Thursday, April 17, 2008

Goblin Feet

~ J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973)

I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flitter-mice are flying:
A slender band of gray
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are a-sighing.
The air is full of wings,
And of blundery beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padded 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 happy little feet!
O! their swinging lamps in little starlit globes.
I must follow in their train
Down the crooked fairy lane
Where the coney-rabbits long ago have gone,
And where silvery they sing
In a moving moonlit ring
All a-twinkle with the jewels they have on.
They are fading round the turn
Where the glow-worms palely burn
And the echo of their padding feet is dying!
O! it’s knocking at my heart—
Let me go! O! let me start!
For the little magic hours are all a-flying.

O! the warmth! O! the hum! O! the colours in the dark!
O! the gauzy wings of golden honey-flies!
O! the music of their feet—of their dancing goblin feet!
O! the magic! O! the sorrow when it dies.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Written on 27-28 April 1915, shortly before leaving for the War, for his future wife who “loved tales of ’spring and flowers and trees, and little elfin people.’”

Obviously this is nothing like his portrayal of elves and goblins that fans of The Lord of the Rings are familiar with and Tolkien himself later tried to distance himself from this very Victorian painting of the little people — in 1971 when he was asked permission to include “Goblin Feet” in an anthology, he said, “I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever.”

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.


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.

(Information and quotes found at the Tolkien Library.)

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