Mountains

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Kirinki54 21/Dec/2006 at 02:36 PM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005

In 1936, Tolkien and his friend E. V. Gordon published (privately) “Songs of the Philologists”; a collection of verse of different characters in Germanic languages. The purpose was for their own amusement, and the collection contained among others “Bagme Bloma”.

BAGME BLOMA

Brunaim bairiþ Bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.

Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.

As Gothic was and still is a fragmentarily reconstructed language, the poem contains several so-called *-words (asterisk words); words that based on derivations are likely to have existed.

No wonder that Tolkien said that the Gothic “took him by storm”! Though I only can recognize and understand certain roots, I find the poem very beautiful with its alliteration and its rhymes…

The following is a translation by Rhonda Beare. (Both, original and translation, reprinted in Tom Shippey´s “The Road to Middle-earth”.)

THE FLOWER OF THE TREES

The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering, the flower of the trees in bloom, fair-haired and supple-limbed, the ruler of the mountain.

The winds call, they shake gently, she bends her boughs low in sport; smooth, straight and white-barked, trembling she speaks a language, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.

Evening grows dark with clouds, the lightning flashes, the fine leaves fly free, but firms and faithful the white birch stands bare and waits, ruling the mountain.

Tom Shippey called “Bagme Bloma” one of Tolkien´s four (asterisk) Birch Poems. This alluded to a distinction Shippey has identified and described in “The Road”, where he wanted to prove that Tolkien had an inclination for Birches as opposed to Oaks – the former representing Philology and the latter Literature (in the academic system). See the chapter ‘On the Cold Hill´s Side’ in “The Road”. In this chapter, Shippey also demonstrated the sometimes thin line between applicability and allegory in some of Tolkien´s writings

Now, if the Birch symbolized Philology per se, what did the Mountain symbolize?  (Apart from the obvious connotations of might, strength, deep roots…)

 

I suddenly also realized the great importance two mountains play in the two major (and published) works by Tolkien: Erebor in “The Hobbit” and Orodruin in “The Lord of the Rings”. One needs to tread with caution here, but in different ways these mountains act as scenery for the culmination of the Quests and the solution of the problem at hand, and thus in a sense of liberation. And another thing that then comes to mind is Bilbo´s longing to see mountains again as he wants to free himself of the pull of the Ring.

 

I understand that there is no easy answer here to the possible interpretation of symbolism, and I would really like to hear what other members think? What do you make of Mountains?

geordie 21/Dec/2006 at 02:55 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
I understand that there is no easy answer here to the possible interpretation of symbolism, and I would really like to hear what other members think? What do you make of Mountains?

Being a bear of very little brain, I don’t go in for symbolism much. But let me ask you a question - in Leaf by Niggle, Tolkiens mentions the mountains on the edge of Niggle’s picture - and when Niggle ends up in his picture as it were, the story ends with the shepherd guiding Niggle further into the picture - towards the montains. I wonder what these mountains represent? If anything?

’What has roots as nobody sees
is taller than trees?
Up, up it goes
and yet never grows?’

Kirinki54 21/Dec/2006 at 03:02 PM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005
geordie the Pooh? Nah... 
Magradhaid 21/Dec/2006 at 05:10 PM
Imp of Umbar Points: 7957 Posts: 8204 Joined: 13/Sep/2008
You can hear Bagme Bloma read here at Glaemscrafu (I think by Bertrand Bellet).
Nieliqui Vaneyar 21/Dec/2006 at 07:42 PM
Bowmaster of Lothlorien Points: 8191 Posts: 8480 Joined: 14/Feb/2003

geordie, I wonder what these mountains represent? If anything?

Other then paradise as some have speculated, I’m not really sure.  But I would guess that whatever it represents, it is actually different for each of us.

As I travel down distant roads, I wonder as I pass the various lanes that divert off them and into the woods or around corners or over rises - where do they go?  what’s at the end of each that is so interesting that someone thought to put a means to get there.  Oh, I know, usually nothing much, just a shack, a shanty, perhaps only a wide spot for a tent or to just sit there or turn around.  But it is somebody’s end and maybe for them it is what they dream of.  That’s why the imagination of what’s at the end of that particular road is far more, oh, important then what’s actually at the end.  For whatever is at the end of my path is, or hopefully will be, to me whether exciting or mundane, it will be mine and where I will be.

But until then, I can dream and imagine and wonder - what’s down that path, what’s over the next rise, will it be my end? or still a part of Niggle’s Parish, a place of rest on that journey.

halfir 21/Dec/2006 at 11:29 PM
Emeritus Points: 46547 Posts: 43664 Joined: 10/Mar/2002

I wonder what these mountains represent? If anything?

geordie: Try:

’A natural elevation of the earth’s surface, rising notably above the surrounding level’ OEDX(

geordie 22/Dec/2006 at 06:49 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
halfir - OED? QED.   

