The Lay Of Leithian : Cantos 13, 14

by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

Into the vast and echoing gloom,
more dread than many-tunnelled tomb
in labyrinthine pyramid
where everlasting death is hid,
down awful corridors that wind
down to a menace dark enshrined;
down to the mountain's roots profound,
devoured, tormented, bored and ground
by seething vermin spawned of stone;
down to the depths they went alone.
The arch behind of twilit shade
they saw recede and dwindling fade;
the thunderous forges' rumour grew,
a burning wind there roaring blew
foul vapours up from gaping holes.
Huge shapes there stood like carven trolls
enormous hewn of blasted rock
to forms that mortal likeness mock;
monstrous and menacing, entombed,
at every turn they silent loomed
in fitful glares that leaped and died.
There hammers clanged, and tongues there cried
with sound of like smitten stone; there wailed
faint from far under, called and failed
amid the iron clink of chain
voices of captives put to pain.
Loud rose a din of laughter hoarse,
self-loathing yet without remorse;
loud came a singing harsh and fierce
like swords of terror souls to pierce.
Red was the glare through open doors
of firelight mirrored on brazen floors,
and up the arches towering clomb
to glooms unguessed, to vaulted dome
swathed in wavering smokes and steams
stabbed with flickering lightning-gleams.
To Morgoth's hall, where dreadful feast
he held, and drank the blood of beast
and lives of Men, they stumbling came:
their eyes were dazed with smoke and flame.
The pillars, reared like monstrous shores
to bear earth's overhelming floors,
were devil-carven, shaped with skill
such as unholy dreams doth fill:
they towered like trees into the air,
whose trunks are rooted in despair,
whose shade is death, whose fruit is bane,
whose boughs like serpents writhe in pain.
Beneath them ranged with spear and sword
stood Morgoth's sable-armoured horde:
the fire on blade and boss of shield
was red as blood on stricken field.
Beneath a monstrous column loomed
the throne of Morgoth, and the doomed
and dying gasped upon the floor:
his hideous footstool, rape of war.
About him sat his awful thanes,
the Balrog-lords with fiery manes,
redhanded, mouthed with fangs of steel;
devouring wolves were crouched at heel.
And o'er the host of hell there shone
with a cold radiance, clear and wan,
the Silmarils, the gems of fate,
emprisoned in the crown of hate.
Lo! through the grinning portals dread
sudden a shadow swooped and fled;
and Beren gasped -- he lay alone,
with crawling belly on the stone:
a form bat-wingéd, silent, flew
where the huge pillared branches grew,
amid the smokes and mounting steams.
And as on the margin of the dark dreams
a dim-felt shadow unseen grows
to cloud of vast unease, and woes
foreboded, nameless, roll like doom
upon the soul, so in that gloom
the voices fell, and laughter died
slow to silence many-eyed.
A nameless doubt, a shapeless fear,
had entered in their caverns drear,
and grew, and towered above them cowed,
hearing in heart the trumpets loud
of gods forgotten. Morgoth spoke,
and thunderous the silence broke:
'Shadow, descend! And do not think
to cheat mine eyes! In vain to shrink
from thy Lord's gaze, or seek to hide.
My will by none may be defied.
Hope nor escape doth here await
those that unbidden pass my gate.
Descend! ere anger blast thy wing,
thou foolish, frail, bat-shapen thing,
and yet not bat within! Come down!'
Slow-wheeling o'er his iron crown,
reluctantly, shivering and small,
Beren there saw the shadow fall,
and droop before the hideous throne,
a weak and trembling thing, alone.
And as thereon great Morgoth bent
his darkling gaze, he shuddering went,
belly to earth, the cold sweat dank
upon his fell, and crawling shrank
beneath the darkness of that seat,
beneath the shadow of those feet.
Tinúviel spake, a shrill, thin, sound
piercing those silences profound:
'A lawful errand here me brought;
from Thû's dark mansions I have sought,
from Taur-na-Fuin's shade I fare
to stand before thy mighty chair!'
'Thy name, thou shrieking waif, thy name!
Tidings enough from Thû there came
but short while since. What would he now!
Why send such messenger as thou?'
'Thuringwethil I am, who cast
a shadow o'er the face aghast
of the sallow moon in the doomed land
of shivering Beleriand.'
'Liar art thou, who shalt not weave
deceit before mine eyes. Now leave
thy form and raiment false, and stand
revealed, and delivered to my hand!'
There came a slow and shuddering change:
the batlike raiment dark and strange
was loosed, and slowly shrank and fell
quivering. She stood revealed in hell.
