The Markirya Poem

This poem is described by Christopher Tolkien as "one of the major pieces of Quenya" (MC:4); indeed it is the longest text in mature Quenya that has been published so far. The final version of the poem is actually a translation. Tolkien's earlier versions of it were written in the very early thirties, while he was still experimenting with the precise structure of "Qenya" (as it was then spelt) and evidently revised the grammatical endings almost from week to week. These early "Qenya" texts, published in MC:213-214 and 220-221, would not have been of much help to people interested in LotR-style Quenya. Luckily, Tolkien much later wrote a version of the poem in mature Quenya and even added a glossial commentary (MC:221-223). In effect, this is a translation from the tentative "Qenya" of the early thirties into mature Quenya, Quenya as Tolkien had come to think of the language after he had spent a lifetime refining it - for the final version of the poem seems to date from the last decade of his life. This is a very important source; in particular it provides us with many good examples of the participles.

The first version of the poem has a title: Oilima Markirya, "The Last Ark" (MC:213, 214). The later, revised version has no title. Oilima "last" may not be a valid word in mature Quenya (where it occured in the text of the first version, the final version has métima), but Markirya "Ark" is certainly valid. Literally, it would mean "home-ship" (cf. Eldamar "Elvenhome"). I use to refer to this text as the Markirya poem.

I have regularized the spelling to the system used in LotR (the changes only amount to changing k to c and adding a diaeresis to all final e's in polysyllabic words, except as a part of - where the diaeresis is already used in the text in MC). I have numbered the lines to make it easier to refer back from the discussion to the original text.

MARKIRYA stanza by stanza, with Tolkien's translation interspersed (the translation is given in MC:214-215; notice note 8 in MC:220 concerning a minor change):

First stanza:

1) Men cenuva fánë cirya
Who shall see a white ship
2) métima hrestallo círa,
leave the last shore,
3) i fairi nécë
the pale phantoms
4) ringa súmaryassë
in her cold bosom
5) ve maiwi yaimië?
like gulls wailing?

1. The very first word, men "who", must be a misreading for man (Tolkien's difficult handwriting again!). Man is not only found in Namarië in LotR, but also five more times in this same poem. cenuva "shall see", stem cen- "see" + the future-tense ending -uva "shall". fánë "white" (but the next stanza has fána, that may be more correct - see below). cirya "ship".
2. métima "last", hrestallo *"from (the) shore", sc. hresta "shore" + the ablative ending -llo "from". círa "sail", basic meaning *"cut", here "cut or pass swiftly though the sea". Cf. cirya "ship", that Christopher Tolkien compares to English cutter in the Silmarillion appendix, entry kir-. The word círa would seem to be a so-called "continuative stem" with a lengthened stem-vowel and the ending -a (this word could also occur as a present tense *"cuts, sails"). Hence the literal meaning of these lines is not really "who shall see a white ship leave the last shore?", but *"who shall see a white ship sail from (the) last shore?"
3. i "the", fairi "phantoms", pl. of fairë "phantom; disembodied spirit, when seen as a pale shape" (MC:223), nécë pl. (to agree with fairi) of the adjective néca "vague, faint, dim to see" (MC:223).
4. ringa "cold" (the Etymologies, entry RINGI, has ringë), súmaryassë "in her bosom", hence "in her cold bosom". Súmaryassë is súma "hollow cavity, bosom" + the possessive ending -rya "her, his" + the locative ending -ssë "in".
5. ve "as, like", maiwi "gulls", pl. of maiwë "gull", yaimië pl. (to agree with maiwi) of the adjective yaimëa "wailing", an adjective derived from yaimë "wailing" (as noun).

Second stanza:

6) Man tiruva fána cirya,
Who shall heed a white ship,
7) wilwarin wilwa,
vague as a butterfly,
8) ëar-celumessen
in the flowing sea
9) rámainen elvië
on wings like stars,
10) ëar falastala,
the sea surging,
11) winga hlápula
the foam blowing,
12) rámar sisílala,
the wings shining,
13) cálë fifírula?
the light fading?

