The Road Goes Ever On

The Road Goes Ever On

by J.R.R. Tolkein

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

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.

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.

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 weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they 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.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

______________________________

The poem is presented as a song within Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Given its frequent usage, it is apparently of some import to the author’s message through his work.

The poem also works outside the context of Tolkein’s books. It also reflects the every day events that all people face.

The poem itself is comprised of six stanzas – in a sense at least. The stanzas are what we arrive at when we combine the different versions of the song together from the various works. [See more below.] For our sake though we will call them stanzas.

In the first stanza, Roads Go Ever On lets us know that existence is always moving forward – even in the places that seem set aside and unexplored. We are given warm flowery settings, contrasted with winter snow, and the message remains the same in all circumstances. Roads refer to time; time never stops moving regardless of location.

In the second stanza, the message is much the same but Tolkein introduces humanity into his equation. Alongside humanity, Tolkein grounds his world in the setting of home. He tells us of people who have seen a lot and returned home. He describes people as having wandering feet, and “eyes that fire and sword have seen.” The road does not end in the terrible though. It continues back to the familiar. By returning the traveler to familiar turf, Tolkein imbues the journey he describes with an element of comfort and his poem with an element of the romantic.

In the third stanza, Tolkein changes his key refrain. Rather than “Roads go ever on” he states that “The Road goes ever on and on.” The first two stanzas refer generally to time or the human experience, but the third is now personal. The Speaker refers to a specific door where the road begins – his own. To make this more clear, this stanza is also where the Speaker begins speaking in the first person.

And I must follow, if I can,

It is not clear whether “must” here is born of a desire to go or a lack of alternatives. That appears to be open to reader interpretation. However, whether by desire or not, the Speaker intends to be “eager.” Eager here feels youthful.

The fourth stanza is almost an exact repeat of the third, with a couple of important distinctions. Whereas the Speaker described his feet in the third stanza as “eager” here the word “weary” replaces them. Perhaps this is an allusion to ageing. Alternatively, it may allude to the difficulty or duration of a particular journey. This stanza also adds a line to its conclusion which was not present to close the third:

And whither then? I cannot say.

Here, the Speaker knows that another leg of a journey is coming but its direction is unknown.

The fifth stanza’s first two lines begin almost exactly as the third and fourth did. Tolkein makes a minor change, though. Rather than “Down from the door” this stanza says “Out from the door.” The shift in focus in the fifth stanza is distance. “Down” indicates a simple purposeful step whereas “Out” implies an unknown distance or intention. One might step down the door to leave for work and out the door to pick up the mail before walking back inside. The fourth line lets us know that the journey now may not be quite as far as when the Speaker had “eager” feet. Whereas earlier, the journey was personally undertaken, now the Speaker is encouraging others.

Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet

The adventuring days for the Speaker with the weary feet are over.

The sixth stanza implies that the Speaker anticipates one more potential adventure remaining. Here the Speaker seems to be referring to death.

A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Some more background on this poem and the various places from which is derived courtesy Wiki:

Versions of this song

In The Hobbit

The original version of the song is recited by Bilbo in chapter 19 of The Hobbit, at the end of his journey back to the Shire. Coming to the top of a rise he sees his home in the distance, and stops and says the following: Roads go ever ever on,Over rock and under tree,By caves where never sun has shone,By streams that never find the sea;Over snow by winter sown,And through the merry flowers of June,Over grass and over stone,And under mountains in the moon.Roads go ever ever onUnder cloud and under star,Yet feet that wandering have goneTurn at last to home afar.Eyes that fire and sword have seenAnd horror in the halls of stoneLook at last on meadows greenAnd trees and hills they long have known.

In The Lord of the Rings

There are three versions of “The Road Goes Ever On” in the novel The Lord of the Rings.

1) The first is in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 1. The song is sung by Bilbo when he leaves the Shire. He has given up the One Ring, leaving it for Frodo to deal with, and is setting off to visit Rivendell, so that he may finish writing his book.[T 2]The Road goes ever on and onDown 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 wayWhere many paths and errands meet.And whither then? I cannot say.

2) The second version appears in Book One, Chapter 3. It is identical except for changing the word “eager” to “weary” in the fifth line. It is spoken aloud, slowly, by Frodo, as he and his companions arrive at a familiar road – the Stock Road – on their journey to leave the Shire.[T 3]

3) The third version appears in The Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 6. It is spoken by Bilbo in Rivendell after the hobbits have returned from their journey. Bilbo is now an old, sleepy hobbit, who murmurs the verse and then falls asleep.[T 4]The Road goes ever on and onOut 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 feetWill turn towards the lighted inn,My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

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