All Woods Must Fail

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All Woods Must Fail

by J.R.R. Tolkien

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
Despair not! For though dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last,
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun,
The day’s end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail.


This seven line poem by J.R.R. Tolkien has a rhyme scheme of AABBCCD with a consistent meter of 8 syllables per line – excepting that the first line’s introduction of “Oh!” gives that line nine syllables. This poem is also known as ‘O! Wanderers in the shadowed land,’ and ‘Song in the Woods.’ It is from his novel The Fellowship of the Ring and is sung by the character Frodo Baggins. The poem is thus from his voice and perspective and the Wanderers mentioned in line 1 are the friends with whom he is traveling.

One interesting parallel drawn by the Speaker (Frodo) is that between the day and the woods. He explains, through repetitive mentions of the sun, that just as every day comes and goes, so too are the woods limited in duration. The good comes and goes, and comes again, and we take it almost for granted. However, the bad also comes and goes as well. The latter sometimes requires a reminder.

The poem concerns the circumstances of the characters at this point in the novel. Frodo and the other hobbits are traveling through Old Forest and are being pursued by the Black Riders. Frodo sings the song to encourage his friends. However bad and dark the may seem, if they keep on, they will eventually reach its end. On this point, the Old Forest is an allusion to the larger struggle as well.

The poem is a reminder and an encouragement, beyond just the novel and its context, that all woods (metaphorical or not) eventually end and the sunlight returns when that happens.

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