Lines in Honor of Our Anniversary: Poetry from GHG Members

Did you know that the Grey Havens Group marks its fourth anniversary this month? We will be celebrating the occasion a little late with our annual Hall of Fire gathering in which our fellowship shares games, good food and, most importantly, reads poems and passages from our favorite writers as we fill up the corners into the early hours of the morning. To tide you over until the party begins, here are some brilliant rhymes from GHG members.

Let’s start with a limerick, written last year in honor of our group by the GHG member known to our regular readers as pipeweedjesus. It captures the magic of our group so perfectly that it never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

There once was a group called Grey Havens,
Reading Tolkien, and Barfield, and Gaiman.
They meet and discuss,
And disagree much,
Shaping moments of pure Sub-Creation.

Thank you, pipeweedjesus!

More recently, I challenged our group to come up with a whole new set of Tolkien-themed limericks. Proven limerick master, Katy, was the first to accept. Here are some of her valiant verses.

A clever young Hobbit named Tim
Remained always nimble and slim
Despite six meals a day.
He kept on that way
By having two quite hollow limbs.

hobbit-food

A Dwarf with a very long beard
Faced the Dragon that all others feared.
By the end of the fight
He was a truly grim sight,
For his braids were all smoking and seared.

Next, pipeweedjesus entered the fray with his clever contribution.

The Hobbit was written by Tolkien.
Could they film it, fans asked, without choking?
But the movie was bad,
The fans were so sad.
Mr. Jackson, is that pipeweed you’re smoking?

jacksoncalm

Finally, Scott Rochat, a former contributor to this blog, took up the gauntlet with these remarkable rhymes!

Frodo shook off a sting and a bite,
Spear and knife couldn’t do him in quite,
But when Sam learned to play,
On the banjo one day,
He screamed and ran into the night.

frodogif

There was Merry and Pippin and Sam,
Plus Frodo and Strider the Man,
Legolas came and Gimli,
Boromir died quite grimly,
And Gandalf fell over the span.

I was so impressed with Scott’s poetic prowess that I told him to drop and give me a sonnet. To my astonishment, he did–in just under twelve minutes!

The Ring, so bright, began in Sauron’s hand,
His aim to crush and rule the bright and Free,
But Isildur sliced off that golden band,
Then fell and left it washing t’wards the Sea,

But deep it stayed within a hidden lake,
Where Deagol raised it back into the light,
Beside him, Smeagol vowed the Ring to take,
He killed, then took his Precious far from sight,

Five hundred years rolled on, until the day,
When Bilbo Baggins came to Gollum’s cave,
He found the Ring; it helped him get away,
Then urged him to lay Gollum in his grave,

The pity Bilbo showed , to stay his hand,
May yet be praised by every realm and land.

hobbits-clapping

Then, just to amaze us all, he came right back with a sestina. Lots of smart people I know couldn’t even spot a sestina in a lineup!

“Reborn.”

Once there dwelt a mighty Man,
Named Beren, heart-struck with loveliest Elf,
Fair Luthien, she laid aside her life,
They claimed the gems from Morgoth’s very crown,
She pledged her soul to one who lost his hand,
And joined him in the tales of Middle-Earth.

Ages roll in Middle-Earth,
And once again there comes a valiant Man,
To throw down Sauron must he set his hand,
And yet his eye falls on a lovely Elf,
He for the briefest while forgets his crown,
He knows she is the purpose of his life.

But what can they know of life?
For darkness plots to claim all Middle-Earth,
The throne lies empty, no one wears the crown,
Two realms must be restored before the Man
Can win the blessing of Elrond Half-Elf,
Can ask and win the lovely Arwen’s hand.

In Mordor waits the Black Hand,
Yet lacking one thing still to claim all life,
Not gold of Dwarf or hidden lore of Elf,
But one small simple ring in Middle-Earth,
The Ring of Pow’r, bereft him by a Man
Of ages past, an heir to Gondor’s crown.

But now strange fate wins its crown,
The Ring comes to a simple Hobbit hand,
And now the fate of Aragorn the Man,
Is to protect its bearer with his life,
One desp’rate chance to save all Middle-Earth,
And then return to wed Arwen the Elf.

He must fare far from his Elf,
A Ranger and a King without a crown,
To many realms and lands of Middle-Earth,
Yet he knows fate lies in a smaller hand,
As Sam and Frodo now must risk their life,
At stake,the lives of Elf and Dwarf and Man.