6. man "who", tiruva "shall heed/watch", sc. the stem tir- "watch" with the future tense ending -uva, as in cenuva "shall see" in line 1. fána "white" - while the first stanza has fáne! Tolkien's glossary commentary as printed in MC also has fáne, while the Etymologies (LR:387, stem SPAN) first gave fanya "cloud"; then Tolkien struck out "cloud" and added fána to fanya, "with meanings 'white' and 'cloud'...but it is not clear how they are to be applied" (Christopher Tolkien). Other sources give fanya "(white) cloud", so fána would seem to be the word meaning "white". Since man is evidently misread men in the first line, it may be that fána twice has been misread as fáne in the text in MC:222, both in the poem and in Tolkien's glossary commentary. (Why couldn't a man capable of wonderful calligraphy use a more legible handwriting in his daily life?) cirya "ship".
7. wilwarin "butterfly", wilwa "fluttering to and fro". Tolkien translated these words as "vague as a butterfly", but literally the ship is said to be "(a) fluttering butterfly".
8. ëar-celumessen a compound of ëar "sea" and celumessen, which is celumë "flowing, flood (tide), stream" with the plural locative ending -ssen: hence literally *"in the sea-streams", or as Tolkien translated this line: "in the flowing sea".
9. rámainen is ráma "wing" + the plural instrumental ending -inen "by, with", hence "by/with wings", here evidently referring to the sails of the ship. elvië pl. (to agree with "wings") of the adjective elvëa "starlike". Tolkien used the translation "on wings like stars", but literally the Quenya words mean "with (= using) starlike wings", since this is an instrumental form ("on wings" would literally be locative *rámassen, not attested).
10. ëar "sea", falastala "foaming", participle of falasta- "to foam"; -la is the present participle ending, English "-ing" (but while "-ing" is also used to form verbal nouns, -la only forms adjectival participles). There are many examples of the participial ending -la in this poem.
11. winga "foam, spray". hlápula participle of a verbal stem hlapu- "fly or stream in the wind", with the same ending -la as in falastala above. Note that when this ending is added to a stem where the accented vowel is not followed by a consonant cluster (like st in falasta-), the vowel is lengthened: a > á in hlapu- > hlápula (cf. also pícala below).
12. rámar "wings", nominative pl. of ráma "wing". sisílala "shining", participle of sisíla-, which is in turn said to be the "frequentative" form of a shorter stem sil- "shine (white)", formed by reduplicating the first consonant and vowel (here si-), lengthening the stem-vowel (i > í) and adding a final -a. This long form of sil- apparently indicates a long or ongoing action. It should be noted that the participle takes the normal ending -la "-ing" even though it describes a plural noun (rámar "wings"). Adjectives in -a have plural forms in -ë, and the adjectival participle might have been excepted to behave in the same way, changing its ending to - when it describes a plural noun. This is evidently not the case; the ending -la is unchanged in the plural, so present participles do not show number at all. This may be to avoid confusion with the verbal noun ending -, as in Ainulindalë (lit. *"Ainu-singing", translated "Music of the Ainur" by Tolkien).
13. cálë "light", fifírula "fading", participle of fifíru- "slowly fade away", a lengthened form of fir- "die, fade" (parallelling sisíla- from sil-). It is not entirely clear why fifíru- has the connecting vowel -u instead of -a as in sisíla-. It may be noted that the connecting vowel u is sometimes associated with something bad (cf. Tolkien's note on -uñkwâ as opposed to -iñkwâ in WJ:415), and fir- "die, fade" does have an unpleasant meaning.

Third stanza:

14) Man hlaruva rávëa súrë
Who shall hear the wind roaring
15) ve tauri lillassië,
like leaves of forests;
16) ninqui carcar yarra
the white rocks snarling
17) isilmë ilcalassë,
in the moon gleaming,
18) isilmë pícalassë,
in the moon waning,
19) isilmë lantalassë
in the moon falling
20) ve loicolícuma;
a corpse-candle;
21) raumo nurrua,
the storm mumbling,
22) undumë rúma?
the abyss moving?

