I won’t even pretend that I remotely understand Tolkien’s poetry – or, his work, in general. However, his naval poems are notable, both to the modern-day Middle-Earth scholar, and to people with more classic approaches.
One recurring theme I notice in Tolkien’s poetry is that of “The Road”.
Interestingly enough, a precursor to “The Road” is “the sea”. The great infinite, the eternal journey, call it what you will. And that obviously brings him close to Coleridge’s Rime, and the overall trope of the Eternal Wanderer. The ultimate conclusion of that trope, that all “roads” through life, all “seas of wonder” are metaphors for death and dying, I am not sure I share. Also, I highly doubt it is applicable to the good Professor’s poetry.
Now, here again, one of Tolkien’s juvenalia. Well worth, reading, and probably the first poem where he lays out the philosophy of his fantasy universe.
I am too lazy to spell it out; read closely.
The Happy Mariners
I know a window in a western tower
That opens on celestial seas,
And wind that has been blowing round the stars
Comes to nestle in its tossing draperies.
It is a white tower builded in the Twilight Isles,
Where Evening sits for ever in the shade;
It glimmers like a spike of lonely pearl
That mirrors beams forlorn and lights that fade;
And sea goes washing round the dark rock where it stands,
And fairy boats go by to gloaming lands
All piled and twinkling in the gloom
With hoarded sparks of orient fire
That divers won in waters of the unknown Sun —
And, maybe, ‘tis a throbbing silver lyre,
Or voices of grey sailors echo up
Afloat among the shadows of the world
In oarless shallop and with canvas furled;
For often seems there ring of feet and song
Or twilit twinkle of a trembling gong.
O! happy mariners upon a journey long
To those great portals on the Western shores
Where far away constellate fountains leap,
And dashed against Night’s dragon-headed doors,
In foam of stars fall sparkling in the deep.
While I alone look out behind the Moon
From in my white and windy tower,
Ye bide no moment and await no hour,
But chanting snatches of a mystic tune
Go through the shadows and the dangerous seas
Past sunless lands to fairy leas
Where stars upon the jacinth wall of space
Do tangle burst and interlace.
Ye follow Earendel through the West,
The shining mariner, to Islands blest;
While only from beyond that sombre rim
A wind returns to stir these crystal panes
And murmur magically of golden rains
That fall for ever in those spaces dim.