Kortirion among the Trees

by J.R.R. Tolkien 
1937 version


Articles > Poetry > Languages > Tolkien > "Faery in Keats and Tolkien" > "Kortirion among the Trees"

I

O fading town upon an inland hill

Old shadows linger in thine ancient gate

Thy robe is grey, thine old heart now is still;

Thy towers silent in the mist await

Their crumbling end, while through the storeyed elms

The Gliding Water leaves these inland realms,

And slips between long meadows to the Sea,

Still bearing downward over murmurous falls

One day and then another to the Sea;

And slowly thither many years have gone,

Since first the Elves here built Kortirion. 
 

O climbing town upon thy windy hill

With winding streets, and alleys shady-walled

Where now untamed the peacocks pace in drill

Majestic, sapphirine, and emerald;

Amid the girdle of this sleeping land,

Where silver falls the rain and gleaming stand

The whispering host of old deep-rooted trees

That cast long shadows in many a bygone noon,

And murmured many centuries in the breeze;

Thou art the city of the Land of Elms,

Alalminórë  in the Fairy Realms. 
 

Sing of thy trees, Kortirion, again:

The beech on hill, the willow in the fen,

The rainy poplars, and the frowning yews

Within thine agéd courts that muse

In sombre splendour all the day;

Until the twinkle of the early stars

Comes glinting through their sable bars,

And the white moon climbing up the sky

Looks down upon the ghosts of trees that die

Slowly and silently from day to day.

O Lonely Isle, here was thy citadel,

Ere bannered summer from his fortress fell.

Then full of music were thine elms:

Green was their armour, green their helms,

The Lords and Kings of all thy trees,

Sing, then, of elms, renowned Kortirion,

That under summer crowds their full sail on,

And shrouded stand like masts of verdurous ships,

A fleet of galleons that proudly slips

Across long sunlit seas.  
 

II

Thou art the inmost province of the fading isle,

Where linger yet the Lonely Companies;

Still, undespairing, here they slowly file

Along thy paths with solemn harmonies:

The holy people of an elder day,

Immortal Elves, that singing fair and fey

Of vanished things that were, and could be yet,

Pass like a wind among the rustling trees,

A wave of bowing grass, and we forget

Their tender voices like wind-shaken bells

Of flowers, their gleaming hair like golden asphodels. 
 

Once Spring was here with joy, and all was fair

Among the trees; but Summer drowsing by the stream

Heard trembling in her heart the secret player

Pipe, out beyond the tangle of her forest dream,

The long-drawn tune that elvish voices made

Foreseeing Winter through the leafy glade;

The late flowers nodding on the ruined walls

Then stooping heard afar that haunting flute

Beyond the sunny aisles and tree-propped halls;

For thin and clear and cold the note,

As strand of silver glass remote.

Then all thy trees, Kortirion, were bent

And shook with sudden whispering lament:

For passing were the days, and doomed the nights

When flitting ghost-moths danced as satellites

Round tapers in the moveless air;

And doomed already were the radiant dawns,

 The fingered sunlight drawn across the lawns;

The odour and the slumbrous noise of meads,

Where all the sorrel, flowers, and pluméd weeds

Go down before the scyther’s share.

When cool October robed her dewy furze

In netted sheen of gold-shot gossamers,

Then the wide-umbraged elms began to fail;

Their mourning multitude of leaves grew pale,

Seeing afar the icy spears

Of Winter marching blue behind the sun

Of bright All-Hallows. Then their hour was done,

And wanly borne on wings of amber pale

They beat the wide airs of the fading vale,

And flew like birds across the misty meres. 

III

This is the season dearest to the heart,

And time most fitting to the ancient town,

With waning musics sweet that slow depart

Winding with echoed sadness faintly down

 The paths of stranded mist. O gentle time,

When the late mornings are begemmed with rime,

And early shadows fold the distant woods!

The Elves go silent by, their shining hair

They cloak in twilight under secret hoods

Of grey, and filmy purple, and long bands

Of frosted starlight sewn by silver hands. 
 

And oft they dance beneath the roofless sky,

When naked elms entwine in branching lace

The Seven Stars, and through the boughs the eye

Stares golden-beaming in the round moon’s face.

O holy Elves and fair immortal Folk,

You sing then ancient songs that once awoke

Under primeval stars before the Dawn;

You whirl then dancing with the eddying wind,

As once you danced upon the shimmering lawn

In Elvenhome, before we were, before

You crossed wide seas unto this mortal shore.

Now are thy trees, old grey Kortirion,

Through pallid mists seen rising tall and wan,

Like vessels floating vague, and drifting far

Down opal seas beyond the shadowy bar

 Of cloudy ports forlorn;

Leaving behind for ever havens loud,

Wherein their crews a while held feasting proud

And lordly ease, they now like windy ghosts

Are wafted by slow airs to windy coasts,

And the glimmering sadly down the tide are borne.

Bare are thy trees become, Kortirion;

The rotted raiment from their bones is gone.

The seven candles of the Silver Wain,

Like lighted tapers in a darkened fane,

Now flare above the fallen year.

Through court and street now cold and empty lie,

And Elves dance seldom neath the barren sky,

Yet under the white moon there is a sound

Of buried music still beneath the ground.

When winter comes, I would meet winter here. 
 

I would not seek the desert, or red palaces

Where reigns the sun, nor tail to magic isles,

Nor climb the hoary mountains’ stony terraces;

And tolling faintly over windy miles

To my heart calls no distant bell that rings

In crowded cities of the Earthly Kings.

For here is heartsease still, and deep content,

Though sadness haunt the Land of withered Elms

(Alalminórë in the Faery Realms);

And making music still in sweet lament

The Elves here holy and immortal dwell,

And on the stones and trees there lies a spell.  

        — J.R.R. Tolkien 

From The Book of Lost Tales I, Chapter I "The Cottage of Lost Play", by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
Provided by Turgon-(V)
top