Two ‘lost’ Tolkien poems found at school in Abingdon

Two previously undiscovered poems by the Catholic author JRR Tolkien have been found at a school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Stephen Oliver, the principal of Our Lady’s, Abingdon, found the poems when looking through a copy of an old school magazine, originally published in 1936.

One of the poems, The Shadow Man, is an earlier version of a poem that The Lord of the Rings’ author eventually published in 1962 in his collection Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The other, Noel, is a Christmas poem, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Oliver found the poems after being contacted by the American Tolkien scholar, Wayne G Hammond. From a note made by Tolkien himself when making a list of his poetry, Hammond knew that Tolkien had published two poems in a magazine he called The Abingdon Chronicle.

Further research revealed this to be the 1936 ‘annual’ of Our Lady’s School, at that time run by the Sisters of Mercy. Hammond contacted the school, which then began a hunt for the poems.

“At first we couldn’t find the 1936 edition and referred Mr Hammond to the archives of the Sisters of Mercy in London,” said Oliver.

“Then, while preparing for an event for former pupils of the school, we uncovered our own copy and I saw the two poems Mr Hammond had been looking for. My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming. I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school.”

It is thought that Tolkien, a devout Catholic, got to know Our Lady’s School while living at Northmoor Road in Oxford, when he was the university’s Professor of Anglo-Saxon. It was during his time at Oxford that he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“We intend to make the poems the centre piece of an exhibition on the rich history of our school, which also has fascinating links with Florence Nightingale,” said Oliver.

“As a writer myself, I feel privileged to have been part of the discovery of these lost works.”

Here are the poems in full:

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head ;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild :
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light ;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang :
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below :
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
In Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

There was a man who dwelt alone
beneath the moon in shadow.
He sat as long as lasting stone,
and yet he had no shadow.
The owls, they perched upon his head
beneath the moon of summer:
They wiped their beaks and thought him dead,
who sat there dumb all summer.

There came a lady clad in grey
beneath the moon a-shining.
One moment did she stand and stay
her head with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
beneath the moon in shadow,
And clasped her fast, both flesh and bone ;
and they were clad in shadow.

And never more she walked in light,
or over moonlit mountain,
But dwelt within the hill, where night
is lit but with a fountain –
Save once a year when caverns yawn,
and hills are clad in shadow,
They dance together then till dawn
and cast a single shadow.