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Song of ARagorn
by J.R.R. Tolkien
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Tolkien takes the opportunity here to improve upon Shakespeare. In The Merchant of Venice the line is that “all that glisters is not gold.”
If you are familiar with The Lord of the Rings, then you know that this poem describes Aragorn, the long lost heir to the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, a major protagonist of the story. Despite a high royal lineage, he disguises himself for most of his life as as Ranger. With that in mind, the first four lines tell us about him.
He had value that was not obvious in his outward appearance. He wandered in life but the wandering was purposeful. Through that wandering he prepared himself for what was to come later. His roots (family, education, friends) were such that he could endure hard times without losing strength. In that respect, Aragorn also represents his family line – the line of Kings – with his endurance.
The second half of the poem is about hope. The King is returning and with him, restoration. Be hopeful!
The comparison to Christ is not stated but it tickles the brain. That is, of course, intentional. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. His book was influenced by his faith. Like Aragorn, Christ’s value was not glittery. Jesus was not born into a Roman Emperor’s family with all of the trappings that you could expect. He was born in a manger. Nevertheless, Christ *was* royal. He was gold that did not glitter. Jesus wandered in life but like Aragorn, he did so purposefully. His roots were stronger than the world into which he was born. Like Aragorn (well, really, the comparison is the other way around,) Christians have hope that the King is returning, and with him, restoration.
The appeal of this poem goes beyond the book into which it is set. It goes beyond even its Christian influence. This poem is one of the most popular poems in the English speaking world. I suspect that it might be THE most often tattooed poem in the English speaking world. (This is the kind of information-gathering that I wish were included on an official census.) Why so popular? I do not know for certain. However, the lines – especially those at the beginning – seem to fit the self-given biographical description of many like a glove. “Not all who wander are lost” is a particular favorite of those folks who burn with just a bit of wanderlust.
I cannot decide whether to feel thankful or regretful that Tolkien did not write an epic poem about someone who watches TV all day. Tattoos are a big decision.