Here’s another one - what about the Outer Mountains and the Inner Mountains in Smith of Wootton Major? And the episode of the birch - one of Tolkien’s most beautiful writings, but I can’t fathom it. I like it anyway.
Captain Bingo 22/Dec/2006 at 08:36 AM
Messenger of Minas Tirith Points: 1573 Posts: 957 Joined: 31/Jan/2006
Its odd. I know why mountains are significant - but if I try & put it into words I find my attempts fail. There is certainly something of profound significance about something so overwhelmingly large& imposing. Weren’t pyramids supposed to be ’artificial’ mountains? There is a ’spiritual’ aspect - perhaps not to mountains themselves, but to their effect on us. They are the biggest natural things we encounter. Chesterton points out that ’one sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak’. Maybe that’s it.

I can’t help thinking that Tolkien’s visit to Switzerland as a young man may have played a major part in the significant part mountains played in his mythus. Mountains certainly bring home our insignificance & temporaryness. Thinking of what Tolkien wrote about the significance of the Dragon in the Beowulf lecture the culmination of Bilbo’s quest, with both a Dragon & a Mountain, seems almost a ’spritual’ vision. Its not surprising that Tolkien uses Mountains in the way he does. After all, the place of greatest spiritual significance in Numenor was the Meneltarma, &, one could argue, in Middle-earth was Taniquetil.
geordie 22/Dec/2006 at 09:40 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Mind you, Tolkien’s aunty Grace - his father’s sister - married a William Mountain, and became Grace Mountain - there must be something psychological/symbological/subconciously wossname going on there!

Or maybe not?
Kirinki54 26/Dec/2006 at 03:16 AM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005

This issue was born when contemplating “Bagme Bloma”, but more and more I encounter the complexity of the questions I set out with. Because they are several questions, and possible links between the answers might be rather obscure: mountains serve many purposes in the writings of Tolkien.

 

geordie wrote: But let me ask you a question - in Leaf by Niggle, Tolkiens mentions the mountains on the edge of Niggle’s picture - and when Niggle ends up in his picture as it were, the story ends with the shepherd guiding Niggle further into the picture - towards the montains. I wonder what these mountains represent? If anything?

 

Good question! If I were to analyse along the lines of Tom Shippey, I would likely have to place these mountains in regard to the basic premises. And one of these premises seems to be the fact that Niggle was going on a long ‘journey’, likely representing death. Now, if Niggle can be seen as being in the centre of the painting, niggling away on his leaves, then travelling he would end up in the periphery; among the mountains? The mountains would then represent death? Possibly, but they could also represent a sort of solid foundation of the history/legacy of mankind but mostly of certain truths and beliefs confirmed when human niggling is over – a Christian reflection.

Or as Nieliqui Vaneyar put it:

Other then paradise as some have speculated, I’m not really sure.  But I would guess that whatever it represents, it is actually different for each of us.

Yes, I also think the ‘picture’ changes – but the basic principle remains.

NV: That’s why the imagination of what’s at the end of that particular road is far more, oh, important then what’s actually at the end.  For whatever is at the end of my path is, or hopefully will be, to me whether exciting or mundane, it will be mine and where I will be.

Exactly! I think there is great hope in this perception, a belief in the choice of Man. We, the artists, can choose our focus of attention.

But I think Tolkien would not wholly agree on the speculations above, or rather that he might have nuanced the description.

 

I am so glad you felt that ’the Ring’ is keeping up its standard, and (it seems) achieving that difficult thing in a long tale: maintaining a difference of quality and atmosphere in events that might easily become ’samey’. For myself, I was prob. most moved by Sam’s disquisition on the seamless web of story, and by the scene when Frodo goes to sleep on his breast, and the tragedy of Gollum who at that moment came within a hair of repentance – but for one rough word from Sam. But the ’moving’ quality of that is on a different plane to Celebrimbor etc. There are two quit diff. emotions: one that moves me supremely and I find small difficulty in evoking: the heart-racking sense of the vanished past (best expressed by Gandalf’s words about the Palantir); and the other the more ’ordinary’ emotion, triumph, pathos, tragedy of the characters. That I am learning to do, as I get to know my people, but it is not really so near my heart, and is forced on me by the fundamental literary dilemma. A story must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle’s) never to be approached – or if so only to become ’near trees’ (unless in Paradise or N’s Parish). (Letter 96, in which J.R.R. – among other things - discussed LotR with Christopher) (My bold)

 

That aspect, of mountains or indeed many phenomena glimpsed far away to give a sense of wonder, is a vital key to several writings, for example the LotR.

