King Alfred, over at The Bitter Scroll, has posted a verse translation of something I didn’t know existed: a Tolkien poem in Gothic called “Bagme Bloma” [‘The Flower of the Trees’]. There’s also a webpage called The Annotated Bagme Bloma, which King Al used in doing the translation. (I have to say, the poem sounds a lot more like Tolkien than like early Germanic poetry to me.)

Addendum (Nov. 2021). The poem and translation are short enough I don’t know why I didn’t just quote them back in 2005; to save readers the trouble of clicking, I’ll do so now:

Brunaim bairiþ bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.

Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.

Flower of the Trees

The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering, the flower of the trees in bloom, fair-haired and supple-limbed, the ruler of the mountain.

The winds call, they shake gently, she bends her boughs low in sport; smooth, straight and
white-barked, trembling she speaks a language, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.

Evening grows dark with clouds, the lightning flashes, the fine leaves fly free, but firm and faithful the white birch stands bare and waits, ruling the mountain.


  1. “I have to say, the poem sounds a lot more like Tolkien than like early Germanic poetry to me.”
    It’s funny you say that. I’ve read so much Tolkien over the years that I’m sure my writing, both poetry and prose, has been influenced.
    Still, part of the reason the English sounds the way it does is because I wanted people to have a taste of a melodious language from a tribe I’m sure most people don’t expect anything civilized or beautiful from. And Tolkien was an accomplished Germanic philologist, so sounding like Tolkien doesn’t exclude sounding like Germanic poetry.
    Incidentally, Tolkien loved the sounds of the Gothic language so much, he wrote in a letter to his son that just hearing list of Gothic words spoken aloud could bring him to tears. Welsh and Finnish also attracted him for similar reasons.

  2. Well, naturally. Tolkien may have desired Gothic (like dragons) with a profound desire, but that didn’t make him a man of the fourth century: he was “[an] author of the [20th] century”, as Shippey says. We can pretty well bet that the Crimean Goths of the 16th century didn’t sound much like Wulfila either, and not only because of sound changes.
    I agree with both you and the author that the poem does sound very like Tolkien pastiche, particularly to my ear the line “Fair of hair and lithe of limb”. I would wish for more rhymes, however!
    Do check out the other poetry in the appendix (all Tolkien books have appendices, it’s a rule) to the current (3rd) edition of Shippey’s _Road to Middle-Earth_; there are some clever Old English poems by JRRT, including his somewhat offbeat translation of “Oh ’twas in the broad Atlantic, mid the equinoctial gales”.

  3. I didn’t make myself clear—I meant Tolkien’s Gothic poem sounds like Tolkien (like, say, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel”) rather than like old Germanic poetry! The royal translation doesn’t sound like Tolkien at all (to me). Sorry for the misunderstanding!

  4. Ah, got it. Yes, Tolkien’s Gothic does break the normal old Germanic poetic rules a bit. It’s definitely not Beowulf. I’d say in form it’s more like later Old Norse poetry, where they began to play with the rhyme they got from the Celts, than say Old English.
    I wonder if the way the Gothic sounds is the way Tolkien thought old Germanic poetry *could* sound, and so he tried it a bit himself. Hmm. Anyway, I very much enjoyed all the “asterisk poems” (as Shippey calls them) in the Appendix. Maybe I’ll post about some of them in future.
    Btw, love your blog, hat.

  5. Btw, point taken about the inconsistent rhymes. The original didn’t quite do it regularly though, so I felt it was allowed. But I like rhymes as much as the next man, even though poetry doesn’t always have to have it. I’ll give it some thought.

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