13 Oct 2009

Journey's End - Bilbo's Last Song

The story of how Bilbo's Last Song came to be written is almost as fascinating as the song itself. The poem was written by Professor Tolkien and given as a gift to Ms. Joy Hill, his personal secretary, in 1966. Tolkien used to joke with Ms. Hill, that, if ever a diamond bracelet were to fall out of an envelope of the correspondence she handled for him, it would be hers. One day in 1966, Ms. Hill was helping Professor Tolkien to pack his office for a move, when a poem on a piece of paper fell out of a book, after picking the paper up and reading the song she felt in love with it . This was to be her "diamond bracelet" , Tolkien gave it to her as a "thank you" gift for all the work she had done for him.

After Professor Tolkien's death in 1973, Ms. Hill showed the poem to Donald Swann, who in 1967 had worked with Professor Tolkien himself to set many of Tolkien's songs to music in the collection "The Road Goes Ever On" Swann was so moved by the song , he composed some original music for it, and the poem was then published in the 2nd edition of "The Road Goes Ever On" in 1978. Bilbo's Last Song was also published as a poster in 1974, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, one of Tolkien's favourite illustrators, and was later included in the BBC audio production of the "Lord of the Rings".

The poem does not itself actually appear in the last volume of the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy"The Return of the King", but takes place at it's very end, when many of the principal heroes of the War of the Ring prepare to set sail into the West, to leave Middle Earth forever: among them the great wizard Gandalf the White, Frodo Baggins, the great Ringbearer, and his elder Bilbo, who found the Ring so long before.

"Well, here at last, dear friends," said Gandalf, "on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.' Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost." (J.R.R. Tolkien - "The Gray Havens" -The Return of the King-)

The beautiful poem is a farewell - Bilbo is leaving Middle-earth and so is Tolkien. A farewell to his secretary , that helped him so much, and a farewell to us, his readers and fans, that will forever treasure and keep safe the world he has created for us.

Bilbo's Last Song by J.R.R. Tolkien

Day is ended, dim my eyes, But journey long before me lies. Farewell, friends! I hear the call. The ship's beside the stony wall. Foam is white and waves are grey; beyond the sunset leads my way. Foam is salt, the wind is free; I hear the rising of the sea. Farewell, friends! The sails are set, the wind is east, the moorings fret. Shadows long before me lie, beneath the ever-bending sky, but islands lie behind the Sun that i shall raise ere all is done; lands there are to west of West, where night is quiet and sleep is rest. Guided by the Lonely Star, beyond the utmost harbour-bar, I'll find the heavens fair and free, and beaches of the Starlit Sea. Ship my ship! I seek the West, and fields and mountains ever blest. Farewell to Middle-earth at last. I see the star above my mast!