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Quenya Poetry

Some original poetry in J. R. R. Tolkien's Quenya.

Poem for Lorelai

A little poem I wrote as a thank you for Lorelai, since I enjoy her music a lot.

Classical Tengwar

 ⸱ 
    
 
  

  
   
  
   

  
    

⸱    
  
⸱     
⸱  

  
    

  
   
  
 

  
 ⸱  
⸱    
 

Romanization

A Lorelai, arimelda!
Ya lirunet pá I Asar
Utúvienye líritya
Naitye arya lindimaitar

Eméniet orwe orontinnar
Eméniet norinnar palla mar
Utúviet alistane ermar
Ar eménietye er taurennar

Óreryallo lindalerya tule
Ar míri varni hendu haryasse

Ai, ya liritye i Nicunalin
Appatye órenya ómatyanen
Ai, ya liritye Imb' i Oronti
Lindaletyanen, anappatye ni

Óreryallo lindalerya tule
Ar míri varni hendu haryasse

Vanima óma haryatye
Ya huine ea elmesse
Mentat elmenna alasse
Lindaletyanen illume

Haryatye vanima óma
Ar ómatyanen, appat me
Ai, nai elen sile mirya
Lindaletyanna illume

English Translation

O Lorelai, Dearest!
When you sang about The Doctor
I have found your songs
You are an excelling musician

You have gone to high mountains
You have gone to countries far from home
You have found unknown substances
And you went to the woods alone

From her heart, her music comes
And precious brown eyes she has

Oh, when you sing the Frozen-song
You touch my heart with your voice
Oh, when you sing Mezi Horami
With your music, you really touch me

From her heart, her music comes
And precious brown eyes she has

A beautiful voice, you have
When darkness is with us
You send to us happiness
With your music, always

You have a beautiful voice
And with your voice, you touch us
Oh, may a star shine on your
beautiful music, always

Interlinear Translation

1

a
O
⸱
Lorelai
Lorelai

ari-melda!
SUPL-dear
O Lorelai, Dearest!
2

ya
when

liru-ne-t
sing-PST-2SF

about

I
The

Asar
Doctor
When you sang about The Doctor
3

u-túv-ie-nye
PERF-find-PERF-1SG

lír-i-tya
song-PL-2SF.POSS
I have found your songs
4

naitye
be.AOR.2SF

arya
excelling

lindimaitar
musician
You are an excelling musician
5

e-mén-ie-t
PERF-go-PERF-2SF

orw-e
high-PL

oron-ti-nna-r
mountain-PL-ALL-PL
You have gone to high mountains
6

e-mén-ie-t
PERF-go-PERF-2SF

nor-i-nna-r
country-PL-ALL-PL

palla
far.beyond

mar
home
You have gone to countries far from home
7

u-túv-ie-t
PERF-find-PERF-2SF

al-ist-an-e
NEG-know-PP-PL

erma-r
matter-PL
You have found unknown substances
8

ar
and

e-mén-ie-tye
PERF-go-PERF-2SF

er
alone

taure-nna-r
forest-ALL-PL
And you went to the woods alone
9

óre-rya-llo
heart-3SG.POSS-ABL

lindale-rya
music-3SG.POSS

tul-e
come-AOR
From her heart, her music comes
10

ar
and

mír-i
precious-PL

varn-i
brown-PL

hen-du
eye-DU

harya-sse
have.AOR-3SG
And precious brown eyes she has
11
⸱
ai,
oh

ya
when

lir-i-tye
sing-AOR-2SF

i
the

Nicu-na-lin
freeze-PP-song
Oh, when you sing the Frozen-song
12

appa-tye
touch.AOR-2SF

óre-nya
heart-1SG.POSS

óma-tya-nen
voice-2SF.POSS-INS
You touch my heart with your voice
13
⸱
ai,
oh

ya
when

lir-i-tye
sing-AOR-2SF

Imb'
Among

i
the

Oron-ti
Mountain-PL
Oh, when you sing Mezi Horami ["among mountains" in Czech]
14
⸱
lindale-tya-nen,
music-2SF.POSS-INS

