“Noel” by J.R.R. Tolkien Poem Summary
J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for his long works of epic fantasy, The Hobbit and The Lord or the Rings. In these books he showed his skill in both narrative storytelling and poetry. In each of his books, he included many short works of song and poetry.
Tolkien’s devout Catholic faith is well known, but he did not write very much that was explicitly Christian. In 2013, however, one of Tolkien’s lost Christian poems was found in a magazine of Our Lady’s School in Oxford. It is about the Virgin Mary and the birth of Christ. It is titled “Noel.”
In Noel, Tolkien describes the world before and after the birth of Christ. He begins his poem with a description of the cold and darkness we experience during the winter Advent weeks leading up to Christmas. Suddenly a light shines forth. The Virgin Mary sings and the bells of heaven ring in rejoicing because God came to the earth.
“Noel” 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.
Source: Tolkien Gateway
Reflection Questions about Tolkien’s Poem “Noel”
- How does the world differ in the beginning and the end of the poem?
- Can you relate to the description of winter at the beginning of the poem? What does it remind you of?
- Tolkien mentions bells many times in the poem. When and why have you heard bells during the Christmas season?
- What kind of song do you imagine Mary singing to her son in this poem?
- What memories of laughter and light do you have of Christmas?
The Formative Fiction Newsletter
These reflection questions originally appeared in the Formative Fiction Friday Newsletter.