About her slender shoulders hung
her shadowy hair, and round her clung
her garment dark, where glimmered pale
the starlight caught in magic veil.
Dim dreams and faint oblivious sleep
fell softly thence, in dungeons deep
an odour stole of elven-flowers
from elven-dells where silver showers
drips softly through the evening air;
and round there crawled with greedy stare
dark shapes of snuffling hunger dread.
With arms upraised and drooping head
then softly she began to sing
a theme of sleep and slumbering,
wandering, woven with deeper spell
than songs wherewith in ancient dell
Melian did once the twilight fill,
profound, and fathomless, and still.
The fires of Angband flared and died,
smouldered into darkness; through the wide
and hollow halls there rolled unfurled
the shadows other underworld.
All movement stayed, and all sound ceased,
save vaporous breath of Orc and beast.
One fire in darkness still abode:
the lidless eyes of Morgoth glowed;
one sound the breathing silence broke:
the mirthless voice of Morgoth spoke.
'So Lúthien, so Lúthien,
a liar like all Elves and Men!
Yet welcome, welcome, to my hall!
I have a use for every thrall.
What news of Thingol in his hole
shy lurking like a timid vole?
What folly fresh is in his mind,
who cannot keep his offspring blind
from straying thus? or can devise
no better counsel for his spies?'
She wavered, and she stayed her song.
'The road,' she said, 'was wild and long,
but Thingol sent me not, nor knows
what way his rebellious daughter goes.
Yet every road and path will lead
Northward at last, and here of need
I trembling come with humble brow,
and here before thy throne I bow;
for Lúthien hath many arts
for solace sweet of kingly hearts.'
'And here of need thou shalt remain
now, Lúthien, in joy or pain --
or pain, the fitting doom for all,
for rebel, thief, and upstart thrall.
Why should ye not in our fate share
of woe and travail? Or should I spare
to slender limb and body frail
breaking torment? Of what avail
here dost thou deem thy babbling song
and foolish laughter? Minstrels strong
are at my call. Yet I will give
a respite brief, a while to live,
a little while, though purchased dear,
to Lúthien the fair and clear,
a pretty toy for idle hour.
In slothful gardens many a flower
like thee the amorous gods are used
honey-sweet to kiss, and cast then bruised,
their fragrance loosing, under feet.
But here we seldom find such sweet
amid our labours long and hard,
from godlike idleness debarred.
And who would not taste the honey-sweet
lying to lips, or crush with feet
the soft cool tissue of pale flowers,
easing like gods the dragging hours?
A! curse the Gods! O hunger dire,
O blinding thirst's unending fire!
One moment shall ye cease, and slake
your sting with morsel I here take!'
In his eyes the fire to flame was fanned,
and forth he stretched his brazen hand.
Lúthien as shadow shrank aside.
'Not thus, O king! Not thus!' she cried,
'do great lords hark to humble boon!
For every minstrel hath his tune;
and some are strong and some are soft,
and each would bear his song aloft,
and each a little while be heard,
though rude the note, and light the word.
But Lúthien hath cunning arts
for solace sweet of kingly hearts.
Now hearken!' And her wings she caught
then deftly up, and swift as thought
slipped from his grasp, and wheeling round,
fluttering before his eyes, she wound
a mazy-wingéd dance, and sped
about his iron-crownéd head.
Suddenly her song began anew;
and soft came dropping like a dew
down from on high in that domed hall
her voice bewildering, magical,
and grew to silver-murmuring streams
pale falling in dark pools in dreams.
She let her flying raiment sweep,
enmeshed with woven spells of sleep,
as round the dark void she ranged and reeled.
From wall to wall she turned and wheeled
in dance such as never Elf nor fay
before devised, nor since that day;
than swallow swifter, than flittermouse
in dying light round darkened house
more silken-soft, more strange and fair
than sylphine maidens of the Air
whose wings in Varda's heavenly hall
in rhythmic movement beat and fall.
Down crumpled Orc, and Balrog proud;
all eyes were quenched, all heads were bowed;
the fires of heart and maw were stilled,
and ever like a bird she thrilled
above a lightless world forlorn
in ecstasy enchanted borne.
All eyes were quenched, save those that glared
in Morgoth's lowering brows, and stared
in slowly wandering wonder round,
and slow were in enchantment bound.
Their will wavered, and their fire failed,
and as beneath his brows they paled,
the Silmarils like stars were kindled
that in the reek of Earth had dwindled
escaping upwards clear to shine,
glistening marvellous in heaven's mine.
