Iambic Galadriel, Trochaic Gigwit, and Metrical Dialogue

We have a new clip out of The Rings of Power. It sees Galadriel and the affectionately nicknamed Gigwit* venturing into dark places in search of evil. At fifty-odd seconds, it also constitutes the longest single piece of show dialogue we have seen thus far.

*An acronym. “Galadriel Is Great. Who Is That?” – a reference to Figwit from The Council of Elrond scene in Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring.

My interest is in looking through the dialogue for a meter. We have been led to believe that different peoples in The Rings of Power have been given particular modes of speaking, and since I have an interest in poetic forms, I thought I’d take a stab at it.

The dialogue goes as follows.

GALADRIEL: “These Orcs were meddling with the powers of the Unseen World. Some dark sorcery of old. But what was their purpose?”

GIGWIT: “Surely it is lost to the ages now. Whatever happened here was long ago.”

GALADRIEL: “Water….”

GALADRIEL: “Even stone cannot hide the mark of one whose very hand is flame unquenched. He was here. Sauron was here. Tell the others to rest while they can.”

Based off this, I’d suggest that they are not being too strict about imposing a meter on the dialogue… but I think it is definitely there:

  • “These ORCS were MEDDling WITH the POWers OF the UNseen WORLD.” – An iambic line. The trick is the pronunciation of “meddling”. It’s really two syllables, not three.
  • “SOME dark SORCerY of OLD.” – Strictly trochaic with a deleted unstressed syllable at the end of the line, but functionally iambic with an unstressed syllable cut from the start of the line. One can quibble whether we are dealing with a stress on “dark” or “some.” I prefer the latter because it gives you regular meter.
  • “But WHAT was THEIR purPOSE.” – Another iambic line, imposing a bit on “purpose.”
  • “SUREly IT is LOST to the AGEs NOW.” – Strictly trochee, trochee, trochee, iamb, iamb. Damn those two unstressed syllables “to the”, since otherwise Gigwit speaks in trochaic, with a deleted unstressed syllable at the end of the line. Or, as noted, iambic with the first unstressed syllable cut.
  • “WHATever HAPPened HERE was LONG aGO.” – Strictly trochee, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb. But it’s, at heart, an iambic line. [Edit: on further inspection, I think there is a case for this being WhatEVer HAPPEned HERE…, which would actually turn the line into pure iambic pentameter].
  • “WATer.” – Pure trochaic.
  • “Even STONE cannot HIDE the MARK of ONE whose VERy HAND is FLAME unQUENCHED.” – Strictly anapest, anapest, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb. But let’s face it, this is a line that wants to be iambic so hard it is reading Milton in its spare time.
  • “HE was HERE. SAUron was HERE.” – Basically a short trochaic line with deleted unstressed syllable at the end (or iambic with deleted unstressed syllable at the beginning), followed by a line that is basically trying the same while strictly being a trochee-iamb combination.
  • “TELL the OTHers to REST while they CAN.” – Strictly trochee, trochee, iamb, anapest, but this is the only line in the dialogue that is, at heart, anapestic.

Apart from that last line, we are (more or less) seeing the Elven dialogue being written in a specific metrical form. Both Galadriel and Gigwit divide their dialogue between iambic and trochaic – though the distinction between the two is pretty trivial, once one takes into account the deletion of unstressed syllables.

4 thoughts on “Iambic Galadriel, Trochaic Gigwit, and Metrical Dialogue

  1. I think it’s an interesting idea, giving different peoples different meters, although it’s also something I could see being tricky and may end up falling by the wayside. I guess it’ll be curious to see how well the show sticks with it and kudos to them if they succeed.

    On the topic of poetry, I know Tolkien used alliterative verse at times, specifically with the Rohirrim, but he didn’t use kennings despite them being a feature in Anglo Saxon poetry (and frequent in Norse poetry) – did he discuss their exclusion in his own verses?

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, he didn’t… but I think we can make some guesses on the subject:

      (1) Real-world kennings are frequently based off mythical stories – it’s why Snorri Sturluson gives us mythological background to them in the Prose Edda. Putting that sort of thing in Middle-earth would require Tolkien to develop, say, the Rohirrim’s cultural views of religion and gods, something he was reluctant to do.

      (2) Kennings are weird and distracting to anyone not familiar with them. Rather than enjoying a clever metaphor, they can come across like something out of a cryptic crossword puzzle. And they can rely on Old Norse puns, like the words for tree and man. Better to leave them out, to allow the reader to actually understand the poem.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That seems fair. Tolkien was already working with readers working with a variety of new settings, peoples, ideas and histories, so I can see how using such metaphors would be complicating things further. I quite like kennings as a device and was curious what Tolkien might have done with them. But yeah, if Tolkien began describing things in verse like Galadriel gifting the fellowship boats as to cross “the swan’s path ” or Denethor “setting ablaze the bone house” or Saruman unleashing the “iron forest of Orthanc” to “lay a banquet for wolves” in Rohan things might eventually get a bit out bamboozling.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I find the scene gets better on re-viewing. It’s quite spooky, but the acting struggles in places. “But what was their purpose?” falls particularly flat. “Some dark sorcery of old” downplays what it is trying to emphasise. Why not “A dark and ancient sorcery is here”?

    “Even stone cannot hide the mark of one whose very hand is flame unquenched” is an eight-footer. An octopus? The stress falls awkwardly. The thought is unclear (stone is known for preserving marks, not concealing them). “One” as a pronoun is weak and unspecific. I’d break up the line and simplify a bit, allowing the metre to vary. For example (apologies in advance):

    Water! [pours] Time has not swept clean the stone. Behold the mark of he whose hand is … FLAME!

    Oh and and is it snowing underground?

    Liked by 1 person

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