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Kortirion


by


J.R.R. Tolkien



There are three versions of this poem. I think this is probably my very favorite of Tolkien's works.


I
Kortirion Amoung the Trees
The First Verses

O fading town upon a little hill,
Old memory is waning in thine ancient gates,
The robe gone gray, thine old heart almost still;
The castle only, frowning, ever waits
And ponders how amoung the towering elms
The Gliding Water leaves these inland realms
And slips between long meadows to the western sea--
Still bearing downward over murmurous falls
One year and then another to the sea;
And slowly thither have a many gons
Since first the fairies built Koririon.

O spiry town upon a windy hill
With sudden-winding alleys shady-walled
(Where even now the peacocks pace a stately drill,
Majestic, sapphirine, and emerald),
Behold thy girdle of a wide champain
Sunlit, and watered with a silver rain,
And richly wooded with a thousand whispering trees
That cast long shadows in many a bygone noon,
And murmured many centuries in the breeze.
Thou art the city of the Land of Elms,
Alalminore in the Faery Realms.

Sing of thy trees, old, old Kortirion!
Thine oaks, and maples with their tassels on,
Thy singing poplars; and the splendid yews
That crown thine aged walls and muse
Of sombre grandeur all the day--
Until the twinkle of the early stars
In tangled palely in their sable bars;
Until the twinkle of the early stars
Is tangled palely in their sable bars;
Until the seven lampads of the Silver Bear
Swing slowly in their shrouded hair
And diadem the fallen day.
O tower and citadel of the world!
When bannered summer is unfurled
Most full of music are thine elms--
A gathered sound that overwhelms
The voices of all other trees.
Sing then of elms, belov'd Kortirion,
How summer crowds their full sails on,
Like clothed masts of verdurous ships,
A fleet of galleons that proudly slips
Across long sunlit seas.

The Second Verses

Thou art the inmost province of the fading isle
Where linger yet the Lonely Companies.
Still, undespairing, do they sometimes slowly file
Along thy paths with plaintive harmonies:
The holy fairies and immortal elves
That dance amoung the trees and sing themselves
A wistful song of things that were, and could be yet.
They pass and vanish in a sudden breeze,
A wave o bowing grass--and we forget
Their tender voices like wind-shaken bells
Of flowers, their gleaming hair like golden asphodels.

Spring still hath joy: thy spring is ever fair
Amoung the trees; but drowsy summer by thy streams
Already stoops to hear the secret player
Pipe out beyond the tangle of her forest dreams
The long thin tune that still do sing
The elvish harebells nodding in a jacinth ring
Upon the castle walls;
Come up her sunny aisles and perfumed halls:
A sad and haunting magic note,
A strand of silver glass remote.

Then all thy trees, old town upon a windy bent,
Do loose a long sad whisper and lament;
For going are the rich-hued hours, th'enchanted nights
When flitting ghost-moths dance like satellites
Round tapers in the moveless air;
And dommed already are the radiant dawns,
The fingered sunlight dripping on long lawns;
The odour and the slumbrous noise of meads,
When all the sorrel, flowers, and plumed weeds
Go down before the scyther's share.
Strange sad October roves her dewy furze
In netted sheen of gold-shot gossamers,
And then the wide-umbraged elm begins to fail;
Her mourning multitudes of leaves go pale
Seeing afar the icy shears
Of Winter, and his blue-tipped spears
Marching unconquerable upon the sun
Of bright All-Hallows. Then their hour is done,
And wanly borne on wings of amber pale
They beat the wide airs of the fading vale
And fly like birds across the misty meres.

The Third Verses

Yet is this season dearest to my heart,
Most fitting to the little faded town
With sense of splendid pomps that now depart
In mellow sounds of sadness echoing down
The paths of stranded mists. O! Gentle time
When the late mornings are bejewelled with rime,
And the blue shadows gather on the distant woods.
The fairies know thy early crystal dusk
And put in secret on their twilit hoods
Of grey and filmy purple, and long bands
Of frosted starlight sewn by silver hands.

