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
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 -ië 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
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
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
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).
6) Man tiruva fána cirya,
Who shall heed a white ship,
7) wilwarin wilwa,
vague as a butterfly,
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
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
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
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 -lë 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 -lë, 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
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;
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 -më 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
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.
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
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
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
26. ëar "sea", amortala "heaving" (participle
of amorta- "heave", transparently orta "raise, rise" with the
prefix am- "up, upwards", hence "up-rise, rise
27. undumë "abyss"; hácala "yawning",
participle of a verb *hac-, *háca- "yawn" (not otherwise
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
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
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.
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
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 the...rocks". 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"
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
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
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
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!)