Then flaring suddenly they fell,
down, down upon the floors of hell.
The dark and mighty head was bowed;
like mountain-top beneath a cloud
the shoulders foundered, the vast form
crashed, as in overwhelming storm
huge cliffs in ruin slide and fall;
and prone lay Morgoth in his hall.
His crown there rolled upon the ground,
a wheel of thunder; then all sound
died, and a silence grew as deep
as were the heart of Earth asleep.
Beneath the vast and empty throne
the adders lay like twisted stone,
the wolves like corpses foul were strewn;
and there lay Beren deep in swoon:
no thought, no dream nor shadow blind
moved in the darkness of his mind.
'Come forth, come forth! The hour hath knelled,
and Angband's mighty lord is felled!
Awake, awake! For we two meet
alone before the aweful seat.'
This voice came down into the deep
where he lay drowned in wells of sleep;
a hand flower-soft and flower-cool
passed o'er his face, and the still pool
of slumber quivered. Up then leaped
his mind to waking; forth he crept.
The wolvish fell he flung aside
and sprang unto his feet, and wide
staring amid the soundless gloom
he gasped as one living shut in tomb.
There to his side he felt her shrink,
felt Lúthien now shivering sink,
her strength and magic dimmed and spent,
and swift his arms about her went.
Before his feet he saw amazed
the gems of Fëanor, that blazed
with white fire glistening in the crown
of Morgoth's might now fallen down.
To move that helm of iron vast
no strength he found, and thence aghast
he strove with fingers mad to wrest
the guerdon of their hopeless quest,
till in his heart there fell the thought
of that cold morn whereon he fough
with Curufin; then from his belt
the sheathless knife he drew, and knelt,
and tried its hard edge, bitter-cold,
o'er which in Nogrod songs had rolled
of dwarvish armourers singing slow
to hammer-music long ago.
Iron as tender wood it clove
and mail as woof of loom it rove.
The claws of iron that held the gem,
it bit them through and sundered them;
a Silmaril he clasped and held,
and the pure radiance slowly welled
red glowing through the clenching flesh.
Again he stooped and strove afresh
one more of the holy jewels three
that Fëanor wrought of yore to free.
But round those fires was woven fate:
nor yet should they leave the halls of hate.
The dwarvish steel of cunning blade
by treacherous smiths of Nogrod made
snapped; then ringing sharp and clear
in twain it sprang, and like a spear
or errant shaft the brow it grazed
of Morgoth's sleeping head, and dazed
their hearts with fear. For Morgoth groaned
with voice entombed, like wind that moaned
in hollow caverns penned and bound.
There came a breath; a gasping sound
moved through the halls, as Orc and beast
turned in their dreams of hideous feast;
in sleep uneasy Balrogs stirred,
and far above was faintly heard
an echo that in tunnels rolled,
a wolvish howling long and cold.
Up through the dark and echoing gloom
as ghosts from many-tunnelled tomb,
up from the mountains' roots profound
and the vast menace underground,
their limbs aquake with deadly fear,
terror in eyes, and dread in ear,
together fled they, by the beat
affrighted of their flying feet.
At last before them far away
they saw the glimmering wraith of day,
the mighty archway of the gate --
and there a horror new did wait.
Upon the threshold, watchful, dire,
his eyes new-kindled with dull fire,
towered Carcharoth, a biding doom:
his jaws were gaping like a tomb,
his teeth were bare, his tongue aflame;
aroused he watched that no one came,
no flitting shade nor hunted shape,
seeking from Angband to escape.
Now past that guard what guile or might
could thrust from death into the light?
He heard afar their hurrying feet,
he snuffed an odour strange and sweet;
he smelled their coming long before
they marked the waiting threat at door.
His limbs he stretched and shook off sleep,
then stood at gaze. With sudden leap
upon them as they sped he sprang,
and his howling in the arches rang.
Too swift for thought his onset came,
too swift for any spell to tame;
and Beren desperate then aside
thrust Lúthien, and forth did stride
unarmed, defenceless to defend
Tinúviel until the end.
With left he caught at hairy throat,
with right hand at the eyes he smote --
his right, from which the radiance welled
of the holy Silmaril he held.
As gleam of swords in fire there flashed
the fangs of Carcharoth, and crashed
together like a trap, that tore
the hand about the wrist, and shore
through brittle bone and sinew nesh,
devouring the frail mortal flesh;
and in that cruel mouth unclean
engulfed the jewel's holy sheen.

Last updated January 14, 2019