Exciting Tolkien news today. Two lost poems by Tolkien have been found. They were originally published in the obscure annual magazine of an Oxfordshire Catholic high school in 1936—an odd place for an Oxford Don to publish his work.
However, Tolkien was not a professional poet, but an Anglo-Saxon scholar. His poetry, old fashioned and out of step with the high modernism of Eliot and Pound, would not have been picked up by the top literary journals. But clearly Tolkien valued it enough and believed in it enough that he wanted to see it published even in an obscure place. Also, the poem “Noel,” about the Virgin Mary, is deeply Catholic. What better place to share it than with a Catholic religious community dedicated to Mary.
I like “Noel” very much. The first line: “Grim was the world and grey last night” gives the poem an alliterative Anglo-saxon flare. The description of the wintery world of the first two stanzas has much of The Wanderer and the Sea-farer in it. If the poem looks backward with its wistful romantic style to a Catholic medieval world, it also looks forward to the eucatastrophe. Tolkien was not just a man with his head turned to the past. He was always interested in uniting past and present and thereby redeeming the present.
I have printed "Noel" below and here are the Guardian article and the BBC article about the poems’ discovery.
Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains' teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.
The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o'er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.
The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.
Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O'er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven's towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven's King.
Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.