This poem, Noel, was written by J.R.R. Tolkien before The Hobbit was published, and only just discovered in 2013. Here’s how that happened!
In 2013, Tolkien scholars Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull found something they didn’t expect.
While researching a 1936 edition of The Tablet (a Catholic journal), they found mention of 2 Tolkien poems published in the Abingdon Annual of Our Lady’s School — a still active school in Abingdon!
The school directed them where to find the 80 year-old publication. In it, they found an early version of Tolkien’s poem The Shadow Bride (here titled The Shadow Man) and this poem, Noel!
There is distinct beauty in the images Tolkien creates; it resonates profoundly with the winter season’s cold and desolate landscape… but the heavens and earth are overwhelmed with joy by the eucatastrophe (as Tolkien would put it) of Christ’s birth.
Special thanks to Austin Robertson for the reading – Visit Austin Robertson Voiceovers
Listen to our extended discussion about Tolkien’s Christmas poem!
by J.R.R. Tolkien
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.