The Lay Of Leithian : Cantos 1, 2.

by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

A King there was in days of old:
ere men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern's shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.
His shields were shining as the moon,
his lances keen of steel were hewn,
of silver grey his crown was wrought,
the starlight in his banners caught ;
and silver thrilled his trumpets long
beneath the star in challenge strong;
enchantment did his realm enfold,
where might and glory, wealth untold,
he wielded from his ivory throne
in many pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl and opal pale,
and metal wrought like fishes' mail,
buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
and gleaming spears were laid in hoard--
all these he had and loved them less
than a maiden once in Elfinesse;
for fairer than are born to Men
a daughter had he, Lúthien.
Such lissom limbs no more shall run
on the green earth beneath the sun;
so fair a maid no more shall be
from down to dusk, from sun to sea.
Her robe was blue as summer skies,
but grey as evening were her eyes;
'twas sewn with golden lilies fair,
but dark as shadows was her hair.
Her feet were light as bird on wing,
her laughter lighter than the spring;
the slender willow, the bowing reed,
the fragance of a flowering mead,
the light upon the leaves of trees,
the voice of water more than these
her beauty was and blissfulness,
her glory and her loveliness;
and her the king more dear did prize
than hand or heart or light of eyes.
They dwelt amid Beleriand,
while Elfin power yet held the land,
in the woven woods of Doriath:
few ever thither found the path;
few ever dared the forest-eaves
to pass, or stir the listening leaves
with tongue of hounds a-hunting fleet,
with horse, or horn, or mortal feet.
To North there lay the Land of Dread,
whence only evil pathways led
o'er hills of shadow bleak and cold
or Taur-na-Fuin's haunted hold,
where Deadly Nightshade lurked and lay
and never came or moon or day;
to South the wide earth unexplored;
to West the ancient Ocean roared,
unsailed and shoreless, wide and wild;
to East in peaks of blue were piled
in silence folded, mist-enfurled,
the mountains of the Outer World,
beyond the tangled woodland shade,
thorn and thicket, grove and glade,
whose brooding boughs with magic hung
were ancient when the world was young.
There Thingol in the Thousand Caves,
whose portals pale that river laves
Esgalduin that fairies call,
in many a tall and torchlit hall
a dark and hidden king did dwell,
lord of the forest and the fell;
and sharp his sword and high his helm,
the king of beech and oak and elm.
There Lúthien the lissom maid
would dance in dell and grassy glade,
and music merrily, thin and clear,
went down the ways, more fair than ear
of mortal Men at feast hath heard,
and fairer than the song of bird.
When leaves were long and grass was green
then Dairon with his fingers lean,
as daylight melted into shade,
a wandering music sweetly made,
enchanted fluting, warbling wild,
for love of Thingol's elfin child.
There bow was bent and shaft was sped,
the fallow deer as phantoms fled,
and horses proud with braided mane,
with shining bit and silver rein,
went fleeting by on moonlit night,
as swallows arrow-swift in flight;
a blowing and a sound of bells,
a hidden hunt in hollow dells.
There songs were made and things of gold,
and silver cups and jewels untold,
and the endless years of Faëry land
rolled over far Beleriand,
until a day beneath the sun,
when many marvels were begun.
Canto II.
Far in the North neath hills of stone
in caverns black there was a throne
by fires illumined underground,
that winds of ice with moaning sound
made flare and flicker in dark smoke;
the wavering bitter coils did choke
the sunless airs of dungeons deep
where evil things did crouch and creep.
There sat a king: no Elfin race
nor mortal blood, nor kindly grce
of earth or heaven might he own,
far older, stronger than the stone
the world is built of, than the fire
that burns within more fierce and dire;
and thoughts profound were in his heart:
a gloomy power that dwelt apart.
Unconquerable spears of steel
were at his nod. No ruth did feel
the legions of his marshalled hate,
on whom did wolf and raven wait;
and black the ravens sat and cried
upon their banners black, and wide
was heard their hideous chanting dread
above the reek and trampled dead.
With fire and sword his ruin red
on all that would not bow the head
like lightning fell. The Northern land
lay groaning neath his ghastly hand.
But still there lived in hiding cold
undaunted, Barahir the bold,
of land bereaved, of lordship shorn,
who once a prince of Men was born
and now an outlaw lurked and lay
in the hard heath and woodland grey,
and with him clung of faithful men
but Beren his son and other ten.
