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.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
In the unfinished works called “The Lost Tales,” there are some stupendous hidden gems of Tolkien poetry. This one has always been one of my favorites; the image of wind that was blown around the stars but comes to nestle softly in the curtains of a tower window made me catch my breath at the beauty.
As poetry, it is not the most refined or developed. And Tolkien definitely has works that have much tighter rhythms and poetics. But this one poem has a special place in my heart for the making me taste, feel, and smell the summer wind that twines around that lonely room.
According to the notes, (the appendices of Lost Tales Part 2,) this poem is written from the perspective of Elwing, the wife of Earendel. Both of them were half-human and half-elven, and could choose which race they wanted to live as. Earendel wanted to be human, but because his wife preferred to be part of the elves, he chose to stay with her. Sadly, they were chased across Middle-Earth because of the Silmaril – a jewel with the light of the heavens – that they had inherited. When Earendel made his way west over the sea to the Valar to ask for them to take care of the Silmaril, the Valar instead decided to set the jewel in Earendel’s ship and to make the ship and it’s crew a part of the night sky. Earendel did not have the option of returning for Elwing before he was made into a star.
Some legends say that when Elwing saw her husband as a star, she transformed into a seagull and flew out to join him. But later versions of the tale say that she remained in middle-earth, living in a white tower on the edge of the sundering sea, where she could watch the stars for her husband’s ship.
The happy couple was separated because they had tried to protect the world from the greed surrounding the jewel. Their only connection is through the wind. Because they are elves, they will live until the end of the world, only able to watch each other.
I cannot dissect this poem to give you the reasons why I think it is wonderful. But somehow the language evokes the feeling of a sea breeze on my skin, of longing for the stars, of patience with eternal waiting. This is the poem I turn to when I need a deep breath of fresh air and an infusion of hope.
O! Happy mariners!