Middle-Earth, rejoice! For a ruined hand,
Restores the crown, brings the White Tree to life,
And joins at last the love of Elf to Man.

Top that, blog readers! Leave your Tolkien-themed poetry in comments. Be sure to identify the poetic form. Everything is welcome, from limericks to free verse to disco song lyrics. Give us something worthy to sing in our Hall of Fire!

inthebath

For more brilliance from Grey Havens Group members or to become one yourself, join our Facebook group, follow us on Twitter and, of course, follow our blog!

Mirth in Middle-earth

Goofing off one day in the throne room at Barad-dûr, several Wraiths noticed Sauron grimacing into his glowing palantír.  There stood a tiny seven-foot-tall Aragorn, waving a tiny sword.  Hitting the log-off button angrily, Sauron fumed, “Thinks he’s so funny!  How did he know about my feet?!”

Wraith at work

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth we encounter nine rather gloomy Ringwraiths and it would be difficult to imagine a more serious bunch of not-quite-dead fellows.  Whatever remnant of weird stuff they might be made of, not a single one of those guys could be said to have even the ghost of a decent funny bone.

Sauron’s feet were less like feet, and more like… The paws of a werebeast.  In ancient days, escaping the fearsome grip of Huan, his enemy, Sauron’s shape-shifting magic had become fickle.  He ever since had to wear tennis shoes around the House of Lamentation to hide the truth about his feet.  Aragorn was right, the Dark Lord didn’t need to wear socks since the fur was so thick.  Plus, he felt a terrible urge right now to lift one paw and scratch under his chin!

Sauron's secret

My point is that it can’t be pure coincidence that there are nine occurrences of the word “mirth” in The Lord of the Rings.  When I think of this, I always conclude, oh sure, Frodo got the ring to Mount Doom and Gollum took it into the fire.  But by the time Frodo found the doorway into Orodruin, he had entirely lost his sense of humor.  He stood there at the Crack of Doom unable to recall even a single one of the wisecracks he had come up with, for posterity.

One Wraith turned to another.  An eerie whisper floated out of the dark hood, “The boss sure would like to give that Aragorn the finger!”  The hood of the other Wraith nodded and hissed, “But he already gave it to Isildur!”

Everyone knows it was Galadriel’s laughter that really saved Middle-earth.  I have always liked the way she laughed when Frodo offered her the Ring.  A moment later, contemplating the temptation, “suddenly she laughed again” and in so doing she passed her test.  You see, the Valar exiled her because she took herself way too seriously and they found it tiresome.  Mirth won back her passport to Valinor.

Wraith having fun

A third Wraith leaned near the first two, “Have you ever noticed how he counts us on his fingers when he does the roll-call at our staff meetings?”  The first one shot back, “Yep!  And you’re always one of the pinkies!”

There is plenty of warm good humor in the Shire, but we first glimpse “mirth” as a kind of enchantment in the House of Bombadil.  It turns out that old Tom has been waiting for millennia for someone to stop by with the One Ring.  Rather than fuss nervously about what to do about the fate of Middle-earth, Tom has in mind a fun practical joke.  I’d bet that he told Goldberry all about the look on Frodo’s face.

Wraith having fun

Later that day in the locker room in Barad-dûr, a Wraith came rushing in, his dark hooded cloak flapping.  “Didja hear the news?!”  He looked around.  He wasn’t sure where the other fellow was standing.  When a towel and a vial of shampoo lifted up from a nearby bench, he knew where to look.  A thin reedy voice quavered, “Uh-huh.  We’re all gettin’ promotions!”

Tolkien’s mirth is a weighty matter of magic and wisdom.  We observe this truth through Pippin’s eyes in Minas Tirith when he glimpses in Gandalf’s careworn visage “a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”  Galadriel must have known about Gandalf’s penchant for a good gag.  She surely rejected the Ring for fear of ending up in Gandalf’s routine down at the local comedy pub in Minas Tirith.

“Garn!” rasped the first Wraith, “I sure didn’t know the Lidless Eye had that many tear ducts!  You’d think he just lost another finger, instead of that pompous old No-Dude-Will-Ever-Kill-Me Lord of the Nazgûl!”  The Wraith followed the floating towel and vial into the showers.  An invisible throat cleared, “Well, the boss did try to give the old dwimmerlaik a few tips about what not to say on a first date!”

