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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tolkien's poetry

nothinglikethesun9
The Shire

Jan 7 2013, 5:22pm

Post #1 of 13 (548 views)
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Tolkien's poetry Can't Post

Does anyone know of any critical reviews written about Tolkien's poetry?


nothinglikethesun9
The Shire

Jan 8 2013, 2:02am

Post #2 of 13 (284 views)
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And... [In reply to] Can't Post

In her book THE BIOGRAPHER'S TALE, A.S. Byatt wrote "Tolkien's poems were not the real thing."

Does anyone know what she is talking about?


squire
Valinor


Jan 8 2013, 2:39am

Post #3 of 13 (353 views)
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"If you start thinking [about Tolkien], you’ve got to stop reading." [In reply to] Can't Post

I haven't ever read anything by Byatt, much less the work you are referring to. I looked around the web for clues. I found this interview from the Paris Review, in which she gives her opinion of Tolkien:
INTERVIEWER
Given the place of Tolkien in Babel Tower, what is the place of Tolkien in all this?
BYATT
It can be connected to what I got out of Calvino and Blixen, a sense that there were still mythical worlds going on. When I was teaching in the art school, student after student was painting pictures out of Tolkien, those who weren’t painting hard-edged abstraction, that is. Sometimes they were doing both—a hard-edged abstraction given a Tolkien name. They would say, You know, I haven’t read anything since I was a child that I enjoyed, and then suddenly there was this. I think the cult of Tolkien in England was quite different from the cult in America. In America it had to do with the frontier, with the sense of Thoreau and Walden that the wild was better. One of the emotions I feel in Tolkien is to do with my ecological emotion—that he’s describing a world in which the landscape is as big and as endless as it is if you’re a human being who has to walk in it. It’s simple things like that. I don’t actually like any of his people very much, but I like being in a world where you experience the midges and you can’t ever get away from the midges. That I like, and a lot of its readers like that.

It also crosses over into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. I went to take my youngest daughter out, when she was at Newcastle University. There’s a kind of deep dingle next to this rather good restaurant. As we arrived these Land Rovers drew up, and all these people got out in cloaks and swords and things. They were all dressed as different people out of Tolkien and they just vanished into the bushes! It is immensely powerful. I think you can read Tolkien, and you can identify with the very small people with furry feet, or you can identify with Aragorn, who has the weight of the world on his shoulders. You have to do it in a very primitive way. If you start thinking, you’ve got to stop reading.

I read it as a sort of soporific. I read it when I’m very tired, and I read it partly because there’s no sex in it. I read it because it’s not stressful, which is why I don’t think the argument that it’s too simple because the good are going to beat the evil carries much weight. You ought to know that. It’s that sort of story. It’s good that you know that nobody you really care about will die except the very old. That’s very soothing, and children, after all, should have their literature. - The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 168.
She seems to emphasize the parts of Tolkien that appeal to the child in us, treating The Lord of the Rings like intellectual comfort food. This seems to agree with what little else I just read about her style as a writer: she has been criticized for being over-erudite. She is so well-read and well-versed in English literature and scholarship that she casually refers to a host of writers and thinkers from the past 200 years that most of her readers have never heard of.

Without meaning to prejudge her, then, I would guess from my research so far that she has read quite a lot of very good poetry and an immense amount of second-rate poetry. Against a standard like that, I'd probably agree that Tolkien's poetry is indeed "Not the real thing". That is, it is not worked out enough to challenge the masters - it is too simple in imagery and symbolism, and too conservative with vocabulary and emotion. One critic I've read points out that Tolkien was fascinated by verse form more than he was by verse message. He loved working out complicated meters and rhyme schemes, inspired by older poetry from the medieval writers that were his professional study. He also loved language in what I suggest was a tactile way - words were toys for him to handle and caress, and his poetry is often pure play with those toys. Finally, many if not all of his poems accompany his fantastic fiction in that they are set in an imaginative world of Faerie. The role they have in that world is primary, and excuses for many of his readers the technical simplicities or emotional shallowness of the verses when compared with Byatt's (and others') preferred poets from the mainstream of the English tradition.

Well, that's the best I can do with your interesting question. I hope we hear from some actual readers of Byatt who can give us more insight into her meaning here!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 8 2013, 10:41am

Post #4 of 13 (301 views)
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AS Byatt's books [In reply to] Can't Post

I've read 2 of her books: Angels and Insects, and Possession. I thought the latter was the better of the two with more complexity in plot and characters. A friend who'd read her more extensively recommended Byatt to me with the warning, "She uses the same themes over and over." They were well-written books, but didn't linger with me. I agree she's erudite.