14. Man "who", hlaruva "shall hear", stem hlar- "hear" + the future tense-ending -uva "shall". rávëa "roaring", an adjective derived from rávë "roaring noise"; -a often functions as an adjectival ending. súrë "wind". Tolkien's translation of this line reads "who shall hear the wind roaring?", but the literal meaning must be *"Who shall hear (the) roaring wind?"
15. ve "as, like", tauri "forests", pl. of taurë "forest". lillassië "having many leaves, *many-leaved", pl. of an adjective lillassëa "many-leaved", derived from lassë "leaf" with the adjectival ending -a and the prefix lin- "many" (LR:369, stem LI). Lin- here becomes lil- by assimilation to the initial l of lassë: Quenya does not allow the combination nl, so **linlassëa was not a possible word; nl had to become ll. Tolkien's translation of this line reads "like leaves of forests", but the Quenya text literally means *"like many-leaved forests".
16. ninqui pl. (to agree with the following plural noun carcar) of the adjective ninquë "white". carcar, pl. of carca, is here translated "rocks"; in the Etymologies the word carca (karka) is glossed "tooth" (LR:362, stem KARAK "sharp fang, spite, tooth"). Here, the reference must be to sharp rocks. yarra "growl, snarl". Here it is in effect used as a participle "snarling" and is so translated by Tolkien, though the normal participial ending -la is not employed.
17. isilmë "moonlight", derived from Isil "Moon"; the ending - often denotes something abstract or intangible. In Tolkien's translation of the poem, he simply translated isilmë as "moon", but this refers to its light and not to the celestial body itself. ilcalassë is ilcala "gleaming", the participle of ilca- "gleam" formed with the normal participial ending -la (no lengthening of the stem-vowel i since it is followed by a consonant cluster, lc). The phrase isilmë ilcala "moonlight (that is) gleaming" is treated as a single unit, and the locative ending -ssë "in" is added to the last word to express "in the gleaming moonlight". However, *ilcala isilmessë "gleaming moonlight-in" may have been a more natural construction in non-poetic language.
18. isilmë "moonlight". pícalassë contains pícala, the participle of the verb píca- "lessen, dwindle" (in his running translation, Tolkien used the word "waning" instead of "lessening"). The whole phrase isilmë pícala "moonlight (that is) waning" then receives the locative ending -ssë "in" to express "in the waning moonlight" - probably *pícala isilmessë in more normal style.
19. isilmë "moonlight"; lantalassë incorporates the participle lantala "falling" (from the verb lanta- "fall" - as in ilcala, the participle displays no lengthening of the stem-vowel because it is followed by a consonant cluster). Once again the locative ending -ssë "in" is added to the whole phrase to express "in the falling moonlight". In clearer, non-poetic style we would rather expect a construction like *lantala isilmessë.
20. ve "as, like", loicolícuma "corpse-candle": loico "corpse" + lícuma "candle" (related to líco "wax", evidently derived from earlier *lîku, and while original short final -u became -o in Quenya, it remained -u when not final, as in lícuma). Tolkien's translation of this line reads simply "a corpse-candle", but the Quenya text clearly means "as a corpsecandle".
21. raumo "storm" (or "noise of a storm"). nurrua "mumbling" is derived from a verbal stem nurru- "murmur, grumble". Semantically it functions like a participle, but it seems to be formed with the adjectival ending -a instead of the normal participial ending -la. In fact, Tolkien first wrote nurrula, then changed it. Perhaps nurrua is to be understood as a kind of verbal adjective.
22. undumë "abyss"; rúma is said to be a verb "shift, move, heave (of large and heavy things)", here used as a participle "moving", though the normal participial ending -la is not employed. Tolkien actually first wrote rúmala, then changed it, just like he changed nurrula to nurrua. Perhaps rúma contains the adjectival ending -a, just like nurrua does, but the ending is invisible since rúma ended in -a already. This may also be the case with yarra in line 16 and tihta in line 35.

Fourth stanza:

23) Man cenuva lumbor ahosta
Who shall see the clouds gather,
24) Menel acúna
the heavens bending
25) ruxal' ambonnar,
upon crumbling hills,
26) ëar amortala,
the sea heaving,
27) undumë hácala,
the abyss yawning,
28) enwina lúmë
the old darkness
29) elenillor pella
beyond the stars
30) talta-taltala
31) atalantië mindonnar?
upon fallen towers?

