Lament for the Rohirrim

Malloran

New Member
Greetings Professor and all, this is my first post here.

First I'd like to precise that I am not a native english speaker so that parts of my questions might seem naïve and have obvious answers for a native english speaker.
For years I have had questions about the Lotr poem the Lament for the Rohirrim .
I already tried english and english litterature forums but was mostly met with quips and mockery.
But now I discovered the Tolkien Professor Lotro streams on twitch which I like so I try my luck on these forums.

The question about the song Lament for the Rohirrim is :
The lyrics obviously refer to Eorl the Young and lament his death in TA 2545.
The first 6 lines are problemless and convey the nostalgy of the Rohirrim for their great King. It is probable that the poem was first sung during the burial of Eorl.

However I struggle with the last 2 lines.
"Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning
Or behold the flowing years, from the sea returning ?
"
I guess that the dead wood burning refers to a funeral pyre so "gather" could have the meaning of "observe". Is that right ? I have never met the verb "gather" used in that sense - usually it means "I suppose that ..." , "I understand that ..." . Is that some very old sense used 100s of years ago ?
Also if "who" refers to "who in the stead of Eorl" or "who among the Rohirrim" it would mean that Eorl was the only one who "observed" funeral pyres what is surely not true . How is that to be understood ?

The last line is even more mysterious for me.
What/who "returns from the sea" ? The "flowing years" or "Eorl" the subject of the poem ?
It should be the "flowing years" because Eorl clearly never "returned from the sea" and Rohan was land enclosed with no sea shore.
In that case the line could be interpreted as a frequent metaphor of time flow as a river (Anduin) flow.
However this cannot work because a river never "returns from the sea", it flows to the sea.
Yet it bothers me because the interpretation I found : "Who will mourn the fallen Rohirrim and count the years of his old age (after he returns from a journey to Gondor/Belfallas)" was nicely in the nostalgic spirit of the rest of the poem offering a vision of an old Eorl who earned his peace.
Also why is there an alternative "Or behold ..." ? Why isn't that an "And behold ..." ?
So how can be understood this last line ?

Thanks in advance, I hope to solve my years long quest here :)
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
Greetings Professor and all, this is my first post here.

First I'd like to precise that I am not a native english speaker so that parts of my questions might seem naïve and have obvious answers for a native english speaker.
For years I have had questions about the Lotr poem the Lament for the Rohirrim .
I already tried english and english litterature forums but was mostly met with quips and mockery.
But now I discovered the Tolkien Professor Lotro streams on twitch which I like so I try my luck on these forums.

The question about the song Lament for the Rohirrim is :
The lyrics obviously refer to Eorl the Young and lament his death in TA 2545.
The first 6 lines are problemless and convey the nostalgy of the Rohirrim for their great King. It is probable that the poem was first sung during the burial of Eorl.

However I struggle with the last 2 lines.
"Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning
Or behold the flowing years, from the sea returning ?
"
I guess that the dead wood burning refers to a funeral pyre so "gather" could have the meaning of "observe". Is that right ? I have never met the verb "gather" used in that sense - usually it means "I suppose that ..." , "I understand that ..." . Is that some very old sense used 100s of years ago ?
Also if "who" refers to "who in the stead of Eorl" or "who among the Rohirrim" it would mean that Eorl was the only one who "observed" funeral pyres what is surely not true . How is that to be understood ?

The last line is even more mysterious for me.
What/who "returns from the sea" ? The "flowing years" or "Eorl" the subject of the poem ?
It should be the "flowing years" because Eorl clearly never "returned from the sea" and Rohan was land enclosed with no sea shore.
In that case the line could be interpreted as a frequent metaphor of time flow as a river (Anduin) flow.
However this cannot work because a river never "returns from the sea", it flows to the sea.
Yet it bothers me because the interpretation I found : "Who will mourn the fallen Rohirrim and count the years of his old age (after he returns from a journey to Gondor/Belfallas)" was nicely in the nostalgic spirit of the rest of the poem offering a vision of an old Eorl who earned his peace.
Also why is there an alternative "Or behold ..." ? Why isn't that an "And behold ..." ?
So how can be understood this last line ?

Thanks in advance, I hope to solve my years long quest here :)
I do understand both those expressions as rhetorical questions describing the irrevocability of death and of the passing of time: a smoke once dispersed into the air cannot be gathered back together, neither will the time or the water flown down the river ever come back again. "Who" refers to anybody from among the mortal humans. Who is able to gather (assemble back together) smoke? Nobody is. Who will ever see = "behold" the past years/flown river's water coming back? Also nobody ever will.
 
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Odola has it just as I understand the poem.

"Gather" is a verb here, meaning bring together: anything that is dispersed as smoke can never be assembled again. Similarly, years gone by can never be revisited. It is all sadness and grief, quite suitably in a lament for the fallen.
 

Malloran

New Member
I do understand both those expressions as rethorical questions describing the irrevocability of death and of the passing of time: a smoke once dispersed into the air cannot be gathered back together, neither will the time or the water flown down the river ever come back again. "Who" refers to anybody from among the mortal humans. Who is able to gather (assemble back together) smoke? Nobody is. Who will ever see = "behold" the past years/flown river's water coming back? Also nobody ever will.
Thanks for the answer !
What you say makes sense. Especially nice is that it explains why "Or" and not "And". Your interpretation actually demands that "Or" be used.
What still stays unclear is why to "gather smoke" even if it is an example of something impossible.
Btw I know the usual meaning of "gather" = "assemble, bring together"
What would one achieve if it was possible to "gather smoke" ? Why to use that metaphor ?
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the answer !
What you say makes sense. Especially nice is that it explains why "Or" and not "And". Your interpretation actually demands that "Or" be used.
What still stays unclear is why to "gather smoke" even if it is an example of something impossible.
Btw I know the usual meaning of "gather" = "assemble, bring together"
What would one achieve if it was possible to "gather smoke" ? Why to use that metaphor ?
I think it is a methaphor familiar to the Rohirrim, fire and smoke being something they often watch happening.

Also there is the word "wood" in the sentence. One can "gather wood" - which actually is a quite common combination - but not the smoke it produces when burned.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Where now the Horse and the Rider?

This is a riddle poem. Somewhat akin to the riddles exchanged in the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum in the Hobbit.

In fact, it is a triple riddle poem, with: Riddle; Answer; Riddle; Riddle.

First riddle: “Where now the: Horse and rider; Horn that was blowing; Helm and Hauberk, Bright hair flowing; Hand on harpstring; Red fire glowing; Spring; Harvest; Tall corn growing?”

Answer: “They have passed (like rain on the mountain, wind in the meadow). The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.” All these things have gone into the past with the inexorable flow of time.

Second riddle: “Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning?”

Third riddle: “ Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”

My answers to the second and third riddles:

2nd Riddle: The bard/poet/author will 'gather the smoke of the dead wood burning'. The bard will remember and collect these old tales, otherwise lost in time.

3rd Riddle: His audience will then 'behold the flowing years from the Sea returning'. As the bard tells the tale of Eorl the Young, his audience will be as-if there. Time will be undone. To the audience it will be as though Eorl the Young's tale is now.

2nd Riddle: J.R.R. Tolkien will 'gather the smoke of the dead wood burning'.

3rd Riddle: We, his readers, 'behold the flowing years from the Sea returning'.
 
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