On the Good and Tragic Death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor

The Departure of Boromir

“They will look for him from the White Tower, but he will not return from mountain or from sea.” (Source)

“They will look for him from the White Tower, but he will not return from mountain or from sea.” (Source)

Alas for Boromir, Captain of Gondor: pierced by many black arrows, horn cloven in two, the shards of his sword broken about the bodies of his enemies. Boromir’s death is the first of serious note we come across in the pages of The Lord of the Rings, and offers a chance for reflection on that important question: what does it mean to die well? Boromir has unraveled into a tragic hero: a warrior of weakness, a man of temptation, a person of anxiety and occasional madness. So what of his final moments? What of his passing from the world?

“I tried to take the Ring from Frodo.” A confession: a recognition of his fault and his sin. Of all the members of the Fellowship, Boromir is perhaps the most human: the most prone to shortcomings, the most imperfect. His love for country and his pride have on occasion overcome his character, and led to his confrontation with the Ring-bearer. Boromir refuses to die without coming to terms with his past, and Aragorn (to his credit) long withholds these words from public knowledge to honor the fallen man’s trust in him.

“I am sorry. I have failed.” An admission of guilt: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Boromir has broken the vows of the Fellowship: he has failed in his protection of not only Frodo, but the other hobbits as well. In his sorrow for his weakness he seeks forgiveness from the leader of the Company, the only one who can absolve him: for Aragorn is the king in exile, who can fully understand the frailty and desires of men.

“They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them.” A moment of redemption: Boromir died defending Merry and Pippin from the forces of Isengard and Mordor. The horn of Gondor rang long throughout the hills in testimony to his valor. Boromir has offered his life for the sake of the kinsmen of the one whom he most threatened in his defects. It is a symbolic rectification, and an image of the most noble of final acts of a warrior and captain: using his power to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

“I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.” An inverted penance: Boromir realizes that Merry and Pippin might still be saved. Though he himself cannot strive after them, he offers this burden to Aragorn, so that he might not pass from Middle-earth without hope. In his dying breaths, Boromir provides the remaining Fellowship enough information to set out after the hobbits to rescue them, and set in motion the interactions that will ultimately lead to the rousing of Rohan. He sacrifices his last energy for the potential benefit of others.

“Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people!” His last thoughts: a love of others. Boromir dies with a vision of his city, his people, his greatest desire: that they whom he loves the most might endure beyond the evil by which he has fallen. Though constrained by his weakness, Boromir has always been motivated by something beyond himself, a greater good and cause. As he passes away next to the heir of the throne of Gondor, he smiles at such a love. Even death cannot separate him from that which he long held dear:

“In Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the great Sea at night under the stars.”

What a beautiful image, that he should pass through the ancient capital of Gondor, down the river of his people’s life, out to the great beyond of men that even the Elves cannot know.

If only we should have as fitting a death as Boromir! For his passing embodies the ideals of Catholic Confession: acknowledge of past failings, sorrow for one’s sins, an effort to correct, a desire for penance, and a love for something far greater than oneself. The good and tragic death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor, in many ways is a good Christian death: a death of honor and valor, a death of reconciliation and hope. And though we may not know the hour of our own end, in this seasons of Lent we might through Confession and reflection prepare to die as we have hopefully lived: striving amidst our imperfections to defend, serve and love.

O Boromir! The Tower of Guard shall ever northward gaze
To Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, until the end of days.

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