rachelatarms (rachelatarms) wrote,


Earlier this week I was listening to a renowned professor recite Latin poetry. It was a fascinating experience, because the words positively flowed. Unlike in English poetry, where we tend to do things by stress, Latin poetry works because of meter and vowels that have to be either long or short because of their position. So, for example, if I want to write something in hendecasyllables, it *must* have eleven syllables with five feet, and in each of those feet there have to be however many syllables, blah blah blah. The point is that meter--which is really to say rhythm--is of vital importance in Latin poetry. As a result, its recitation is almost musical--not quite a song, because the pitches aren't fixed, but nearly chant-like. 

Now, the particular poem I was listening to was a love poem, and the meter is typically considered bouncy (there's an ictus [emphasis] on the first syllable of each foot, which makes it go BUM bum bum BUM bum bum, etc.). That's all well and good, but the gentleman reciting it had a deep, rumbly sort of voice, and with his particular style the poetry seemed to flow like a brook, bubbling and rushing down around rocks in the creek-bed. It seemed as natural and continuous as the wind in the trees, or....

Wait, I thought to myself, what did I just suppose?

And in an instant--an instant more revelatory than any research could be--I got Treebeard's voice. 

You may well laugh, and say, "Ho, Rachel! You've read the books, you've watched the movies, of course you got his voice!" Well, yes, but you see, this instant made it absolutely, totally clear where the inspiration for the Ents' voices came from (remember, Tolkien started his collegiate career as a classicist!)--the sort of rumbly, flowing sound that the poetry has when delivered just so is precisely what I always imagined when I read Treebeard's lines. 

In short, Treebeard was a Roman poet. 

This may seem very silly to you, considering that there is precisely no evidence that Tolkien ever woke up and thought, "Goodness, I'll take some Catullus poetry and use its meter as the basis for Treebeard!" But it is tremendously important to me, because whenever there are those precious moments in which the fantastic and otherworldly become realized in the form of something actual and historical, I find myself that much closer to those in the past. The thing, of course, is that my field happens to be one that is chock full of stories. All of history, really, is a series of stories, and we only consider the present not a story because we live it. Our own sub-created stories, fictional though they may be, reflect certain elements of our own world in their way, though maybe a bit dimly and disguised. Thus, you see, why I am happy to find Treebeard hiding in Latin poetry. 
Tags: classics, tolkien

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