990Commentaries on the "Secret Vice" poems
- Feb 5, 2007I am just digesting the extraordinary amount of information provided in
the analysis of the three "Secret Vice" poems, i.e. "_Oilima Markirya_",
"_Nieninqe_" and "_Earendel_", in _Parma Eldalamberon_ 16. The editors and
authors of the analysis have masterfully found the relation between
nearly every single word and morpheme in all the versions of the poems,
and previous or contemporary texts written by Tolkien about the Qenya
language. There are still some obscure bits, especially in "_Oilima
Markirya_", like the verb _fund(anya)-_ (p. 59), the word _nyuuken_ (p.
79) and the adjective or verb (depending on the version of the poem)
_valka_, _valka-_ (p. 83); but they are the exception.
There is, yet, still another enigma of a different kind. Probably not a
problem intrinsic to Tolkien's text, but perhaps due to some editorial
error or a piece of information that has been ommited in the edition of
the analysis. In p. 56, it is said of the second line of OM1a that the
word _turinqe_ was possibly changed to _turinqen_. But neither word
occurs in that version of the poem as published! What does this refer
to? Perhaps _tinweninqe_ and _tinweninqen were intended?
Anyway, back to the general commentary. The analysis is so exhaustive
and extraordinarily detailed that it overloads the reader's brains at
times, but overall it is exciting to see how nearly all the pieces fit.
We already knew, or at least could guess, that the Qenya of about 1930
had a "near completeness in the grammatical sense", not lesser than the
Quenya of 1967 (PE16:94). But now it has been demonstrated that moreover
Tolkien left written material enough for composing poetry employing
nearly exclusively the rules and vocabulary of those texts, and now we
have it published so that we can understand nearly all the details
(through hard work, though).
Now, reading that analysis, I have found a few issues that could be
further discussed. I find intriguing, for instance, that in OM2
(MC:213-214) and its draft OM2a (PE16:81), the English phrases with
locative sense 'in (her) bosom', 'in the sea', 'in the moon' were
conveyed in Qenya by the dative forms _ambar_ (l. 3), _vear_ (l. 7) and
_ránar_ (l. 16-18), instead of locative *_ambasse_, _veasse_ (cp. OM1d,
OM1f at PE16:62,74) and *_ránasse_. From _ondolissen_ 'on the green
rocks' (l. 30) and _óresse_ 'in the morning' (l. 34), it is clear that
the inessive suffix _-sse_ was not discarded at all, not even
temporarily during the composition of those versions of the poem.
Gilson et al. explain _ambar_ as an idiomatic Qenya form for the English
locative 'in (her) bosom', "that evokes the image of a mother clasping a
child to her breast ... meaning literally 'to (one's) upper body', the
actual clasping left implicit in both languages" (PE16:82). This
interpretation of the literal meaning of the phrase in fact assumes an
allative function of the dative form _ambar_, but this would not be
rare. In the "Early Qenya Grammar" it is said that the dative is employed "for
the remoter object either in thought or consequence", and added that "as
this is a much vaguer relation the dative permits of rather wider
extension than the accusative" (PE14:73). And the opposite case, a
formal allative with dative function, is seen in the much later Quenya
_Sin Quente Quendingoldo Elendilenna_ *'Thus said Pengoloð to Elendil'
Dative forms _vear_ and _ránar_ are, however, left unexplained in the
analysis. _Vear_ could be likewise explained as an idiomatic Qenya form
of English 'in the sea', meaning literally 'to the sea'. The phrase
_kirya ninqe ... lúnelinqe vear_ 'a white ship ... in the flowing sea'
may have a "directional" sense, of a ship going or having gone from the
harbour to the sea, for instance. But I find more difficult to apply a
similar interpretation for _ránar_ 'in the moon'. The phrase _ondoli
losse karkane silda-ránar_ 'the white rocks snarling in the moon
gleaming' (_ondoli ninqe karkane ránar si..._ in OM2a, PE16:81) cannot
imply any movement of the rocks _towards the moon_. If some directional
sense should be implied, I would rather think in an action from the moon
_towards the rocks_, as in the Quenya greeting _Elen síla lúmenn'
omentielvo_ 'a star shines on the hour of our meeting' (LR:81), where an
allative _lúmenn(a)_ (lit. 'towards the hour') is an idiomatic Quenya
form of the English locative 'on the hour'; likewise, the poem suggests
that "the rocks are white temporarily in the light of the moon" (PE16:84).
