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"Goblin Feet" by JRR Tolkien

Poetical expressions of facets of the spirit of Ilsaluntë Valion
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Meneldur Olvarion
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"Goblin Feet" by JRR Tolkien

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

Goblin Feet

"I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flittermice are flying:
A slender band of grey
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are a-sighing.

The air is full of wings
Of the blundering beetle-things
That warm you with their whirring.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming.

O! the lights. O! the gleams: O! the little tinkly sounds:
O! the rustle of their noiseless little robes:
O! the echo of their feet, of their little happy feet:
O! their swinging lamps in little star-lit globes."

J.R.R. Tolkien


Tolkien says that he wrote this short poem for Edith because she loved tales of "spring and flowers and trees, and little elfin people."

In the summer of 1914, millions of young English men were signing up to fight in World War 1. Most were eager to defend their country against the German army. Tolkien was one of these young men. However, he was very concerned about completing his studies in Oxford. Not wanting to lose momentum in his academic life, he decided to enlist in the army at the end of the year. Tolkien was glad to discover that there was a program at Oxford which gave him military training while he finished his studies. He hoped that if he did this he would be able to fight in the war as soon as he graduated.

The other three members of Tolkien's T.C.B.S. (The Tea Club Barrovian Society) were going to join the war soon, and felt that it was important to spend some time together before they went. So during the Christmas break of 1914 the T.C.B.S. meet for the last time. They spent a weekend together in London, smoking pipes, drinking beer, sharing stories and thoughts and having an all together wonderful time.

Tolkien would always tell of the remarkable inspiration that he felt after being with these other young men.

In June 1915, Tolkien took his final exams and earned first class honors in English language and literature from Exeter College. Immediately after that, he enlisted in the army and reported for basic training. He spent nearly a year stationed in England. Because he was a university graduate he was given an officer's commission and had to go through advanced training. He was not interested in leading a platoon so he decided to specialize in signaling. Signaling just seemed to be the best use for his talent with languages. He was eventually given the post of signaling officer for the Thirteenth Battalion of an army section known as the Lancashire Fusiliers. In a letter that he wrote to Edith he said: “The usual kind of morning standing about and freezing and then trotting to get warmer so as to freeze again… All the hot days of summer we doubled about at full speed and perspiration, and now we stand in icy groups in the open being talked at!” He was defiantly not impressed with the training.

Tolkien's first encounter with fighting was in France, in the Battle of the Somme which is remembered as the bloodiest battle ever fought in history. On the first day of the battle, nineteen weeks before Tolkien arrived, nineteen thousand British troops were killed. By the time the battle was over more than eight hundred thousand of the British had been killed. When Tolkien arrived he was stationed nearby in the town of Bouzincourt, where he waited to be sent into the front lines of battle. While he waited, Tolkien came across a most unexpected and pleasant surprise. One of his fellow members of the T.C.B.S., G.B. Smith arrived in the town for a brief rest. He had already been in the front line of the battle and fortunately returned uninjured. His company had been pulled back to rest before returning to battle. Over the next few days, the friends talked much about life, poetry, and war. Before long Tolkien's battalion given orders to go into battle. Tolkien and Smith said goodbye for the last time.

Even though the battle had raged on for many weeks, and bodies had been mounting, the Thirteenth Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers marched forward with high morale. They were fighting for the freedom of their country and maybe even for the freedom of the world. They had been told that the battle was nearly over, as advance troops had surely dismantled the German defenses. It turned out that the advanced troops had failed, and when Tolkien arrived on the battle field he found a scene that he described as pure animal horror. A sea of dead and dying men covered the once beautiful French countryside that had been stripped bare of all things lovely and replaced with mud, trenches, and burned blackened trees. The British troops continued to advance, but many of Tolkien's company were killed and the assault did not rout the Germans. Fortunately, Tolkien survived and was sent back to Bouzincourt to recuperate. When he arrived there he found a letter from G.B. Smith informing him that Rob Gilson had been killed in battle. The T.C.B.S. was no more. Over the next three months Tolkien's battalion alternately advanced into battle, and retreated to the town to regroup.

Tolkien never forgot the brutality and horror of the battle. Many years later he drew on these memories to create his own lands. The blackened landscape of Mordor, and the Battle of Helm's Deep were both based on The Battle of Somme.

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends ͏͏ were dead...
[...] “That yet for a while in Beleriand rivers may run clean, leaves spring, and birds build their nests, ere Night comes...”
 -- Finrod Felagund, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth"
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Meneldur Olvarion
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Re: "Goblin Feet" by JRR Tolkien

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

I thought people may also be interested in this site:

http://wwar1.blogspot.com/

It is a large collection of a WWI soldier's letters home, which have been serialized by date.  The effect is that this person (now long dead) is writing a blog in real-time.

Facinating reading.

///Dave
[...] “That yet for a while in Beleriand rivers may run clean, leaves spring, and birds build their nests, ere Night comes...”
 -- Finrod Felagund, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth"
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Niennildi Oarnen
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Re: "Goblin Feet" by JRR Tolkien

Post by Niennildi Oarnen »

This line made me laugh:

"O! the rustle of their noiseless little robes:"

Do you think that was JRRT's intent?
Just call me Dineen.
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