In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the
Ah! the sight and the smell of the Spring in Nan-
And I said that was good.
I wandered in Summer in the elm-woods of Ossiriand.
Ah! the light and the music in the Summer by the
Seven Rivers of Ossir!
And I thought that was best.
To the beeches of Neldoreth I came in the Autumn.
Ah! the gold and the red and the sighing of leaves in the
Autumn in Taur-na-neldor!
It was more than my desire.
To the pine-trees upon the highland of Dorthonion I
climbed in the Winter.
Ah! the wind and the whiteness and the black branches
of Winter upon Orod-na-Thön!
My voice went up and sang in the sky.
And now all those lands lie under the wave,
And I walk in Ambarona, in Tauremorna, in Aldalómë,
In my own land, in the country of Fangorn,
Where the roots are long,
And the years lie thicker than the leaves
I have wanted for a long time to share my vision of poetry. In my vision, poetry is no longer so disembodied or abstract as that we commonly encounter. Poetry is composed of words, and words, as long as they are in the mind, are not dead, not ghostly, but are living and an extension and an act of the mind and the brain.
If a poet could give his still-living, newborn poem into the hands of someone who knew what to do with it – who would keep it alive with his breath – then poetry all over the land would begin to live again.
Part of “keeping poetry alive,” I feel, is reading it aloud. Unfortunately we (in the U.S. at least) are not generally taught elocution in school anymore, so this is difficult for us. We don’t like the sound of our own voices. Albit advises us to hear a prophetic voice in our heads, and I would equally advise us to see pictures in our minds as well.
But better than both of these is a living context.
At its best, a living context is a warm, breathing, wet human voice coming directly from a warm breathing seeing speaking human being standing before us. Context is also the sounds and sights and places that surround that human being as he speaks our poem. Context can be occasion – a wedding, a birthday, a sacred event or congratulatory party. It can also be a place in a story.
I have been looking, since last night, through videos on youtube of renowned actors reciting poems. I have been surprisingly disappointed. There is a really awful way of reading poetry out there, with a flat voice that equalizes all words, and a tiny breath between each line, and no semi-musical sustenuto.
Christopher Lee is a magnificent exception. He knows how to sustain his voice between words, to let it rise and fall, to bring in subtelties of tone that, in ordinary speech, indicate difference, distinction, likeness, and many other para-verbal aspects of speech.
Finding this video, I believe I know why. Christopher Lee knows how to sing as well as recite!
This performance is marvelous because here we have him doing both. It is also marvelous because, although we don’t have a living breathing recitator standing before us, we have a recording that can help us imagine what that would be like. Finally, it is marvelous because it has a context that we all know and love – The Lord of the Rings.
A word about that masterpiece. (Not all has yet been said about it – it is not even 100 years old yet.) I have long believed that the measure of a man’s goodness is the strength of his love for what is good. The Lord of the Rings is a very long composition about something richly, substantively good, in perhaps the only way that we are capable of understanding it – that is, in the loss of it. That something is not, like evil, contained in a single ring, a couple of towers, or some other local artifact. It is a worldwide good. Only through this book do we really see our own world as good and as in the last stages of slipping away, because he shows us what our world would have looked like in the first stages of slipping away.
Thus, the Lord of the Rings is full of sorrow, but it is not the despair that we ourselves so often suffer (which more resembles the greif of Smeagol.) It is the clean honorable peircing sorrow of those who have seen and been cultivated by something very, very, good, not just something brimful of goodness but something that is a much taller vessel for that goodness than we have ever seen. And they watch it sail away.
If we can share that sorrow, then perhaps we can also be touched by a ray of that good.