“Narsilion” translates from Quenya (one of J.R.R. Tolkienʼs invented languages) to “Of the Sun and the Moon”; it tells the story of the creation of these two celestial bodies out of the destruction of the Two Trees of Valinor, the original sources of golden and silver light. Narsilion is the second of four tone poems that collectively make up my Four Legends from The Silmarillion.
Narsilion begins with a depiction of “Valmar of many bells,” the city home of the Valar who are enjoying the fruits of their creative labor as depicted in Ainulindalë. The Valar gather to hear Yavanna sing the song (which I have given to the flute) that urges the Two Trees of Valinor into being. Yavannaʼs song uses only white notes, and the pale diatonicism of the growing trees flowers into full chromaticism before separating into whole-tone (gold) and major-ish (silver) pitch collections. For a brief while, peace and harmony obtain.
But Melkor—who brought such destructive energy to Ainulindalë—is not far off, and his continuing antagonism to his former peers leads him to enlist the aid of Ungoliant. She is “a spider of monstrous form” who ingests light and spins “it forth again in dark nets of strangling doom.” Her music, consequently, is non-harmonic, sounding only in (sometimes blurred) octaves and unisons. She and Melkor sneak to Valinor during a time of festivity, and—at that moment when the light of the two trees mingles in a kind of misty twilight—they attack. Ungoliant repeatedly pierces the bark and roots of the trees with her beak and sucks out all of their light, plunging the known world into darkness.
Yavanna is called upon to resuscitate the trees, but she is only able to draw a single fruit (of gold) and a single flower (of silver)—one from each—before the trees succumb to their injuries. A joint effort by the Valar ensues: these last vestiges of light are hallowed and placed in vessels that are set “to voyage on appointed courses above the girdle of the Earth.” Thus the creation of the sun and the moon.
A brief coda follows this gentle apotheosis: the Valar are fearful that Melkor will attack again, so they raise up the mountains of Pelóri to cut off their land from the rest of the Earth, and they further obscure the sea route to Valinor with the Enchanted Isles, sources of confusion and bewilderment to unwary mariners. No elf or human will visit the Valar in Valinor again until the final earthly voyage of Eärendil and Elwing, as relayed in Eärendil.
Narsilion was begun in New York City and completed in Edinburgh, Scotland.