September 24, 2014

Centennial Anniversary of Middle-earth

It was 100 years ago on this day, September 24, 1914 when Tolkien first wrote of Middle-earth. As trenches were furiously being dug across France and Russian forces besieged Przemyśl a 22 year old Oxford student sat in his Aunt's farmhouse and wrote a poem about a remarkable mariner who sailed off into the sky and out of the world...

The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star

Earendel arose where the shadow flows
At Ocean’s silent birm;
Through the mouth of night as a ray of light
Where the shores are sheer and dim
He launched his bark like a silver spark
From the last and lonely sand;
Then on sunlit breath of day’s fiery death
He sailed from Westerland.

He threaded his path o’er the aftermath
Of the splendor of the Sun,
And wandered far past many a star
In his gleaming galleon.
On the gathering tide of darkness ride
The argosies of the sky,
And spangle the night eith their sails of light
As the streaming star goes by.

Unheeding he dips past these twinkling ships,
By his wayward spirit whirled
On an endless quest through the darkling West
O’er the margin of the world;
And he fares in haste o’er the jewelled waste
And the dusk from whence he came
With his heart afire with bright desire
And his face in silver flame.

The Ship of the Moon from the East comes soon
From the Haven of the Sun,
Whose white gates gleam in the coming beam
Of the mighty silver one.
Lo! With bellying clouds as his vessel’s shrouds
He weighs anchor down the dark,
And on shimmering oars leaves the blazing shores
In his argent-timbered bark.

Then Earendel fled from from that Shipman dread
Beyond the dark earth’s pale,
Back under the rim of the Ocean dim ,
And behind the world set sail;
And he heard the mirth of the folk of earth
And the falling of their tears,
As the world dropped back in a cloudy warck
On its journey down the years.

Then he glimmering passed to the starless vast
As an isled lamp at sea,
And beyond the ken of mortal men
Set his lonely errantry,
Tracking the Sun in his galleon
Through the pathless firmament,
Till his light grew old in abysses cold
And his eager flame was spent.

Over the course of his life Tolkien would continue to expand his story of Eärendil into a grand mythology that we know through works such as The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. But it was this poem written one hundred years ago that really started it all.

For further reading:

Birth of a new world: the Tolkien poem that marks the genesis of Middle-earth by The Guardian

Middle-earth Turns 100 by John Garth

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