Bagme Bloma

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien´s poem in the Gothic language (from the collection Songs for the Philologists); printed in an appendix to T.A. Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth (1982), pp. 227-228. Since only a few fragments of Gothic have survived, mainly parts of the New Testament translated from Greek, Tolkien had to back-engineer a lot of the words in his poem from related early Germanic languages, such as Old English or Old Norse. Of the 54 word roots (counting the individual elements of non-attested coumpund words separately, and not counting repeats), 35 are actually recorded in Gothic; one, baza, might conceivably be recorded as a nickname in Jordanes´s Getica (a history of the Goths witten in the mid 6th century in Latin), unless Jordanes´s baza represents Gothic *batja "good, useful"; one, *baírka "birch", can be inferred from a related word in a list of Gothic letter names (column on the right) apparenly written by ear by a scribe using Old High German spelling conventions, perhaps as late as the 10th century. Occasionally words attested in Biblical Gothic are known from other sources too, e.g. slaíhts "smooth" is attested as a loanword in Provençal (esclet) and Italian (schietto), and liufs "dear" appears as an element in some Gothic personal names recorded in Latin. The remaining 17 are hypothetical, not recorded in Gothic, but reconstructed from words in other old Germanic languages according to the well-established rules by which the sounds of these languages evolved from their common origin.

Brûnáim baíriþ baírka bôgum
láubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagrôni, glitmunjandei,
bagmê blôma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fráujinôndei fairguni.

Sprouting [growing up, growing tall] with bright boughs the birch bears dear leaves, pale green and gleaming flower of trees, blooming, fairhaired, lithe [soft, gentle, supple] of limb, ruling the mountain.

Wôpjand windôs, wagjand lindôs,
lûtiþ limam láikandei;
slaíhta, raíhta, hveitarinda,
razda rôdeiþ reirandei,
bandwa baírhta, rûna gôda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Winds whoop [call, cry out], they shake limes [lime trees, lindens], she bows her limbs in play; smooth, straight, white-barked, a language trembling speaks, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam laúhmuni;
láubos liubái fliugand láusái,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Baírka baza beidiþ bláika
fráujinôndei faírguni.

Evening grows dark with clouds, lightning flashes; dear leaves fly free; standing firm and faithful, the bare birch bides pale, ruling the mountain.

1. Tolkien´s reconstructed Gothic cognate for English "brown", is used here for "shining", as of polished metal, as the Old English and Old Norse forms of this word sometimes are. Compare "the sword that´s of the mettle brown" in the border ballad of Hughie the Graeme. There are a few examples of a noun phrase split by a verb in the Gothic corpus, and the device is also used in Old English and Old Norse poetry. I´m not sure whether the intended meaning is that "the birch, sprouting with bright boughs, bears dear leaves", or "the birch, sprouting, bears dear leaves with its bright boughs". For the dative of respect, compare L 2:52 jah Iesus þaih frodein jah wahstau jah anstai at guda jah mannam" and Jesus grew / throve in wisdom and stature and favour with God and men" (Greek versions have either a plain dative or dative after the preposition EN "in"). The instrumental dative is often used in Gothic, e.g. wandum usbluggwans was "I was beaten with rods" = Greek ERABDISQHN = Latin virgis caesus sum (2Cor 11:25). Shippey, in spite of the punctuation: "The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering..." But, semantically, all three interpretations amount to much the same.

2. The verb fraujinon "to rule" takes a dative object for the thing ruled over, so the word for "mountain" ought really to appear as fairgunja.

3. "gently" in Tom Shippey´s translation in The Road to Middle Earth. But on the basis of cognates and Tolkien´s own reconstruction liþu-linþi in the first stanza, we should expect linþjai "soft, gentle", if this is taken to be an adjective referring to windos. Old Norse lind, Old English lind(e), lit. "linden, lime [wood]" was a conventional way of saying "shield" in both poetical traditions; but given the subject matter, it may be actual lime trees that are meant here. Or possibly Tolkien wanted to take advantage of the double meaning.

4. Shippey: "trembling she speaks a language", but judging by 1Cor 14:27 jaþþe razdai hvas rodjai "if someone is going to speak in tongues" and Mk 16:17 razdom rodjand niujaim "they shall speak with new tongues" (albeit matching the Greek syntax), we might expect the dative razdai here too. Is it the language itself that speaks in Tolkien´s poem? Or would that require a middle voice reflexive form? With its feminine inflection, reirandei could apply to either the language or the birch. I´ve left it ambiguous, although Shippey's interpretation is perhaps the most natural.

5. Another possible reconstruction of this word would be *þliugan (compare Gothic þliuhan "to flee"). Gothic often has initial þl where the other Germanic languages have fl, although not always. No one root is attested with both variants. It´s been suggested that the choice of þl or fl is determined by certain following consonants; with one exception, fai-flokun "they mourned", initial fl is always followed by a vowel + a consonant cluster containing a dental (which might be explained as a dissimilative blocking of the otherwise general assimilation of f to dental l). This rule also holds good for the Austrogothic personal name recorded in Latin as Audofleda. Co-incidentally, perhaps, initial þl is always followed by a vowel + what was--in Proto-Germanic, at least--a velar consonant. Other alternatives that have been proposed are that the variation is an example of lexical diffusion, or due to borrowing from one dialect to another, or due to a difference in dialect between earlier and later scribes, or even that þl in such words came about through confusion with between similarly shaped letters (the Gothic symbol for þ used in some of the manuscripts looks like a Greek letter phi).

Links

Tom Shippey´s translation http://members.aol.com/yahyam/BagmeBloma.html

Grammatische Analyse, by Luzius Thöny http://www.doink.ch/downloads/bagmebloma_kom.pdf

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