 

geordie also wrote:

Mind you, Tolkien’s aunty Grace - his father’s sister - married a William Mountain, and became Grace Mountain - there must be something psychological/symbological/subconciously wossname going on there!

 

She did? I do not remember that reference… Tell us more! (Was Grace the one telling Tolkien about the name-change to Tolkien – from von Hohenzollern?)

 

BTW on names: what about the ‘Drakensberg’, the majestic mountain range of South Africa, meaning Dragons Mountains?

 

And: Here’s another one - what about the Outer Mountains and the Inner Mountains in Smith of Wootton Major? And the episode of the birch - one of Tolkien’s most beautiful writings, but I can’t fathom it. I like it anyway.

 

Alas! I am yet to read “Smith” (a grave flaw in my education…). But do you by the ‘birch episode’ refer to “Smith” or to “Bagme Bloma”? If the latter, I think one possible interpretation would adhere quite closely to that of Shippey/myself (see above) concerning the painting of Niggle – the mountain as a symbol of both death and our human past, our history.

 

Captain Bingo wrote:

Its odd. I know why mountains are significant - but if I try & put it into words I find my attempts fail. There is certainly something of profound significance about something so overwhelmingly large& imposing. Weren’t pyramids supposed to be ’artificial’ mountains? There is a ’spiritual’ aspect - perhaps not to mountains themselves, but to their effect on us. They are the biggest natural things we encounter. Chesterton points out that ’one sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak’. Maybe that’s it.

You are right. I find it somewhat easier to grapple with physically smaller objects, like a ring perhaps? And yet, why is it so? Perhaps it is the sheer overwhelming effects on our psyche – the symbolic impact really becomes great.


CB:
I can’t help thinking that Tolkien’s visit to Switzerland as a young man may have played a major part in the significant part mountains played in his mythus.

 

I think so too. Both the mountains with their enormous impact on the soul, as mentioned, as well as the danger they represent – avalanches, bad weather, falls, etc.

 

CB: Mountains certainly bring home our insignificance & temporaryness. Thinking of what Tolkien wrote about the significance of the Dragon in the Beowulf lecture the culmination of Bilbo’s quest, with both a Dragon & a Mountain, seems almost a ’spritual’ vision. Its not surprising that Tolkien uses Mountains in the way he does. After all, the place of greatest spiritual significance in Numenor was the Meneltarma, &, one could argue, in Middle-earth was Taniquetil.

 

I was actually surprised when I thought more about it, the way Tolkien connected dramatic aspects to physical heights – mountains, hills, even high buildings. One will find rather fewer dramatic scenes in for example the LotR that does not include a ‘vertical aspect’ (though of course they exist).

 

But literary drama is one thing, the spiritual aspect is another. Geography matters! There is clearly a strong bond between the physical nature and appearance and the spiritual connotations. I wonder what would happen if we also brought in the dimension of Dark/Light? That could make a rather interesting analysis, if some academic would venture up these cliffs…

 

Tyrhael, thanks for the link. Beautiful rendering!

 

geordie 26/Dec/2006 at 08:02 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Yes, Tolkien’s Aunt Grace was the one who told young Ronald of how the name Tolkien came about Apparently from Toll-kuhn which means ’fool-hardy’ - seems one of the ancestors originally called Von Hollernzhorhn [or something like that] charged the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in the sixteenth century. He was nicknamed ’Toll-kuhn, and the name stuck. Don’t think it’s backed up by historical facts, though. I have a copy of a paper on this somewhwere; I’ll see if I can dig it out!


As for the birch incident - I did mean the one in Smith; which is pretty heart-breaking. And as for the Mountains in Niggle - I’m not a card-carryin’ Christian, but even I can see significance in Niggle’s guide being in the guise of a shepherd. Could be wrong, of course. Might be this blessed ’applicability’.
Captain Bingo 26/Dec/2006 at 10:03 AM
Messenger of Minas Tirith Points: 1573 Posts: 957 Joined: 31/Jan/2006
goerdie "As for the birch incident - I did mean the one in Smith; which is pretty heart-breaking. And as for the Mountains in Niggle - I’m not a card-carryin’ Christian, but even I can see significance in Niggle’s guide being in the guise of a shepherd. Could be wrong, of course. Might be this blessed ’applicability’."

Have to say I never picked up on the ’allegorical’ aspect of Niggle when I first read it. Actually, when it was pointed out to me that the story was most likely a Christian allegory & the mysterious ’Shepherd’ was probably Jesus I was a bit disappointed - all the mystery of the story was reduced to a kind of ’sermon’. I don’t care if the ’journey’ Niggle takes is meant to symbolise his death or any of that. Allegory is simply annoying as far as I’m concerned & I now read Niggle as I first did - as a story with its own meaning & not one in the service of another story.

If I want religious instruction (which I don’t) I know where the local church is.