23. Man "who", cenuva "shall see" as in line 1, lumbor "clouds" (pl. of lumbo "cloud"). The word ahosta is translated "gather". The verb "gather" is hosta-. It here receives a prefix a- (Tolkien first wrote na-, then changed it). Tolkien has a somewhat obscure note on this prefix: "When the bare stem of the verb is used (as after 'see' and 'hear') as infinitive na- [changed to a-] is prefixed if the noun is the object not the subject" (MC:223). In the sentence before us, the "noun" that is "the object not the subject" must be lumbor "clouds" - the object of man cenuva "who shall see". It seems, then, that if you want to express what this object itself is doing, you employ a bare verbal stem with the a-prefix: Man cenuva lumbor ahosta[?] "Who shall see the clouds gather?" - that is, "see the clouds gathering, see the clouds as they gather?" The a-prefix forms a verb of which a noun is the subject while this noun is also the object of another verb. It should be noted that except for the a-prefix, this verb is not inflected (ahosta does not receive the plural ending -r, though its subject lumbor is plural and Quenya verbs usually agree in number). As Tolkien says, it is a "bare stem" except for the prefix.
24. Menel "heaven, sky". Tolkien here used the translation "the heavens", but the Quenya word is singular. In RGEO:72, Tolkien defined menel as "firmament, high heaven, the region of the stars". (Cf. the name of the great mountain of Númenor, the Meneltarma or "Pillar of Heaven".) acúna "bend": the verbal stem cúna "bend" (itself derived from an adjective cúna "bent, curved") with the same a-prefix as the one in ahosta above. The noun Menel is the object of the same verb as in the previous line, and the word acúna tells us what the heavens are doing at the same time as they are the object of "see": Man cenuva...Menel acúna[?] "Who shall see...the heavens bending [that is, see the heavens as they bend]?"
25. ruxal' a reduced or "elided" form of ruxala; in Quenya, the final -a in a word sometimes drops out if the next word begins in a similar vowel, a or o (though this is not a hard-and-fast rule and seems to occur primarily in spoken or poetic language, where it is important that the words are easily enunciated). Ruxala means "crumbling", the partciple of a verb *ruxa- "crumble", not otherwise attested. ambonnar "upon hills", sc. the noun ambo "hill" + the allative ending -nna "to" or "upon" + the plural ending -r; hence ruxal' ambonnar = "upon crumbling hills". An alternative construction with the same meaning, following the pattern of axor ilcalannar below, would have been *ambor ruxalannar.
26. ëar "sea", amortala "heaving" (participle of amorta- "heave", transparently orta "raise, rise" with the prefix am- "up, upwards", hence "up-rise, rise up").
27. undumë "abyss"; hácala "yawning", participle of a verb *hac-, *háca- "yawn" (not otherwise attested).
28. enwina "ancient", lúmë "darkness". (One worders if Tolkien or the transcriber confused lómë "night" with the word lúmë "hour, time", found both in LotR and in the Etymologies, stem LU.)
29. elenillor "from (the) stars", elen "star" + the plural ending -i + the ablative ending -llo "from" + the plural ending -r. (The pl. ablative ending can be -llon as well as -llor.) It will be noted that there are two plural markers, both -i and -r, in elenillor. It seems that nouns ending in a consonant, that normally form their plurals in -i (eleni "stars"), also use this plural ending as a connecting vowel before case endings beginning in a consonant (since **elenllor would not be a possible word). pella "beyond"; this word seems to function as a postposition rather than a preposition in Quenya - it comes after the noun that is "beyond" something. Cf. Andúnë pella "beyond the West" in Namárië in LotR (not *pella Andúnë, *pell' Andúnë with the same word order as in English). Hence elenillor pella = "from beyond (the) stars". Tolkien's translation of this line was simply "beyond the stars", but literally it and the previous line clearly refer to the "ancient darkness" (that comes) "from beyond the stars".
30. talta-taltala Tolkien simply translated "falling". As we see, the stem talta- "fall" is actually reduplicated before the participial ending -la is added: "fall-falling" (tumbling down, if you like). The stem talta- does not simply mean to fall down, like lanta- does (line 19). Talta- has more violent connotations, to collapse or fall down in ruin. Atalantë as a name of the downfallen Númenor is derived from the same stem; cf. also the adjective atalantëa in the next line. In the Etymologies, talta- is glossed "slope, slip, slide down" (LR:390, stem TALÁT).
31. atalantië "ruinous, downfallen", pl. of the adjective atalantëa. It is pl. to agree with mindonnar: Mindon "tower" + the allative ending -nna "to, upon" + the plural ending -r, hence atalantië mindonnar = "upon downfallen towers". When a case suffix like -nna, -llo or -ssë is to be added to a noun ending in the same consonant as the suffix begins in, the ending may simply merge with this final consonant: mindonnar for **mindon-nnar. Actually Tolkien first wrote mindoninnar, using the plural -i of mindoni "towers" as the connecting vowel between the noun and the suffix, just like in the word elenillor in line 29. Then he decided to use the contracted form mindonnar instead. Actually, Tolkien not only changed mindoninnar to mindonnar, but he also replaced atalantië with atalantëa, the singular form of this adjective. This change doesn't seem to make sense, and I have ignored it here - the adjective should be pl. to agree with "towers". One variant reading of line 3 also has néca fairi for "pale phantoms": the adjective néca is sg. instead of pl. nécë. Did Tolkien toy with an idea that adjectives preceding the noun they describe do not agree in number? But in Namárië in LotR we have lintë yuldar "swift draughts", where lintë seems to be the pl. of *linta "swift", and the Markirya poem itself reads ninqui carcar "white rocks" in line 16 - not ninquë carcar with ninquë "white" in the singular/uninflected form.

