Bilbo Back from a Long Journey

Freeman as Bilbo

Tuesday

Julia and I returned home last night after 16 days on the road. Given that we traveled from Sewanee to Washington, D. C. to southern Maryland to Pennsylvania to Cincinnati to Des Moines and back to Sewanee, I lacked the energy to write a new post. I’ve therefore repurposed an old essay on the poem that Bilbo chants as he nears the shire.

When I went to Wikipedia to find “The Road Goes Ever On and On,” I discovered that there are three versions. The first one alludes to many of the adventures in The Hobbit:

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

“Fire and sword” and “horror in the halls of stone” may well be oblique references to Tolkien’s World War I experiences in the trenches. Imagine what it must have meant to him to come home to England’s meadows, trees, and hills.

I like the way the other two versions capture the different feelings one has, first when one embarks on a journey and then when one comes to the journey’s end. The first poem, as the Wikipedia article notes, talks of eager feet while the second of weary feet. Right now, like many travelers reaching the end of their journeys, I’m experiencing weary feet. The first poem is spoken by Bilbo as he sets off for Rivendell in the third chapter of Fellowship of the Ring. The second is spoken by Bilbo in Rivendell in The Return of the King after Frodo and the others return from the ring quest, weary and in shock. I’ve labeled them “before” and “after.”

Before:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

After:

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

I can report my meeting with evening-rest and sleep went very well.

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