J.R.R. Tolkien: Galadriel Sings Her Song in Old Mercian

Second of three Tolkien passages requested by "Karpalima" who made a generous donation. Thank you for your support. Galadriel's song — as per the request — is translated into the meter of the original, so that it can be sung to all the various melodies to which the original has been set.

Click here for an audio recording of me reading this passage in 11th century West Saxon. (I decided not to implement smoothing of ea in velar environments, unlike my previous recording.)

Click here if you want to read this text in a more "authentic" insular minuscule.

Galadriel Sings in Mercian: from Se Hringa Hlāford
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by "Karpalima"

"The Company was arranged in this way: Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam..."

Þus wæs se Gedryht gelōgod: Aragorn, Frōda and Sam in bāte, Boromeor, Myrig and Elsīþ in ōðerre. In þridda bāte wǣron Legolas and Gimli, þe nū eaxlgesteallan wǣron. In þissum endenīehstan bāte wǣron feorme and sēamas mǣst ongēan gelegd. Þā bātas wǣron gescofen and gestīerd mid scortgehæftedum rōðorspadum þǣra þe blæd brūdon brād in brimme.
Þā eall gearu wæs, Aragorn hīe ealle lǣdde on cunnungryne þǣre Seolforlāde ūp. Swift wæs sēo strēamfaru, and hīe slāwlīce, stæpmǣlum forþēodon. Sam sæt in scipbōge, sīdan on gehwæðere hand wiþfōnde, geornungcearig, framlōciende þǣm strande. Sunnelēoht on ēa āblīcende him ēagan āblende.
Þā hīe forþēodon begeondan þǣre Tungan grēne feld, þā trēow drōgon niðer þām ōfre. Hidres þidres flogettedon and flotigedon gyldenu lēaf on þǣm fripliendan strēame. Full beorht wæs sēo lyft. Stilnes þǣr wæs, būtan lāwercena hēagum feorsange.
In strēame wendon hīe æt sticolre gebyge, and þǣr sāwon micelne swan wlanclīce him tōlīðende. Þæt wæter friplode on gehwæðere hand þæs hwītan brēostes under his bogehtum hneccan. Scān his nebb swylce gefeormed gold, and his ēagan glintedon swylce gagātes in geolustānum geseted. His grēat hwīt fiðeru healf-ūphafen wǣron. Cwōm glēodrēam andlang þæs strēames þā hē nēalǣhte. Samnunga wiston þæt hē sum scip wæs, mid ælfcræfte gecorfen and geworht on fugles anlīcnesse and gelīcnesse. Twā hwītwerede ylfe hit stīerdon mid blaccum rōðorspadum.
Tōmiddes þǣm scipe sæt Celebeorn, and æthindan him stōd Galadriġel, hēah and hwīt. In hira hǣrum wæs goldblōstmena bēag. Hearpan hæfde on hande, and sang. Sārig and sweotol wæs hira stefne swēg on cōlre lyfte.

Hwæt! Ic sang lēaf allgyldenu,  ond gyldne lēafblēd grēow
Ic windas sang, ond wind þēr cwōm  þe innon bōgum blēow.
Begeondan mōnanrond ond sōl  þet fām on flōde flēow.
Et Ilmærines stronde þēr  fullgrēow þet gyldne trēow.
Hwēr sprong Sinēfnes tungolfeld,  þēr scān hit berht ond hēh
Et Eldæmæres aldbyrig,  elfcynnes walle nēh.
Þēr grēowon longe gyldnu lēaf  on ġēra bōge long
þā ofer slītendum sǣm hēr felþ  elftēar on eorðan wong
Ō Lōrien! Cymþ winter þīn,  bær lēafum īdel deg
Fallaþ þā lēaf in ferhes strēam.  Flōweþ sēo ēa āweg
Ō Lōrien! On stronde þīn  ic longe nū me wrēh
ond þrēow þīn gyldne Ēlænōr  in sēariendne bēh.
Ō Lōrien! Þīn lēoþ ic sang!  Æc hwet tōdeg eom ic?
Mīn hlūtor hond on eorðan lond  felþ ēce egelic.
Æc gif ic scipu sunge nū,  hwelc scip mē cume? Ǣ,
Hwelc scip mē ǣfre ferede  ofer þes wīde sǣ?

Notes: 

Most of the proper names here are self-evident. Legolas and Gimli don't need anglicizing. Merry is simply turned into his cognate Myrig. The word Ever-eve can be translated morpheme-for-morpheme as Sinæfen (or rather Sinefen in Galadriel's Mercian dialect.) The names Galadriel and Lorien are given a purely diacritic glide <ġ> to indicated that the <i> and <e> are not part of the same syllable. But Pippin is Elsīþ. Supposedly his Westron name Razanur was the name of a famous traveler, with morphemes meaning "foreign" or "strange". Since Wīdsīþ is a famous fictional traveler to Anglo-Saxonists, I took that name and simply replaced Wīd- with the appropriate El- ("exo-"). The resulting name might mean "Alien Journeyer" or "Traveler Abroad".

I had to coin a few terms for things that simply do not exist in attested Old English, such as *friplian "to ripple".

The main dialect of this Old English translation is "Standard" West Saxon. I decided, though, that Elves would speak in Mercian to give them a distinct coloring. Having the Elves speak Mercian has an interesting metalinguistic effect. The ælf is an obscure but rather unpleasant entity in attested Old English, able to cause nightmares and illness, quite unlike their modern and Tolkienien cognates. This may not have always been so, and various onomastic forms as well as adjectives like ælfscȳne may be vestiges of a state affairs when the ælf was regarded as a kind of supernatural person rather than a demon or a monster. In any case, my Middle Earthers speaking the West Saxon norm call an elf an "ælf", perhaps with its overtones of the frightening. But an elf speaking Mercian will refer to herself as an "elf", perhaps calling to mind the "softer" being that this word has denoted in English since the 20th century. It seems doubly fitting, given that it is the Mercian form of the word which was inherited into English as we know it. (Otherwise the word today would be *alf.)  Thus, Galadriel sings in Mercian here, and even uses a rhyme that would not work in West Saxon.

The term eorðan wang (plain of earth) in Galadriel's song is deliberately chosen, as a call-back to the etymologically mysterious neorxnawang, an obscure word that translates the Christian concept of Paradise in the Old English Bible. If a "neorxna plain" is paradise, then the eorðan wang is the opposite. It seemed a good way to evoke the idea of Galadriel seemingly stuck in the wrong world.

Literal Back-Translation of Galadriel's Song

I sang of all-gold leaves, and golden leafage grew. I sang of wind, and wind came there that blew in the boughs. Beyond the moondisc and the sun, the foam flowed on the sea. At the strand of Ilmarin that golden tree grew to its full. Where the star-field of Ever-eve spread, there it shone bright and high near the ancient city in Eldamar, near the walls of Elvenkind. There for long the golden leaves have grown long on the bough of years, while over the sundering seas here the elf tear falls onto the plane of earth. Oh Lorien, thy winter comes, a bare leaf-bereft day. The leaves fall in the stream of life. The river flows away. Oh Lorien upon your strand I have long concealed myself, and twined your golden Elanor into a withering crown. Oh Lorien I have sung your song. But what am I today? My pure hand on the land of the earth falls eternally horrid. But if I sang of ships now, what ship would come to me, alas? What ship would ever bear me over a sea as wide as this?

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