an-appa-tye
intense-touch.AOR-2SF

ni
1SG
With your music, you really touch me
15

óre-rya-llo
heart-3SG.POSS-ABL

lindale-rya
music-3SG.POSS

tul-e
come-AOR
From her heart, her music comes
16

ar
and

mír-i
precious-PL

varn-i
brown-PL

hen-du
eye-DU

harya-sse
have.AOR-3SG
And precious brown eyes she has
17

vanima
beautiful

óma
voice

harya-tye
have.AOR-2SF
A beautiful voice, you have
18

ya
when

huine
darkness

ea
exists.AOR

elme-sse
1PE.EMPH-LOC
When darkness is with us
19

menta-t
send.AOR-2SF

elme-nna
1PE.EMPH-ALL

alasse
happiness
You send to us happiness
20

lindale-tya-nen
music-2SF.POSS-INS

illume
always
With your music, always
21

harya-tye
have.AOR-2SF

vanima
beautiful

óma
voice
You have a beautiful voice
22

ar
and
⸱
óma-tya-nen,
voice-2SF.POSS-INS

appa-t
touch.AOR-2SF

me
1PE
And with your voice, you touch us
23

ai
oh,

nai
OPT

elen
star

sile
shine.AOR

mirya
beautiful
Oh, may a star shine [on] your beautiful
24

lindale-tya-nna
music-2SF.POSS-ALL

illume
always
music [on], always

Glossing Abbreviations

1SG first person singular
1PE first person plural (exclusive)
2SF second person singular (familiar)
3SG third person singular
ABL ablative case
ALL allative case
AOR aorist tense
DU dual number
EMPH emphatic
INS instrumental case
LOC locative case
NEG negation
OPT optative mood
PERF perfect tense
PL plural number
POSS possessive
PP passive participle
PST past tense
SUPL superlative

Notes

Quenya vocabulary is very sparse, so I had to make do with what's available. I tried to remain faithful to Tolkien's original creation and avoided fan-made additions. For the sake of consistency, I kept the whole poem in Late Quenya (c. 1950-1973).

A few linguistic remarks for the inclined reader:

  1. The superlative prefix  (ari-) could be considered archaic, and perhaps  (ani-) would be a better choice, but as it is a poetic work, I chose to use the more ancient form. (line 1)
  2. All references to specific songs were translated as well, so that English words wouldn't interrupt the beautiful flow of Quenya sounds. Therefore, I only referenced songs that I was able to translate meaningfully. In the Latin transcription, names are capitalized for clarity. (lines 2, 11, 13)
  3. When not explicitely referring to the past, I used the aorist tense to convey a sense of timelessness instead of using the present tense. (lines 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22)
  4. In general, the poem makes heavy use of subject pronoun suffixes, which I found to be an elegant way of expressing the subject, especially in a poem, instead of independent pronouns. (lines 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 22)
  5. In the object position, the independent first person pronouns were used, as Tolkien apparently did not intend to use object suffixes except for the third person, perhaps because it would lead to ambiguity. (lines 14, 22)
  6. To highlight Lorelai's positive impact on her audience, the emphatic first person pronoun was used sometimes. (lines 18, 19)
  7. I'm not entirely sure if the emphatic first person pronoun can be used with the locative case to convey "with us" like I did with  (elmesse), but as it rhymes so wunderfully with  (alasse) I had to keep it in. (lines 18, 19)
  8.  (palla) is probably not the ideal translation for "far away from", as it is connotated with "beyond a certain point" (e.g. "far beyond the river"). A better translation in Middle Quenya may be the adverb  (haiya), but for consistency, I stuck to the probably more poetic sounding  (palla) from Late Quenya, which can also be used as a preposition. (line 6)
  9. I'm not sure if  (erma) can actually be pluralized, but I found no better way of rendering "chemical substances", "chemical elements" in Quenya – a phrase I definitely wanted to keep in the poem as it is a direct reference to Lorelai's "Cake To Bake" cover song lyrics. (line 7)
  10. I'm not entirely sure if  (taurennar) should get a definite article like in English "to the forests", "to the woods", but since no specific forests are mentioned, I decied to leave it out. (line 8)
  11. It is worth mentioning that Quenya has rich vocabulary to describe various kinds of beauty, which I wasn't quite able to reflect in the English glossing. I initially translated "beautiful eyes" with  (vanya), but when I realized that this word is apparently related to "pale" or "blonde", I changed it to  (míre) "precious", which seemed a better fit for dark brown eyes. For translating "beautiful voice", I used  (vanima), which seems to refer to beauty in general. Another option would have been  (linda), which refers to beauty in the sense of melodious, sweet music, but I couldn't quite fit that into the rhythmic structure of the poem. To translate "beautiful music", I chose  (mirya), which specifically refers to lovely works of art. (lines 10, 16, 17, 21, 23)
  12. It is also worth mentioning that Quenya has dual number, something that is not too common in contemporary languages anymore, and I could use it to pluralize "eyes":  (hendu) Apparently, there is no dual form for adjectives, so the accompanying adjective "brown"  (varni) is in the regular plural. (lines 10, 16)
  13.  (imb') is a shortened version of  (imbe) "between", "among". (line 13)
  14. Quenya has first-person clusivity (that is, separate inclusive and exclusive forms of the first person plural pronoun "we") – a feature especially uncommon among European languages. Thus, to refer to Lorelai's audience but not her, the exclusive form is used. (lines 18, 19, 22)

