Tolkien’s Poetry | Octosyllabic Couplets + New Project Announcement


Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 32 : des hommes observent la comète de Halley

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and The Lay of Leithian are, in my opinion, two masterly-crafted long, epic poems (even though the latter, alas, remains unfinished).

I am no poetry expert, having never managed to successfully appreciate many poems (especially those of the modern sort, with free verse and all that), but there was something in Tolkien’s own poetic writings which I found accessible, instant and attractive. And while Tolkien might not be considered one of the great poetry writers, his verses seem to embody a character of their own — steeped in history and language, harking back to the style and tone of the great classical works, The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy and, naturally, Beowulf.

A feature occasionally employed in Tolkien’s poetry is that of rhyming couplets — more specifically, the octosyllabic couplets or iambic tetrameter: each verse containing eight syllables, a beat that follows a da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM rhythm, and an end rhyme coupled with the succeeding verse.

Many commentators and poetry readers nowadays seem to shun these rhyming  couplets in poems aimed specifically at an adult audience — defining them as “monotonous”, “singsong”, and more apt for children’s poetry. Tolkien himself seemed to express such “weakness” residing in his Leithian poem.

Contrary to such thoughts, I’ve always enjoyed the rhythmic beat and flow of these kinds of poems. Their verses seem to express an air of finality, cohesiveness, order and musicality.

I myself, over the past two years, have worked hard to create a long narrative, epic poem with octosyllabic couplets. This has resulted in a 4,000-verse piece of poetry with historical and fantastical elements.

It was a difficult but highly-invigorating writing experience, and in no way have I attempted to better or even reach the level and style Tolkien employed in his two lays. It is nonetheless a kind of tribute to the author who properly introduced me to the love of poetry, and I hope some of that appreciation has found itself in this long poem.

More details about this writing endeavour will be released in the coming weeks.

For now, I have created a specific section on this blog dedicated to this work, to which I will be adding a series of posts.

In the meantime, in honour of Tolkien’s Leithian, I’m calling my project the #LayOfLeofwin

Till next time …

3 thoughts on “Tolkien’s Poetry | Octosyllabic Couplets + New Project Announcement

  1. I would love to read your work. The Lay of Leithian is my favorite poem, especially the duel between Thu and Finrod. Many authors try poetry but most aren’t on the level of Tolkien’s poems. Personally, I’m not a poetry person, but Tolkien’s poems really speak to me.

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