
these daily came. He grew afraid
amidst his power once more; renown
of Beren vexed his ears, and down
the aisléd forests there was heard
great Huan baying.
Then came word
most passing strange of Lúthien
wild-wandering by wood and glen,
and Thingol's purpose long he weighed,
and wondered, thinking of that maid
so fair, so frail. A captain dire,
Boldog, he sent with sword and fire
to Doriath's march; but battle fell
sudden upon him: news to tell
never one returned of Boldog's host,
and Thingol humbled Morgoth's boast.
Then his heart with doubt and wrath was burned:
new tidings of dismay he learned,
how Thû was o'erthrown and his strong isle
broken and plundered, how with guile
his foes now guile beset; and spies
he feared, till each Orc to his eyes
was half suspect. Still ever down
the aisléd forests came renown
of Huan baying, hound of war
that Gods unleashed in Valinor.
Then Morgoth of Huan's fate bethought
long-rumoured, and in dark he wrought.
Fierce hunger-haunted packs he had
that in wolvish form and flesh were clad,
but demon spirits dire did hold;
and ever wild their voices rolled
in cave and mountain where they housed
and endless snarling echoes roused.
From these a whelp he chose and fed
with his own hand on bodies dead,
on fairest flesh of Elves and Men,
till huge he grew and in his den
no more could creep, but by the chair
of Morgoth's self would lie and glare,
nor suffer Balrog, Orc, nor beast
to touch h im. Many a ghastly feast
he held beneath that awful throne,
rending flesh and gnawing bone.
There deep enchantment on him fell,
the anguish and the power of hell;
more great and terrible he became
with fire-red eyes and jaws aflame,
with breath like vapours of the grave,
than any beast of wood or cave,
than any beast of earth or hell
that ever in any time befell,
surpassing all his race and kin,
the ghastly tribe of Draugluin.
Him Carcharoth, the Red Maw, name
the songs of Elves. Not yet he came
disastrous, ravening, from the gates
of Angband. There he sleepless waits;
where those great portals threatening loom
his red eyes smoulder in the gloom,
his teeth are bare, his jaws are wide;
and none may walk, nor creep, nor glide,
nor thrust with power his menace past
to enter Morgoth's dungeon vast.
Now, lo! before his watchful eyes
a slinking shape he far descries
that crawls into the frowning plain
and halts at gaze, then on again
comes stalking near, a wolvish shape
haggard, wayworn, with jaws agape;
and o'er it batlike in wide rings
a reeling shadow slowly wings.
Such shapes there oft were seen to roam,
this land their native haunt and home;
and yet his mood with strange unease
is filled, and boding thoughts him seize.
'What grievous terror, what dread guard
hath Morgoth set to wait, and barred
his doors against all entering feet?
Long ways we have come at last to meet
the very maw of death that opes
between us and our quest! Yet hopes
we never had. No turning back!'
Thus Beren speaks, as in his track
he halts and sees with werewolf eyes
afar the horror that there lies.
Then onward desperate he passed,
skirting the black pits yawning vast,
where King Fingolfin ruinous fell
alone before the gates of hell.
Before those gates alone they stood,
while Carcharoth in doubtful mood
glowered upon them, and snarling spoke,
and echoes in the arches woke:
'Hail! Draugluin, my kindred's lord!
'Tis very long since hitherward
thou camest. Yea, 'tis passing strange
to see thee now: a grievous change
is on thee, lord, who once so dire,
so dauntless, and as fleet as fire,
ran over wild and waste, but now
with weariness must bend and bow!
'Tis hard to find the struggling breath
when Huan's teeth as sharp as death
have rent the throat? What fortune rare
brings thee back living here to fare --
if Draugluin thou art? Come near!
I would know more, and see thee clear.'
'Who art thou, hungry upstart whelp,
to bar my ways whom thou shouldst help?
I fare with hasty tidings new
to Morgoth from forest-haunting Thû.
Aside! for I must in; or go
and swift my coming tell below!'
Then up that doorward slowly stood,
eyes shining grim with evil mood,
uneasy growling: 'Draugluin,
if such thou be, now enter in!
But what is this that crawls beside,
slinking as if 'twould neath thee hide?
Though wingéd creatures to and fro
unnumbered pass here, all I know.
I know not this. Stay, vampire, stay!
I like not thy kin nor thee. Come, say
what sneaking errand thee doth bring,
thou wingéd vermin, to the king!
Small matter, I doubt not, if thou stay
or enter, or if in my play
I crush thee like a fly on the wall,
or bite thy wings and let thee crawl.'
Huge-stalking, noisome, close he came.
In Beren's eyes there gleamed a flame;
the hair upon his neck uprose.
Nought may the fragrance fair enclose,
the odour of immortal flowers
in everlasting spring neath showers
that glitter silver in the grass
in Valinor. Where'er did pass
Tinúviel, such air there went.
From that foul devil-sharpened scent
its sudden sweetness no disguise
enchanted dark to cheat the eyes
could keep, if near those nostrils drew
snuffling in dount. This Beren knew
upon the brink of hell prepared
for battle and death. There threatening stared
those dreadful shapes, in hatred both,
false Draugluin and Carcharoth
when, lo! a marvel to behold:
some power, descended from of old,
from race divine beyond the West,
sudden Tinúviel possessed
like inner fire. The vampire dark
she flung aside, and like a lark
cleaving through night to dawn she sprang,
while sheer, heart-piercing silver, rang
her voice, as those long trumpets keen
thrilling, unbearable, unseen
in the cold aisles of morn. Her cloak
by white hands woven, like a smoke,
like all-bewildering, all-enthralling,
all-enfolding evening, falling
from lifted arms, as forth she stepped,
across those awful eyes she swept,
a shadow and a mist of dreams
wherein entangled starlight gleams.
'Sleep, O unhappy, tortured thrall!
Thou woebegotten, fail and fall
down, down from anguish, hatred, pain,
from lust, from hunger, bond and chain,
to that oblivion, dark and deep,
the well, the lightless pit of sleep!
For one brief hour escape the net,
the dreadful doom of life forget!'
His eyes were quenched, his limbs were loosed;
he fell like running steer that noosed
and tripped goes crashing to the ground.
Deathlike, moveless, without a sound
outstretched he lay, as lightning stroke
had felled a huge o'ershadowing oak.

Last updated January 14, 2019