However, in this case the dative declension (which may function as
allative, see above) is not applied to the "lighted" object (the rocks),
but to the moon. The allative sense of the dative could still prevail if
it referred to the action of _karkane_ 'snarling', implying that the
rocks snarled _at_ the moon. This does not seem to be, however, the
sense in the English gloss of the poem. Most probably the dative has
here just an inessive function, and not allative as it could have in the
other cases; this function could have arisen by analogy even if the
spatial or temporal sense of the dative were originally allative.
But another hypothesis could still be posed. In the "Qenya Declensions" it
is noted that the inessive singular suffix _-sse_ also has an archaic or
poetic "short form" in _-s_. Thus, locative 'in the bosom', 'in the sea'
and 'in the moon' could have been *_ambas_, *_veas_, *_ránas_,
respectively; such final _-s_ could have been voiced and eventually
changed to _-r_ (cp. PE12:19). Such development, however, is not
commented on in the cited text, and would coincide with the dative
forms. So this is not the most probable case.
Concerning the poem "Nieninqe", on the other hand, I found that the last line
of the later version N2 (PE16:96-97) could be further analysed, though
that stage of the development of Quenya (of 1955 or later, cf. PE16:88)
is not central to the scope of PE16, which is focused on the language as
developed in later 1920s and early 1930s. Now, it is reported that the
line _táli lantalasselingie_ 'feet with a musical sound of falling
leaves' was written in different forms, each apparently replacing the
previous one (PE16:97):
(1) _táli lasselantalingane_
(2) _táli lasselantane_
(3) _talinte ve lasselanta_
(4) _táli lantalasselingëa_
(5) _táli lantalasselingie_
The first and last forms only differ in the second word: it is
_lasselantalingane_ in (1) and _lantalasselingie_ in (5). _Lasse_ 'leaf'
and _lanta_ 'fall' are switched in position, and in (1) the word ends in
_-lingane_. The form _lasselanta-_ is more reminiscent of the word
_lasse-lanta_ 'leaf-fall' referred to the Elvish 'Fading' season
(LR:1107). On the other hand, _-lingane_ seems to be a past form of the
verb *_linga-_, rather than an adjective as in (5). If this is the case,
*_linga-_ would be a verb related to _linge_ 'musical sound' (PE16:96),
and could mean *'to sound like music'. Thus, the entire verse would mean
*'feet made a musical sound of falling leaves'.
In (2) _lasselantalingane_ was altered to _lasselantane_. This seems to
be a past form of the verb _lasselanta-_ *'fall the leaves', perhaps
*'fall like leaves', or metaphorically *'fade' (as said above
_lasse-lanta_ was an alternative name for the Elvish season called
'fading', Q. _quellë_). Thus, (2) could mean *'feet fell like leaves' or
In (3) _ve lasselanta_ contains the comparative preposition _ve_ 'like'
before _lasselanta_, that therefore is probably a noun here: it may be
'leaf-fall' as in the season name, or any metaphorical sense of that
expression; or it could be *'falling leaf'.
_Talinte_ may be interpreted variously. It may be the plural form of an
adjective *_talinta_, derived from _tal-_ 'foot'. Perhaps it could be
merged with *_linta_ 'swift' (cp. plural _linte_, R:66), and thus
_talinte ve lasselanta_ could mean *'swift-footed like a leaf-fall' or
'like a falling leaf'. Alternatively, _talinte_ could be a verbal form:
either a past form of *_talita_ (cf. XI:366 for the such past
formation), or an aorist form *_tali-_ from the verb *_tal-_ (cf.