Describing Aragorn in the appendices, Tolkien provides us with the ninth and last use of “mirth.”  Someday a diligent scholar will find among Tolkien’s scribbled manuscripts the thing that Aragorn said to Sauron while skyping him through the palantír.  It’s likely that Aragorn’s jokes were pretty clunky, and on that occasion, rather than chuckle lightly to emphasize the honest effort at humor, Aragorn felt compelled to wave his sword around.

Wraith snickering

The towel came to rest on a hook and the shower came on.  It flowed through empty space.  The shampoo vial rested untouched on a ledge.  The first Wraith stood watching for a moment and turned away, disappointed.  He’d always been curious to see how the others washed their hair.  He hadn’t been able to figure that out since he… faded.  That’s why he always wore a big ugly cloak with a hoodie – after all these years his hair looked pretty frightful!

I’m certain that Tolkien’s Ringwraiths forgot long ago how to snicker.  We can only guess how things might have gone for them if they’d retained even the slightest clue about how to pull off a decent practical joke.  With even a modest amount of experience at pranking, they might have had a little warning when the punchline came for them in the end.

The second Wraith watched him leave.  They always pulled this joke on that guy.  Everyone knew he was desperate to figure out how they washed their hair.  And he had no clue about the truth.  All eight – uh, seven now – of the other Wraiths were totally bald!

Lidless Eye

The Grey Havens Invocation

At home after our May 10 Grey Havens meeting, I pondered our discussion about “The Houses of Healing.”  Claywise wondered if there might be a historical inspiration for the way Tolkien linked Aragorn’s royal lineage and his ability to heal the sick.  A glance at the internet indeed hinted at such traditions in France and England.  Some kings were said to have had a “healing touch” related to a disease called scrofula.

Henry IV of France healing scrofula 1609 (Andre du Laurens)I also mulled over Jason’s mention of traditional healing practices worldwide.  Did traditional medicine inform Tolkien’s storytelling?  As a scholar of ancient Northern European culture, is that scholarship reflected in “The Houses of Healing”?

Treading the paths of logic that brought Tolkien to the ideas that shaped “The Houses of Healing,” it seems appropriate to touch on a long-standing cultural debate.  In a world that increasingly relies on scientific inquiry as the basis for validating medical practices, what aspects of traditional medicine deserve to be valued?  Must we choose one process over the other?  Modern medicine versus traditional healing?

I presume that science-based medicine can find something to respect in the public ceremonial aspect of traditional healing practices worldwide.  Even the most scientifically grounded worldview can acknowledge the potential for positive psychological feedback when a community gathers to focus on human suffering.  Through ritual we transform private pain into a shared public narrative.  There surely must be psychological value in getting everyone jointly invested in a narrative about well-being.

Over the years I have learned that when social narratives conflict, it is typical for those involved to believe that “the truth” can bring “closure.”  But when the relevant truths diverge greatly, we get locked into a contentious struggle to promote one truth at the expense of the other.  This divisive process can never bring healing to everyone.

From the very beginning of Grey Havens, something rather curious has unfolded in the course of our talk.  We have inadvertently cultivated a very special shared communal narrative.  In this story, we tell one another that at Grey Havens healing is for everyone.  We should be generous with it.  We ought to encourage one another to say what matters.  And we will speak words of encouragement.

It is logical to believe that if we embrace this unexpected narrative together, the psychological component of healing can wield a secret magic among us.  Perhaps this can help us each with at least some of our unspoken needs as individuals.  Opening our hearts, an oblique healing process enters our storytelling.  Perhaps the tales that we whisper by ourselves in the darkness of selfhood become transformative when spoken in public before trusted friends.  I guess this is what some folk would call magic.  I think of it as uncommon sense.

Whatever ancient beliefs attended the lineages of royalty, and whatever informed Tolkien when he wrote “The Houses of Healing,” the healing touch and the wish for well-being ought to be for everyone.  When we respect this wish, we infuse our stories with a spirit of hope.  This is the secret that dwells at the heart of the Grey Havens Invocation:

Now a star is shining.
It is the hour of our meeting.
All are welcome at Grey Havens.
We come together with respect
and with friendship.
Here we will share our journeys.
We will speak, and we will listen.
Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.
A star shines on the hour of our meeting.

Tolkien Reading Day, March 25, 2012