20 March 2015

Above all shadows rides the sun: The solar eclipse and Tolkien Reading Day

Image Source: http://www.eucatastrophe.com/?p=581
It has been my desktop wallpaper for several months now
It isn't every year that you can witness a partial solar eclipse on the vernal equinox, but I just had the pleasure of doing so here in the Eternal City. About ten of us gathered on the roof of the Casa Santa Maria in between classes and other activities of the day.

After a minutes of attempting to watch the eclipse through a pinprick in an index card - which worked but was unsatisfactory - one of the men who works in the casa brought a piece of glass from a welder's helmet through which could safely view the eclipse. Mylar glasses being somewhat hard to find in Rome (I'm sure they can be found, but I've no idea where to even begin looking), his thoughtfulness was very much appreciated.

As we watched the eclipse - during which time the brightness of day decreased noticably, but not enough to affect activity - a poem of J.R.R. Tolkien occurred to me. It can be found in Book VI of The Lord of the Rings, in the chapter titled, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol."

Though written by Bilbo Baggins, the poem was sung by Samwise Gamgee as he made his through the tower of Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo Baggins who was captured by Shagrat and Snaga after Shelob stung Frodo and Sam initially thought him dead:
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair
Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done
nor bid the Stars farewell.
The poem is at once melancholic and yet brimming with hope, for above all shadows rides the sun. This is, incidentally, one of the sorts of things you could read and discuss with your friends next week for Tolkien Reading Day. (I hope to have my list of reading recommendations up by the end of the day.)

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