Fifth stanza:

32) Man tiruva rácina cirya
Who shall heed a broken ship
33) ondolissë mornë
on the black rocks
34) nu fanyarë rúcina,
under broken skies,
35) anar púrëa tihta
a bleared sun blinking
36) axor ilcalannar
on bones gleaming
37) métim' auressë?
in the last morning?
38) Man cenuva métim' andúnë?
Who shall see the last evening?

32. Man "who", tiruva "shall heed/watch" as in line 6, rácina "broken", the past participle of the stem rac- "break". The regular past participle is formed with the ending -ina, and if there is no consonant cluster following the vowel of the stem, it is lengthened like a > á in this case. cirya "ship".
33. ondolissë "on rocks", ondo "rock" + the partitive plural ending -li + the locative ending -ssë "on, in". According to Tolkien's declensions in the Plotz letter, the word could also have been ondolissen with the plural locative ending -ssen; when the plural has already been indicated with the ending -li, it is apparently optional whether a following case ending also has to have a plural marker. (The word falmalinnar in Namárië shows both -li- and -r.) The word ondolissë is one of our few examples of the partitive plural in -li. Perhaps ondoli literally means something like "some rocks", while normal plural ondor would mean simply "rocks" (locative ondossen). This is one of the examples showing that the ending -li cannot always imply "many", as one traditional interpretation has it. Nothing in the context suggests that ondolissë is intended to mean "on many rocks"; Tolkien simply translates "on". mornë "black", pl. (to agree with "rocks") of the adjective morna "black, dark".
34. nu "under", fanyarë "the skies, the upper airs and clouds" (not heaven or firmament, that is menel). Note that while English "the skies" is plural, fanyarë is actually a singular word and takes a participle in the singular form (rácina, not pl. *rácinë - see below). Compare fanyar "clouds" (sg. fanya) in Namárië; the noun fanyarë would seem to be a kind of collective formation derived from this word. rúcina "confused, shattered, disordered". This is a past participle formed after the same pattern as rácina in line 32. *Ruc- would be a verbal stem meaning "confuse, shatter, make disordered", not otherwise attested since it can hardly be identified with the homophone ruc- "to fear" mentioned in WJ:415 (1. person aorist rucin "I feel fear or horror", derived adjective rúcima" "terrible").
35. anar "sun", púrëa "smeared, discoloured", tihta "blink, peer", here in effect used as a participle "blinking, peering", though the normal participial ending -la is not employed (cf. yarra in line 16 and rúma in line 22).
36. axor "bones", pl. of axo "bone". ilcalannar contains the same participle ilcala "gleaming" as in line 17. There it had the locative ending -ssë; here the allative ending -nna "to, upon" occurs instead, plus the plural ending -r (plural because it refers to axor "bones"). Hence axor ilcalannar = "upon gleaming bones" (probably *ilcala axonnar, *ilcal' axonnar in more normal style).
37. métim' elided form of the adjective métima "ultimate, final, last"; the final -a of métima here drops out because the next word, auressë, begins in the same vowel (final -a may also be lost when the next word begins in o). Cf. ruxal' ambonnar for *ruxala ambonnar above. While ruxal would have been a possible word in itself, this is not the case with **métim, since Quenya does not permit final m. auressë is aurë "morning" with the locative ending -ssë "in"; hence métim' auressë = "in the last morning".
38. Man "who", cenuva "shall see" as in lines 1 and 23, métim' "ultimate, final, last"; the final -a of the adjective métima is once again lost because the next word begins in the same vowel. andúnë "evening". (In Namárië in LotR, Andúnë is translated "West"; properly it has to do with the sunset. See the Silmarillion Appendix.)

It may be noted that though the Quenya text employs the definite article i only once (i fairi nécë "the pale phantoms" in line 3), Tolkien's translation includes many articles. He speaks of "the wind, the white rocks, the moon, the storm, the abyss, the clouds, the heavens, the sea, the old darkness, the black rocks, the last morning, the last evening". It seems that the definite article i is easily omitted in Quenya poetry if it does not fit the metre, and its absence does not necessarily mean that the noun is indefinite. (However, Menel "the heavens" may be taken as a proper name - note that it is here capitalized. As a name it would not require the article.) Tolkien's translation employs the English indefinite article a only thrice: "a white ship, a broken ship, a bleared sun". There are also the indefinite plurals "gulls, wings, forests, hills, bones", translating Quenya plurals with no article. We have to conclude that in Quenya poetry, or at least in this poem, nouns not made explicitly definite with the article i can be either definite or indefinite - and where the context does not require one or the other, the distinction is simply transcended altogether. (As very many Russians and even more Chinese know, you need no articles to have a fully functional language - though people who use the word "the" hundreds or thousands of times every day inevitably feel that something is missing!)

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