On Time and Timeless Longings

Farewell to Lórien

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“There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years” (Source)

There is something strange about time in the woods of Lórien. We know that time doesn’t seem to pass while in the Elven realm, a trait it shares in part with Rivendell and may be a feature of Galadriel’s ring of power. It is is winter in the outside world when the Fellowship makes its way into Lothlórien, and so when Legolas and Haldir note with disappointment that they shall not see the golden mallorn in their fullness, we do not think twice about it. But then Galadriel says that  the spring and summer have fully passed, not only for Lórien, but for the Elves as a whole. What is Tolkien trying to say about time?

Some of the allusions made in Lothlórien appear hidden in the two songs Galadriel sings, though they require a bit of knowledge about the history of the Elves that Tolkien notes elsewhere. Long ago, after the Elves first awoke in Middle-earth, they were led by the great angelic forces of the world west across the Sea to Valinor, an Eden-like paradise. There the first mallorn trees grew, in imitation of the Trees of Light, which were among the most beautiful objects ever brought into being. But after the Trees were destroyed and the Silmarils, jewels that held within the last light of those Trees, were stolen, many Elves left Valinor on a journey of revenge, and Galadriel was among them. But in their angry haste that set themselves apart from their kin and from their home, and the way back to Valinor was closed off, seemingly forever.

So now, beyond the Sundering Seas the Elves now rest, and watch as the beautiful things they create pass and fade, even though they in their immortality linger. While the Elf-realms were once great and fair, the Elves cannot hold back time forever, and so the leaves fall, winter comes at last, and even should the Fellowship succeed, nothing will stop the world from changing. And though the Elves long to return to Valinor and to the Elven-homes, there is a problem: even when the rare ship can set sail across the Sea, there is a chance that they will not be welcomed back. This is especially true for the most willful leaders of the original company that left, which includes Galadriel. Will a ship be able to take her back? Will the powers that she once scorned accept her once again?

Galadriel, then, and all the Elves, are trapped between time and timeless longings. They love the beauty of the world, the good things that have been able to create in Middle-earth, but immortality weighs on them, and they long for their once home. That is why the Sea has such an appeal to Haldir, even though he has never seen it. It is why Celeborn must drink the cup of passing, though he may never see his realm as fair again. And it is why Galadriel’s songs are full of beauty and of sorrow, of memory of beautiful lands long-lost and of the hopeful promise that one day she might find Valinor again.

What do Elven songs and concerns have to do with us? We may not be Elves, and our history might diverge from theirs, but we too are caught between time and timeless longings. We at times can wonder in our own creation, but we often see it fade in front of us, or recognize its passing that shall occur when we are gone. We too long for long lands, and wonder whether we will be welcomed back: is there something beyond the Sea of our life, and will we find a home there? And perhaps, in these challenging times, we feel that Winter has come at least, and Spring and Summer will only be a memory from now on. In those moments of profound sadness, when we reflect on time and timeless longings, we can take up Galadriel’s song as our own:

“I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew…”

2016’s Reflection: “On Feeding the Hungry
2015’s Reflection: “On the Gift of Three Golden Hairs


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