Yet small as was their hunted band
still fell and fearless was each hand,
and strong deeds they wrought yet oft,
and loved the woods, whose ways more soft
them seemed than thralls of that black throne
to live and languish in halls of stone.
King Morgoth still pursued them sore
with men and dogs, and wolf and boar
with spells of madness filled he sent
to slay them as in the woods they went;
yet nought hurt them for many years,
until, in brief to tell what tears
have oft bewailed in ages gone,
a deed unhappy; unaware
their feet were caught in Morgoth's snare.
Gorlim it was, who wearying
of toil and flight and harrying,
one night by chance did turn his feet
o'er the dark fields by stealth to meet
with hidden friend within a dale,
and found a homestead looming pale
against the misty stars, all dark
save one small window, whence a spark
of fitful candle strayed without.
Therein he peeped, and filled with dount
he saw, as in a dreaming deep
when longing cheats the heart in sleep,
his wife beside a dying fire
lament him lost; her thin attire
and greying hair and paling cheek
of tears and loneliness did speak.
'A! fair and gentle Eilinel,
whom I had thought in darkling hell
long since emprisoned! Ere I fled
I deemed I saw thee slain and dead
upon that night of sudden fear
when all I lost that I held dear':
thus thought his heavy heart amazed
outside in darkness as he gazed.
But ere he dared to call her name,
or ask how she escaped and came
to this far cale beneath the hills,
he heard a cry beneath the hills!
There hooted near a hunting owl
with boding voice. He heard the howl
of the wild wolves that followed him
and dogged his feet through shadows dim.
Him unrelenting, well he knew,
the hunt of Morgoth did pursue.
Lest Eilinel with him they slay
without a word he turned away,
and like a wild thing winding led
his devious ways o'er stony bed
of stream, and over quaking fen,
until far from the homes of men
he lay beside his fellows few
in a secret place; and darkness grew,
and waned, and still he watched unsleeping,
and saw the dismal dawn come creeping
in dank heavens above gloomy trees.
A sickness held his soul for ease,
and hope, and even thraldom's chain
if he might find his wife again.
But all he thought twixt love of lord
and hatred of the king abhorred
and anguish for fair Eilinel
who drooped alone, what tale shall tell?
Yet at the last, when many days
of brooding did his mind amaze,
he found the servants of the king,
and bade them to their master bring
a rebel who forgiveness sought,
if haply forgiveness might be bought
with tidings of Barahir the bold,
and where his hidings and his hold
might best be found by night or day.
And thus sad Gorlim, led away
unto those dark deep-dolven halls,
before the knees of Morgoth falls,
and puts his trust in that cruel heart
wherein no truth had ever part.
Quoth Morgoth: 'Eilinel the fair
thou shalt most surely find, and there
where she doth dwell and wait for thee
together shall ye ever be,
and sundered shall ye sigh no more.
This guerdon shall he have that bore
these tidings sweet, O traitor dear!
For Eilinel she dwells not here,
but in the shades of death doth roam
widowed of husband and of home --
a wraith of that which might have been,
methinks, it is that thou hast seen!
Now shalt thou through the gates of pain
the land thou askest grimly gain;
thou shalt to the moonless mists of hell
descend and seek thy Eilinel.'
Thus Gorlim died a bitter death
and cursed himself with dying breath,
and Barahir was caught and slain,
and all good deeds were made in vain.
But Morgoth's guile for ever failed,
nor wholly o'er his foes prevailed,
and some were ever that still fought
unmaking that which malice wrought.
Thus men believed that Morgoth made
the fiendish phantom that betrayed
the soul of Gorlim, and so brought
the lingering hope forlorn to nought
that lived amid the lonely wood;
yet Beren had by fortune good
long hunted far afield that day,
and benighted in strange places lay
far from his fellows. In his sleep
he felt a dreadful darkness creep
upon his heart, and thought the trees
were bare and bent in mournful breeze;
no leaves they had, but ravens dark
sat thick as leaves on bough and bark,
and croaked, and as they croaked each neb
let fall a gout of blood; a web
unseen entwined him hand and limb,
until worn out, upon the rim
of stagnant pool he lay and shivered.
There saw he that a shadow quivered
far out upon the water wan,
and grew to a faint form thereon
that glided o'er the silent lake,
and coming slowly, softly spake
and sadly said: 'Lo! Gorlim here,
traitor betrayed, now stands! Nor fear,
but haste! For Morgoth's fingers close
upon thy father's throat. He knows
your secret tryst, your hidden lair',
and all the evil he laid bare
that he had done and Morgoth wrought.