It seems that she trivializes Tolkien in that interview, talking about LOTR as children's literature and his fans as cultists. I'm not going to argue with her (I'll just ask my fellow cultists to make animal sacrifices to Melkor the Magnificent to punish her.)

Since modern poetry went free verse, that genre is all over the place. It's so many things that any group could casually dismiss another. For that reason, I'd think the most balanced critique of Tolkien's poetry would be someone who appreciates his style of poetry and measures it against similar ones, though I'm afraid I don't know of anyone to suggest.


NZ Strider
Rivendell

Jan 9 2013, 11:19am

Post #5 of 13 (257 views)
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W.H. Auden, for what it's worth, [In reply to] Can't Post

liked "Frodo's Dreme" (aka "The Sea Bell" -- Nr. 15 in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) according to Letter Nr. 295, though one may suspect that Auden was being polite. I think that Squire hits the nail on the head when he says that Tolkien was good at metrical forms rather than at writing poetry; I would, however add that Tolkien had the misfortune to write in an age when there was very little interest amongst critics in metrical forms. Another age might have paid more attention to his poetry and might have valued his mastery of form for its own sake.

In my opinion, Tolkien's compositions in alliterative verse (e.g. the "Lay of the Children of Hurin" in Lays of Beleriand) are better than those in modern rhyming verse; but hardly any modern critic is interested in alliterative verse.

(Just poking my nose in cautiously to see if the oak panelling has been polished recently; if the leather easy chairs are still nice and comfy; and if the books on the shelves still have nice leather bindings and gilt-edged pages. Yes, yes, all seems in order.)


squire
Valinor


Jan 9 2013, 11:32am

Post #6 of 13 (262 views)
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Woot! [In reply to] Can't Post



It's great to hear from you! Yes, all's in order - take your old squishy chair by the fire and join us!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


geordie
Tol Eressea

Jan 9 2013, 12:15pm

Post #7 of 13 (252 views)
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I don't know - [In reply to] Can't Post

- I haven't read her book. but it's a work of fiction, isn't it? Is this Byatt's view of Tolkien's poetry, or the view of one of her characters? At any rate, I recall seeing a TV programme a few years ago which included several authors talking about Tolkien, and LotR and its appeal. Kate Mosse and China Mielville were two of these, and A.S. Byatt was another. As far as I can remember, Byatt seems to have enjoyed reading Tolkien - so prob. best to stave off any sacrifices to Melkor, till we know more.

Wink

As for criticism of Tolkien's poetry - one of the best, and currently the most easily available, collection of pieces about Tolkien's poetry is to be found in Scull and Hammond's two-volume work 'The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide', which has a section on poetry (Vol.II, pp.766-770), as well as erudite notes on many of Tolkien's individual poems, in alphabetical order.

Otherwise, there's not much general criticism around, that I can remember. There are detailed studies such as Shippey's on 'A Clerke's Complainte' - a very obscure poem, found by Anders Stenstrom while going through back numbers of 'The Gryphon' in the library at Leeds University, back in the 1980s IIRC. I say 'discovered' because this poem seems to have escaped notice till then - one reason being it is not signed Tolkien, but with the enigmatic 'N.N.' Shippey reckons that stands for 'No Name'. Shippey's article was published in the Swedish Tolkien Society's journal 'Arda', and so not easy to get hold of.

Shippey also looks at more of Tolkien's more obscure poems such as 'The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthtelm's Son', in his book 'The Road to Middle earth', where he also considers some of Tolkien's poems to be found in 'Songs for the Philologists'. In his later book, 'Roots and Branches', Shippey has a paper on the versions of Tolkien's poem 'The Hoard', most easily to be found in 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil'.

Others who come to mind are Paul Kocher - who includes a piece on Tolkien's poem 'The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun' in his book 'Master of Middle-earth'. Tolkien's 'Lay' was published in 'The Welsh review' in 1945 and hasn't been reprinted, AFAIK. And Jessica Yates, who published a piece on the sources of the Lay in a Tolkien Society booklet, 'Leaves from the Tree', in 1989.