They know the season of the brilliant night,
When naked elms entwine in cloudy lace
The Pleiades, and long-armed poplars bar the light
Of golden-rondured moons with glorious face.
O fading fairies and most lonely elves
Then sing ye, sing ye to yourselves
A woven song of stars and gleaming leaves;
Then whirl ye with the sapphire-winged winds;
Then do ye pipe and call with heart that grieves
To sombre men: 'Remember what is gone--
The magic sun that lit Kortirion!'

Now are thy trees, old, old Kortirion,
Seen rising up through pallid mists and wan,
Like vessels floating vague and long afar
Down opal seas beyond the shadowy bar
Of cloudy ports forlorn:
They leave behind for ever havens throng'd
Wherein their crews a while held feasting long
And gorgeous ease, who now like windy ghosts
Are wafted by slow airs to empty coasts;
There are they sadly glimmering borne
Across the plumbless ocean of oblivion.
Bare are thy trees become, Kortirion,
And all their summer glory swiftly gone.
The seven lampads of the Silver Bear
Are waxen to a wondrous flare
That flames above the fallen year.
Though cold thy windy squares and empty streets;
Though elves dance seldom in thy pale retreats
(Save on some rare and moonlit night,
A flash, a whispering glint of white),
Yet would I never need depart from here.

The Last Verse

I need not know the desert or red palaces
Where dwells the sun, the great seas or the magic isles,
The pinewoods piled on mountain-terraces;
And calling faintly down the windy miles
Touches my heart no distant bell that rings
In populous cities of the Earthly Kings.
Here do I find a haunting ever-near content
Set midmost of the Land of withered Elms
(Alalminore of the Faery Realms);
Here circling slowly in a sweet lament
Linger the holy fairies and immortal elves
Singing a song of faded longing to themselves.


Kortirion Amoung the Trees
I

O fading town upon an inland hill,
Old shadows linger in thine ancient gate,
Thy robe is grey, thine old heart now is still;
Thy towers silent in the mist await
Their crumbling end, while through the storeyed elms
The Gliding Water leaves these inland realms,
And slips between long meadows to the Sea,
Still bearing downward over murmurous falls
One day and then another to the Sea;
And slowly thither many years have gone,
Since first the Elves here built Kortirion.

O climbing town upon thy windy hill
With winding streets, and alleys shady-walled
Where now untamed the peacocks pace in drill
Majestic, sapphirine, and emerald;
Amid the girdle of the sleeping land,
Where silver falls the rain and gleaming stand
The whispering host of old deep-rooted trees
That cast long shadows in many a bygone noon,
And murmured many centuries in the breeze;
Thou art the city of the Land of Elms,
Alalminore in the Faery Realms.

Sing of thy trees, Kortirion, again:
The beech on hill, the willow in the fen,
Within thine aged courts that muse
In sombre splendour all the day;
Until the twinkle of the early stars
Comes glinting through their sable bars,
And the white moon climbing up the sky
Looks down upon the ghosts of trees that die
Slowly and silently from day to day.
O Lonely Isle, here was thy citadel,
Ere bannered summer from his fortress fell.
Then full of music were thine elms:
Green was their armour, green their helms,
The Lords and Kings of all thy trees.
Sing, then, of elms, renowned Kortirion,
That under summer crowds their full sail on,
And shrouded stand like masts of verdurous ships,
A fleet of galleons that proudly slips
Across long sunlit seas.

II

Thou art the inmost province of the fading isle,
Where linger yet the Lonely Companies;
Still, undespairing, here they slowly file
Along thy paths with solemn harmonies:
The holy people of an elder day,
Immortal Elves, that singing fair and fey
Of vanished things that were, and could be yet,
Pass like a wind amoung the rustling trees,
A wave of bowing grass, and we forget
Their tender voices like wind-shaken bells
Of flowers, their gleaming hair like golden asphodels.

Once Spring was here with joy, and all was fair
Amoung the trees; but Summer drowsing by the stream
Heard trembling in her heart the secret player
Pipe, out beyond the tangle of her forest dream,
The long-drawn tune that elvish voices made
Forseeing Winter through the leafy glade;
The late flowers nodding on the ruined walls
Then stooping heard afar that haunting flute
Beyond the sunny aisles and tree-propped halls;
Fro thin and clear and cold the note,
As strand of silver glass remote.

