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Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

In honor of this day, I offer my reading of one of my favorite poems by Tolkien, "The Sea-Bell" (also known as "Frodo's Dreme") from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. W.H. Auden, a contemporary of Tolkien's and a great poet in his own right, said that this was Tolkien's best poem, and I certainly understand why. Download the reading here.

Here is "The Sea-Bell (Frodo's Dreme)." I find the final stanza to be especially haunting.

"The Sea-Bell (Frodo's Dreme)"
by J.R.R. Tolkien

I walked by the sea, and there came to me,
as a star-beam on the wet sand,
a white shell like a sea-bell;
trembling it lay in my wet hand.
In my fingers shaken I heard waken
a ding within, by a harbour bar
a buoy swinging, a call ringing
over endless seas, faint now and far.

Then I saw a boat silently float
On the night-tide, empty and grey.
‘It is later than late! Why do we wait?'
I lept in and cried: ‘Bear me away!'

It bore me away, wetted with spray,
wrapped in a mist, wound in a sleep,
to a forgotten strand in a strange land.
In the twilight beyond the deep
I heard a sea-bell swing in the swell,
dinging, dinging, and the breakers roar
on the hidden teeth of a perilous reef;
and at last I came to a long shore.
White it glimmered, and the sea simmered
with star-mirrors in a silver net;
cliffs of stone pale as ruel-bone
in the moon-foam were gleaming wet.
Glittering sand slid through my hand,
Dust of pearl and jewel-grist,
Trumpets of opal, roses of coral,
Flutes of green and amethyst.
But under cliff-eaves there were glooming caves,
weed-curtained, dark and grey'
a cold air stirred in my hair,
and the light waned, as I hurried away.

Down from a hill ran a green rill;
its water I drank to my heart's ease.
Up its fountain-stair to a country fair
of ever-eve I came, far from the seas,
dclimbing into meadows of fluttering shadows;
flowers lay there like fallen stars,
and on a blue pool, glassy and cool,
like floating moons the nenuphars.
Alders were sleeping, and willows weeping
by a slow river of rippling weeds;
gladdon-swords guarded the fords,
and green spears, and arrow-reeds.

There was echo of song all the evening long
down in the valley, many a thing
running to and fro: hares white as snow,
voles out of holes; moths on the wing
with lantern-eyes; in quiet surpise
brocks were staring out of dard doors.
I heard dancing there, music in the air,
feet going quick on the green floors.
But wherever I came it was ever the same:
the feet fled, and all was still;
never a greeting, only the fleeting
pipes, voices, horns on the hill.

Of river-leaves and the rush-sheaves
I made me a mantle of jewel-green,
a tall wand to hold, and a flag of gold;
my eyes shone like the star-sheen.
With flowers crowned I stood on a mound,
and shrill as a call at cock-crow?
Why do none speak, wherever I go?
Here now I stand, king of this land,
with gladdon-sword and reed-mace.
Answer my call! Come forth all!
Speak to me words! Show me a face!'

Black came a cloud as a night-shroud.
Like a dark mole groping I went,
to the ground falling, on my hands crawling
with eyes blind and my back bent.
I crept to a wood: silent it stood
in its dead leaves; bare were its boughs.
There must I sit, wandering in wit,
while owls snored in their hollow house.
For a year and day there must I stay:
beetles were tapping in the rotten trees,
spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving
puffballs loomed about my knees.

At last there came light in my long night,
and I saw my hair hanging grey.
‘Bent though I be, I must find the sea!
I have lost myself, ,and I know not the way,
but let me be gone!' Then I stumbled on;
like a hunting bat shadow was over me;
in my ears dinned a withering wind,
and with ragged briars I tried to cover me.
My hands were torn and my knees worn,
and years were heavy upon my back,
when the rain in my face took a salt taste,
and I smelled the smell of sea-wrack.

Birds came sailing, mewing, wailing;
I heard voices in cold caves,
seals barking, and rocks snarling,
and in spout-holes the gulping of waves.
Winter came fast; into a mist I passed,
to land's end my years I bore;
Snow was in the air, ice in my hair,
darkness was lying on the last shore.

There still afloat waited the boat,
in the tide lifting, its prow tossing.
Wearily I lay, as it bore me away,
the waves climbing, the seas crossing,
passing old hulls clustered with gulls
and great ships laden with light,
coming to haven, dark as a raven,
silent as snow, deep in the night.

Houses were shuttered, wind round them muttered,
roads were empty. I sat by a door,
and where drizzling rain poured down a drain
I cast away all that I bore:
in my clutching hand some grains of sand,
And a sea-shell silent and dead.
Never will my ear that bell hear,
never my feet that shore tread,
never again, as in sad lane,
in blind alley and in long street
ragged I walk. To myself I talk;
For still they speak not, men that I meet.



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this, having forgotten about this poem - and me a huge Tolkien fan!
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)
Mar. 25th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
I love that poem!
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
Me, too! :)
Mar. 25th, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, you read this so beautifully. It really is such a haunting, sad poem with the most astonishing imagery.

Thank you so much! I loved hearing your voice. :))
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:17 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked it. It is an amazing poem.

I'm so glad you organized all of this. It was wonderful getting to hear your voice, too! :)
Mar. 25th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
Wonderful read and the poem is beautiful! Never had heard it before!
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:17 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so excited that this was new for you. I'm glad you liked it.
Mar. 25th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
Such a moving poem, rich with imagery. And the photo... excellent.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:17 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm so glad you liked them.
Mar. 27th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Love your icon! (And the original drawing it's based on.)

Although for some reason the drawing reminds me of Bilbo and a naked Bilbo is one place my mind has never gone before, LOL. Meep.
Mar. 28th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The icon is by fourthage.

And apologies for taking your mind down unwanted paths. *wink* Yikes! Bring the brain bleach!
Mar. 25th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful reading of a lyrical evocative poem. Thank you.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked it.
Mar. 26th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
"with star-mirrors in a silver net;"

Ahh I had so forgot this poem. This line caused me to begin to write poetry many years ago.

Maybe one day I will update my browser and be able to listen.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:19 am (UTC)
I can see how that line would do it! I'm glad you enjoyed revisiting the poem. You can download the link as an MP3, actually, rather than stream the audio, if that helps. Thanks!
Mar. 27th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
That was lovely.
Mar. 27th, 2009 11:19 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked it.
Mar. 27th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
I must admit that I have a hard time reading those looooo-yawns-ooong poems but listening to you read this one brought the words and images to life and made it really entertaining and moving.

Thank you!! You read this beautifully!
Mar. 28th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
What a lovely thing to say! You've made my day. :) Thank you so much. I'm so glad you liked it.
Mar. 29th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
I had never some across that poem before. It was very strange and haunting, and reminded me vaguely of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. You read it beautifully - thanks!
Mar. 30th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! It makes me so happy to know that you enjoyed it. :)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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