But all the while….

Matt DeForrest

Active Member
I finally found my point of confusion about the echoes of Irish and English usage of this phrase. But (conjunction) all-the-while (a measure of time ). As such, the phrase all-the-while is a signal that this activity would modify the sit and think to become something capturing the present perfect tense (activity begun in the past and continuing in the present — I explain for those, like me, who would have had to look that up) rather than the simple present, trying to capture two simultaneous actions. Bilbo is sitting and thinking of the past and future while he listens for footfalls.

The implication of this is that his active thoughts are of the past and reflecting on the distant future created by the present — a present he is waiting to hear about from those who will come (immediate future) to the door.

As a practical matter, it kind of subordinates but it might be more accurate to think of it as trying to create a sense of two parallel activities (foreground and background) rather than an activity that is placed in a lesser position. The two go on at once and it depends on which sense (the inner sight of thought versus the listening to the noises in the hallway) you focus on.

EDIT: This is not to say that Tolkien isn’t trying to have his cake and eat it to by using a measure of time that implies a subordinating conjunction. I suspect he is using this noun phrase (or is it a verb, akin to whiling away the hours?) for that purpose as well.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I finally found my point of confusion about the echoes of Irish and English usage of this phrase. But (conjunction) all-the-while (a measure of time ). As such, the phrase all-the-while is a signal that this activity would modify the sit and think to become something capturing the present perfect tense (activity begun in the past and continuing in the present — I explain for those, like me, who would have had to look that up) rather than the simple present, trying to capture two simultaneous actions. Bilbo is sitting and thinking of the past and future while he listens for footfalls.

The implication of this is that his active thoughts are of the past and reflecting on the distant future created by the present — a present he is waiting to hear about from those who will come (immediate future) to the door.

As a practical matter, it kind of subordinates but it might be more accurate to think of it as trying to create a sense of two parallel activities (foreground and background) rather than an activity that is placed in a lesser position. The two go on at once and it depends on which sense (the inner sight of thought versus the listening to the noises in the hallway) you focus on.

EDIT: This is not to say that Tolkien isn’t trying to have his cake and eat it to by using a measure of time that implies a subordinating conjunction. I suspect he is using this noun phrase (or is it a verb, akin to whiling away the hours?) for that purpose as well.
Good thoughts Matt,

But, I don't think the two activities (sitting and thinking, and listening) are meant to be exactly parallel.

The 'But' indicates a reversal of previous thoughts, or a contradiction, or a new direction.

'You said such and such. But, I think you really meant so and so.' 'It looked like you were doing that. But, you were really doing this.'

In the case of the poem, I think the 'But' subordinates the sitting and thinking to the listening. 'You thought I was sitting and thinking. But, what I am really primarily doing is listening. Sure, I am also thinking while listening. The listening, however, is primary.'

I speculate that Bilbo had composed most of this poem before the conversation with Frodo. It was meant to be a poem about sitting and thinking. It was meant to end on the fourth stanza, with the expression of 'estel', "In every wood in every spring there is a different green."

When Bilbo first turns to the window and starts to hum, he is thinking of singing this poem for Frodo. But, he stops. It is too abstract. It is not personal enough.

On the spot, Bilbo composes the last two stanzas. That shifts the focus from thinking about seasons and the world, to thinking about people, and, especially, listening for returning feet. This adds amdir for Frodo to estel for the world. Now Bilbo thinks this is the right poem for the moment. So, the second time he turns towards the window, he sings it.
 

Matt DeForrest

Active Member
My reading leans more on the usage of “but” where its synonyms would be “yet” and/or “however”. In these cases, there is a shift from what went before but it is less a negation or reversal and more additive: “If you look at things this way, however, you will see…” = “But if you look at things this way, you will see….” These are additive — not negating the prior statements — rather than the full contradiction you have in “You said such and such. But I think you really meant….“

Perhaps the better word for the simultaneity of the sitting/thinking and listening is synchronous rather than parallel.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
The prose version:

I sit here in my comfortable room and reflect on my life. I also think about the world going on without me after I die, all the springtimes I will not see, and the people who will live after me and see those things. Then I think that the world also existed before I was born. I'm just a small part of a much larger story. But while I sit and have all these thoughts, I worry about the people I love who are going away today, and I know I will always be listening for their safe return.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
The prose version:

I sit here in my comfortable room and reflect on my life. I also think about the world going on without me after I die, all the springtimes I will not see, and the people who will live after me and see those things. Then I think that the world also existed before I was born. I'm just a small part of a much larger story. But while I sit and have all these thoughts, I worry about the people I love who are going away today, and I know I will always be listening for their safe return.
Perfect, Rachel,

The exact emphasis, however, depends on how the word 'But' is interpreted. If "But' can be substituted by 'And', then the sitting and thinking and the listening are pretty much equivalent and parallel occupations. The same would be true if 'but' could be substituted by 'also'. However, 'but' does not have the same definition as 'and' or 'also' and should be interpreted differently. 'But' when used to start a sentence is close in meaning to 'However', whereas 'and' or 'also' are close in meaning to 'additionally'.

'And', 'also' 'additionally' all just mean that you are adding another thing to the previous thing. 'But' and 'however', I think, mean that you are going to contradict, reverse, propose something different, or reprioritize. In the case of this poem, 'all the while I sit and think' makes it clear that the 'But' is not going to contradict the previous content; it is unlikely trying to reverse the previous content; it is leading to recounting, but not proposing something different; what it is most likely doing, and why it is being used instead of 'and' or 'also' is reprioritizing. 'Yes, I am sitting and thinking about all those things I was just talking about.' 'But, that is not the primary thing I am doing. What I am mostly doing is listening for returning feet and voices at the door.'
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
'And', 'also' 'additionally' all just mean that you are adding another thing to the previous thing. 'But' and 'however', I think, mean that you are going to contradict, reverse, propose something different, or reprioritize. In the case of this poem, 'all the while I sit and think' makes it clear that the 'But' is not going to contradict the previous content; it is unlikely trying to reverse the previous content; it is leading to recounting, but not proposing something different; what it is most likely doing, and why it is being used instead of 'and' or 'also' is reprioritizing. 'Yes, I am sitting and thinking about all those things I was just talking about.' 'But, that is not the primary thing I am doing. What I am mostly doing is listening for returning feet and voices at the door.'
Exactly. I can't imagine any context in which "and" and "but" are interchangable. Perhaps my last sentence should be " But while I sit and have all these thoughts, I worry about the people I love who are going away today, and whatever I am doing I will mostly be listening for their safe return."
 
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