VT41:15 for aorist formation) plus the pronominal ending _-nte_ for 3rd
person plural (cf. UT:317). Whatever its meaning, that verb would
probably be related to 'foot', as it replaces the word _táli_ 'feet' in
every other version of the verb; perhaps *'step' or something similar.
In that case, the verse would tentatively mean *'they stepped like a
leaf-fall' or 'like a falling leaf', referring to the elves mentioned in
the previous verse. Though here glossed as past, if the subject were
explicit the tense would be a time-indefinite aorist.
In (4) the noun _táli_ 'feet' was restored, accompanied by the adjective
_lantalasselingea_ 'with musical sound of falling leaves' (PE16:96).
This version only differs from (5) in the adjective being singular,
while _lantalasselingie_ in (5) is plural (cp.
_wilwarindea_/_wilwarindie_ 'like a butterfly', etc., PE16:96). As
_táli_ 'feet' is clearly plural in both cases, the singular form of the
adjective may imply a collective sense of the noun (cp. _i vilyar anta
miqilis_ 'the airs give gentle kisses', with the singular verb form
_anta_ 'gives', in the first version of the poem, N1a, PE16:91). But
perhaps it was just a slip, as the adjective was eventually changed to
its plural form.
Finally, I would like to make a couple of comments about the poem
"Earendel". First, I think that it should be highlighted that this
edition of the poem reveals a long unnoticed erratum in _The Monsters
and the Critics_: though Gilson et al. don't comment on this point, we can
see that the verb in the sixth line of the poem is _alkantaniéren_, and
not _alkantaméren_ as read in MC:216 (it is so read in E1a, PE16:100,
and the "Finnicized" version E1b in PE16:104 has _alkantanieeren_; the
version in the essay "A Secret Vice" is not commented on, but as
everywhere else it is identical to E1a, and only differs from E1b in the
spelling convention, I assume that it was also _alkantaniéren_ there).
Second, it is interesting to see that, while the first line
_san ninqeruvisse lútier_ is glossed 'then upon a white horse sailed'
(MC:216, PE16:100), there is no explicit reference to any 'horse' in the
Qenya wording. It has been usually assumed that _ninqeruvisse_ was the
locative form of *_ninqeruvi-_, this being a noun meaning 'white horse',
where _ninqe-_ was obviously the adjective 'white' (PE12:66), and
therefore the second part should be a noun *_ruvi-_ = 'horse'. But in the
glossarial commentary by Tolkien we can read that _ninqeruvisse_ is
actually a form of _ninqeru_, "male personified form of _ninqe_ 'white'"
(PE16:100). So, if the term 'horse' were implied, it should be reduced
to *_vi_, and though that is not impossible, it is probable that the _i_
belong to the poetic innesive ending _-isse_, and the remaining _v_ is
just a "support" for the syllable division between the stem _ninqeru_
and the ending _-isse_ (PE16:100-1). Other Qenya words meaning 'horse'
like _lôpa_ (PE12:56), _lopo_ (PE16:132), are far different from that
So, the literal meaning of the verse actually seems to be *'Then upon a
white (male-one) sailed'. The translation as 'upon a white horse' may mean
that, in Qenya, there is some metaphorical relation between sailing a
ship and riding a horse. Or perhaps, as happens in other languages (at
least in Spanish, to my knowledge), some color adjectives usually
applied to describe the fur of horses may be used as nouns to denote
the horses themselves (for instance, _alazán_, _bayo_, are in Spanish
adjectives applied to describe a reddish or yellowish fur, respectively,
but also substantives meaning 'horse' - specifying its color).
Helios De Rosario
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