Then all thy trees, Kortirion, were bent,
And shook with sudden whispering lament:
For passing were the days, and doomed the nights
When flitting ghost-moths danced as satellites
Round tapers in the moveless air;
And doomed already were the radiant dawns,
The fingered sunlight drawn across the lawns;
The odour and the slumbrous noise of meads,
Where all the sorrel, flowers, and plumed weeds
Go down before the scyther's share.
When cool October robed her dewy furze
In netted sheen of gold-shot gossamers,
Then the wide-umbraged elms began to fail;
Their mourning multitude of leaves grew pale,
Seeing afar the icy spears
Of Winter marching blue behind the sun
Of bright All-Hallows. Then their hour was done,
And wanly borne on wings of amber pale
They beat the wide airs of the fading vale,
And flew like birds across the misty meres.

III

This is the season dearest to the heart,
And time most fitting to the ancient town,
With waning musics sweet that slow depart
Winding with echoed sadness faintly down
The paths of stranded mist. O gentle time,
When the late mornings are begemmed with rime,
And early shadows fold the distant woods!
The Elves go silent by, their shining hair
They cloak in twilight under secret hoods
Of grey, and filmy purple, and long bands
Of frosted starlight sewn by silver hands.

And oft they dance beneath the roofless sky,
When naked elms entwine in branching lace
The Seven Stars, and through the boughs the eye
Stares golden-beaming in the round moon's face.
O holy Elves and fair immortal Folk,
You sing then ancient songs that once awoke
Under primeval stars before the Dawn;
You whirl then dancing with the eddying wind,
As once you danced upon the shimmering lawn
In Elvenhome, before we were, before
You crossed wide seas unto this mortal shore.

Now are thy trees, old grey Kortirion,
Through pallid mists seen rising tall and wan,
Like vessels floating vague, and drifting far
Down opal seas beyond the shadowy bar
Of cloudy ports forlorn;
Leaving behind for ever havens loud,
Wherein their crews a while held feasting proud
And lordly ease, they now like windy ghosts
Are wafted by slow airs to windy coasts,
And glimmering sadly down the tide are borne.
Bare are thy trees become, Kortirion;
The rotted raiment from their bones is gone.
The seven candles of the Silver Wain,
Like lighted tapers in a darkened fane,
Now flare above the fallen year.
Though court and street now cold and empty lie,
And Elves dance seldom neath the barren sky,
Yet under the white moon there is a sound
Of buried music still beneath the ground.
When winter comes, I would meet winter here.

I would not seek the desert, or red palaces
Where reigns the sun, nor sail to magic isles,
Nor climb the hoary mountains' stony terraces;
And tolling faintly over windy miles
To my heart calls no distant bell that rings
In crowded cities of the Earthly Kings.
For here is heartsease still, and deep content,
Though sadness haunt the Land of withered Elms
(Alalminore in the Faery Realms);
And making music still in sweet lament
The Elves here holy and immortal dwell,
And on the stones and trees there lies a spell.


The Trees of Kortirion

I
Alalminore

O ancient city on a leaguered hill!
Old shadows linger in your broken gate,
Your stones are grey, your old halls now are still,
You towers silent in the mist await
Their crumbling end, while through the storeyed elms
The River Gliding leaves these inland realms
And slips between long meadows to the Sea,
Still bearing down by weir and murmuring fall
One day and then another to the Sea;
And slowly thither many days have gone
Since first the Edain built Kortirion.

Kortirion! Upon your island hill
With winding streets, and alleys shadow-walled
Where even now the peacocks pace in drill
Majestic, sapphirine and emerald,
Once long ago amid this sleeping land
Of silver rain, where still year-laden stand
In unforgetful earth the rooted trees
That cast long shadows in the bygone noon,
And whispered in the swiftly passing breeze,
Once long ago, Queen of the Land of Elms,
High City were you of the Inland Realms.

Your trees in summer you remember still:
The willow by the spring, the beech on hill;
The rainy poplars, and the frowning yews
Within your aged courts that muse
In sombre splendour all the day,
Until the firstling star comes glimmering,
And flittermice go by on silent wing;
Until the white moon slowly climbing sees
In shadow-fields the sleep-enchanted trees
Night-mantled all in silver-grey.
Alalminor! Here was your citadel,
Ere bannered summer from his fortress fell;
About you stood arrayed your host of elms:
Green was their armour, tall and green their helms,
High lords and captains of the trees.
But summer wanes. Behold, Kortirion!
The elms their full sail now have crowded on
Ready to the winds, like masts amid the vale
Of mighty ships too soon, too soon, to sail
To other days beyond these sunlit seas.