Going back even further, George Burke Johnston published a paper 'The Poetry of JRR Tolkien' in the journal 'Mankato State University Studies', vol.II, no.1, February 1967, which covers much the same ground as Shippey, Kocher and Yates.


One thing which Tolkien himself noted in a letter is that critics tend to look at the poems in TH and LotR as if they were the agonized outpourings of his tortured psyche - (radical paraphrase, form memory) - wheras, as he says, these are poems made up by his characters in those books. But looking at some of his earlier poems, it seems Middle-earth was peeping into his published works way before TH was published. For example, Earendil and the Lonely Isle turn up in a poem called 'The Happy Mariners', published in 1923 in a small booklet of poetry called 'A Northern Venture'. And his re-telling of The Cat and the fiddle in LotR comes from another, older poem first published in 'Yorkshire Poetry' in 1922. Tolkien often used to re-use his poetry - but that is a large topic, and this post is taking too long to write as it is.

Smile


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 9 2013, 1:16pm

Post #8 of 13 (269 views)
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OMG. [In reply to] Can't Post

How nice to see you again!

And here are some helpful summary comments on Tolkien's poems someone posted to TORN more than nine years ago.

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How to find old Reading Room discussions.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 9 2013, 1:28pm

Post #9 of 13 (211 views)
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POSSESSION may allude to Tolkien's poetry. [In reply to] Can't Post

The best article in Lembas-extra 2009 is "The Name of the Tree: Mythopoeia and The Garden of Proserpina by Renee Vink. Of this article, David Bratman writes that it:


Quote
is a straightforward source-comparison study, noting commonalities between two works and speculating whether the later-written is a response to the earlier. The difference from the usual run of Tolkien source studies is that the work being compared to Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia postdates it, though it claims to predate it. The Garden of Proserpina appears in A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession (1990), where it is attributed to a fictional character who is a Victorian-era poet. Both works extol the sub-creative human imagination, and, strikingly, both address this abstract concept in verse. Specific points and imagery (notably that of a tree) are also common to both authors. Vink traces the common references to Platonic ideas from Plato forward through Vico and Barfield, and discusses Byatt’s complex love-hate relationship with Tolkien as expressed, both explicitly and implicitly, in many of her works. She concludes that Byatt’s knowledge of Tolkien is sufficiently extensive, and the matching of imagery sufficiently close, that the homage in The Garden of Proserpina is deliberate.


(Source: "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2009" in Tolkien Studies, vol. 9 (2012).)

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Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
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How to find old Reading Room discussions.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 9 2013, 1:41pm

Post #10 of 13 (220 views)
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Corey Olsen analyzes the song of the Ent and the Entwife. [In reply to] Can't Post

In an article in Tolkien Studies, vol. 5 that I thought was pretty good. I haven't read Olsen's new book, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, but at the International Congress on Medieval Studies last May in Kalamazoo, Douglas Anderson read aloud from Olsen's chapter on "Riddles in the Dark", which included some insightful comments on the riddle poems. (Olsen also spoke intelligently on "The wind was on the withered heath" when he appeared on a panel at an earlier conference; those remarks might also be incorporated into his book.) There are six long articles on Tolkien's poetry in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael Drout in 2006, in which the best analysis comes from Tom Shippey and Verlyn Flieger.

For some in-depth comments on a few of Tolkien's poems in LOTR, see also the TORN posts here.

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Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
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How to find old Reading Room discussions.


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Jan 10 2013, 1:42am

Post #11 of 13 (244 views)
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Someone? [In reply to] Can't Post

You're funny.Cool

Let me add my voice of pleasure at seeing NZ Strider here, even though our time posting here never overlapped (and I'm not really posting here now). Your reputation precedes you, and from the things I have seen (mostly from links from N.E.B.) it is well deserved.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


NZ Strider
Rivendell

Jan 11 2013, 5:42pm

Post #12 of 13 (313 views)
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Quick reply to all... [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the kind words. Voronwe, pleased to meet you (*bows slightly and extends hand*). N.E.Brigand, thanks for the link. Ah, yes, that takes me back to the days B.C. (before children, in this case) when I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. Squire, thank you; and I may well pull up a chair by the fire. I'm finishing up a major project in the next few days and, being bound and determined to start up no new major project, hope to have a bit of spare time now and again.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Jan 12 2013, 5:24am

Post #13 of 13 (320 views)
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WNEBCFTPFY! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 
 

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