If you are interested in the phonological properties of Quenya, you can view the poem in the letter freqency analyzer (loading… requires JavaScript).

Music

Originally, I just wanted to write the poem in Quenya. But since that makes it easier for me to feel if the poem "works", I went a step further and created a little tune to go along with it. You can listen to it here and sing along if you wish:

Downloads

Note that in the musical version the last two lines are repeated.

How do I write a poem in Elvish?

So, here's a little behind the scenes tour:

  1. I knew from Lorelai's channel description that she feels like being Elvish at heart – but the problem is, Elvish is not actually a language! In fact, Tolkien created a variety of languages for his fictional world. (Rather, he created his fictional world for his languages, but that's a story for another time.) Quenya and Sindarin, two Elvish languages, are the most fully developed among these languages. So, I had to pick one of them: Quenya. I chose Quenya because I like the sound of it. No special reason for that.
  2. I began brainstorming ideas for the poem: What do I know about Lorelai, her music, and my experience with it? I took some notes.
  3. Next, I started browsing the Quenya dictionary for words related to my ideas, noted them down, and ruled out ideas I couldn't find a translation for.
  4. Actually, Tolkien made many revisions to his languages over the course of his life. Paul Strack, in his research, divides Quenya further into Early, Middle and Late Quenya. So here comes another step: To remain consistent, I chose to stick with Late Quenya only, as it seemed the most mature to me, and ignored the others.
  5. I realized I would go crazy if I tried to find rhyming phrases by randomly stringing words together, so I went for a more systematic approach: I compiled a list with various versions (second/third person, present/past tense, long/short subject suffix etc.) of phrases I wanted to use. In fact, this spreadsheet got quite large – about 900 lines.
  6. In preparing the prases, I followed Paul Strack's grammar of Late Quenya to make sure that I would – hopefully – get the inflections and syntax right.
  7. I sorted the phrase list by syllable count and final letter to see which phrases would fit into the same stanzas, and arranged the matching phrases in meaningful order. In fact, less than 3% of the phrases I originally translated ended up in the final version of the poem.
  8. Finally, I converted the romanized phrases I've been working with into Classical Tengwar script to make the poem look beautiful.

This should give you a rough overview of the process, but of course, it is not quite linear, as the poem went through a few rounds of minor revisions.

Acknowledgements

This poetry is based mainly on information from Eldamo, the Elvish Lexicon created by Paul Strack.

Special thanks to Benjamin Babut and Bertrand Bellet for providing the immensely helpful Tolkien Language Transcriber, and to Elenriel for proofreading my first draft of the poem.


Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Heller [ˈtoːmas ˈhɛlɐ]