Then Beren waking swiftly sought
his sword and bow, and sped like wind
that cuts with knives the branches thinned
of autumn trees. At last he came,
his heart afire with burning flame,
where Barahir his father lay;
he came too late. At dawn of day
he found the homes of hunted men,
a wooded island in the fen,
and birds rose up in sudden cloud --
no fen-fowl were they crying loud.
The raven and the carrion-crow
sat in the alders all a-row;
one croaked: 'Ha! Beren comes too late',
and answered all: 'Too late! Too late!'
There Beren buried his father's bones,
and piled a heap of boulder-stones,
and cursed the name of Morgoth thrice,
but wept not, for his heart was ice.
Then over fen and field and mountain
he followed, till beside a fountain
upgushing hot from fires below
he found the slayers and his foe,
the murderous soldiers of the king.
And one there laughed, and showed a ring
he took from Barahir's dead hand.
'This ring in far Beleriand,
now mark ye, mates,' he said, 'was wrought.
Its like with gold could not be bought,
for this same Berahir I slew,
this robber fool, they say, did do
a deed of service long ago
for Felagund. It may be so;
for Morgoth bade me bring it back,
and yet, methinks, he has no lack
of weightier treasure in his hoard.
Such green befits not such a lord,
and I am minded to declare
the hand of Barahir was bare!'
Yet as he spake an arrow sped;
with riven heart he crumpled dead.
Thus Morgoth loved that his own foe
should in his service deal the blow
that punished the breaking of his word.
But Morgoth laughed not when he heard
that Beren like a wolf alone
sprang madly from behind a stone
amid that camp beside the well,
and seized the ring, and ere the yell
of wrath and rage had left their throat
had fled his foes. His gleaming coat
was made of rings of steel no shaft
could pierce, a web of dwarvish craft;
and he was lost in rock and thorn,
for in charméd hour was Beren born;
their hungry hunting never learned
the way his fearless feet had turned.
As fearless Beren was renowned,
as man most hardy upon ground,
while Barahir yet lived and fought;
but sorrow now his soul had wrought
to dark despair, and robbed his life
of sweetness, that he longed for knife,
of shaft, or sword, to end his pain,
and dreaded only thraldom's chain.
Danger he sought and death pursued,
and thus escaped the fate he wooed,
and deeds of breathless wonder dared
whose whispered glory widely fared,
and softly songs were sung at eve
of marvels he did once achieve
alone, beleaguered, lost at night
by mist or moon, or neath the light
of the broad eye of day. The woods
that northward looked with bitter feuds
he filled and death for Morgoth's folk;
his comrades were the beech and oak,
who failed him not, and many things
with fur and fell and feathered wings;
and many spirits, that in stone
in mountains old and wastes alone,
do dwell and wander, were his friends.
Yet seldom well an outlaw ends,
and Morgoth was a king more strong
than all the world has since in song
recorded, and his wisdom wide
slow and surely who him defied
did hem and hedge. Thus at the last
must Beren flee the forest fast
and lands he loved where lay his sire
by reeds bewailed beneath the mire.
Beneath a heap of mossy stones
now crumble those once mighty bones,
but Beren flees the friendless North
one autumn night, and creeps him forth;
the leaguer of his watchful foes
he passed -- silently he goes.
No more his hidden bowstring sings,
no more his shaven arrow wings,
no more his hunted head doth lie
upon the heath beneath the sky.
The moon that looked amid the mist
upon the pines, the wind that hissed
among the heather and the fern
found him no more. The stars that burn
about the North with silver fire
in frosty airs, the Burning Briar
that Men did name in days long gone,
were set behind his back, and shone
o'er land and lake and darkened hill,
forsaken fen and mountain rill.
His face was South from the Land of Dread,
whence only evil pathways led,
and only feet of men most bold
might cross the Shadowy Mountains cold.
Their northern slopes were filled with woe,
with evil and with mortal foe;
their southern faces mounted sheer
in rocky pinnacle and pier,
whose roots were woven with deceit
and washed with waters bitter-sweet.
There magic lurked in gulf and glen,
for far away beyond the ken
of searching eyes, unless it were
from dizzy tower that pricked the air
where only eagles lived and cried,
might grey and gleaming be descried
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the faëry land.

Last updated January 14, 2019