II
Narquelion

Alalminore! Green heart of this Isle
Where linger yet the Faithful Companies!
Still undespairing here they slowly file
Down lonely paths with solemn harmonies:
The Fair, the first-born in an elder day,
Immortal Elves, who singing on their way
Of bliss of old and grief, though men forget,
Pass like a wind amoung the rustling trees,
A wave of bowing grass, and men forget
Their voices calling from a time we do not know,
Their gleaming hair like sunlight long ago.

A wind in the grass! The turning of the year.
A shiver in the reeds beside the stream,
A whisper in the trees--afar they hear,
Piercing the heart of summer's tangled dream,
Chill music that a herald piper plays
Foreseeing winter and the leafless days.
The late flowers trembling on the ruined walls
Already stoop to hear that elven-flute.
Through the wood's sunny aisles and tree-propped halls
Winding amid the green with clear cold note
Like a thin strand of silver glass remote.

The high-tide ebbs, the year will soon be spent;
And all your trees, Kortirion, lament.
At morn the whetstone rang upon the blade,
At eve the grass and golden flowers were laid
To wither, and the meadows bare.
Now dimmed already comes the tardier dawn,
Paler the sunlight fingers creep across the lawn.
The days are passing. Gone like moths the nights
When white wings fluttering danced like satellites
Round tapers in the windless air.
Lammas is gone. The Harvest-moon has waned.
Summer is dying that so briefly reigned.
Now the proud elms at last begin the quail,
Their leaves uncounted tremble and grow pale,
Seeing afar the icy spears
Of winter march to battle with the sun.
When bright All-Hallows fades, their day is done,
And borne on wings of amber wan they fly
In heedless winds beneath the sullen sky,
And fall like dying birds upon the meres.

III
Hrivion

Alas! Kortirion, Queen of Elms, alas!
This season best befits your ancient town
With echoing voices sad that slowly pass,
Winding with waning music faintly down
The paths of stranded mist. O fading time,
When morning rises late all hoar with rime,
And early shadows veil the distant woods!
Unseen the Elves go by, their shining hair
They cloak in twilight under secret hoods
Of grey, their dusk-blue mantles gird with bands
Of frosted starlight sewn by silver hands.

At night they dance beneath the roofless sky,
When naked elms entwine in branching lace
The Seven Stars, and through the boughs the eye
Stares down cold-gleaming in the high moon's face.
O Elder Kindred, fair immortal folk!
You sing now ancient songs that once awoke
Under primeval stars before the Dawn;
You dance like shimmering shadows in the wind,
As once you danced upon the shining lawn
Of Elvenhome, before we were, before
You crossed wide seas unto this mortal shore.

Now are your trees, old grey Kortirion,
Through pallid mists seen rising tall and wan,
Like vessels vague that slowly drift afar
Out, out to empty seas beyond the bar
Of cloudy ports forlorn;
Leaving behind for ever havens loud,
Wherein heir crews a while held feasting proud
In lordly ease, they now like windy ghosts
Are wafted by cold airs to freindless coasts,
And silent down the tide are borne.
Bare has your realm become, Kortirion,
Stripped of its raiment, and its splendour gone.
Like lighted tapers in a darkened fane
The funeral candles of the Silver Wain
Now flare above the fallen year.
Winter is come. Beneath the barren sky
The Elves are silent. But they do not die!
Here waiting they endure the winter fell
And silence. Here I too will dwell;
Kortirion, I will meet the winter here.

IV
Mettanye

I would not find the burning domes and sands
Where reigns the sun, nor dare the deadly snows,
Nor seek in mountains dark the hidden lands
Of men long lost to whom no pathway goes;
I heed no call of clamant bell that rings
Iron-tongued in the towers of earthly kings.
Here on the stones and trees there lies a spell
Of unforgotten loss, of memory more blest
Than mortal wealth. Here undefeated dwell
The Folk Immortal under withered elms,
Alalminore once in ancient realms.


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