... he was chanting something, some plainsong in a language Covenant could not understand -- a song with a wave-breaking, salty timbre like the taste of the sea.
-- Lord Foul's Bane

      Have you ever noticed that in the most effective, engaging fantasy works the author weaves in a variety of things that make you feel as though you were groping around the edges of a real world, with its own languages, customs and lore? Obviously Tolkien touched more deeply than most authors in this respect, with his deep exploration of various Elven and Dwarven languages, the creation of distinctive runes and alphabets, and especially with his use of poetry -- English-based and otherwise. It lent his written works an entirely new level of authenticity allowing the reader to submerge himself or herself as deeply as desired, whether to simply read the books and appreciate the poetry or to delve deeper into the underlying linguistics and lore. I still get a tingle up my spine reading aloud "Far over the Misty Mountains ...".

In this respect Mr Donaldson doesn't go quite as far in the Chronicles, nor do most authors; those who do seldom achieve the intended effect. But there is a wealth of poetry in the Chronicles that is distinctive to the Land (and the vast world beyond in the case of the Giants and Elohim) and expands the scope of the books beyond mere storytelling. I wouldn't compare it for rhyme and overall quality with the best of Tolkien -- for instance the various Dwarvish poems -- but enjoy it nonetheless. Here are some of my favorites:

From Lord Foul's Bane:

Atiaran sings the legend of Berek Halfhand to Thomas Covenant

In war men pass like shadows that stain the grass,
Leaving their lives upon the green:
While Earth bewails the crimson sheen,
Men's dreams and stars and whispers all helpless pass.

In one red shadow by woe and wicked cast,
In one red pool about his feet,
Berek mows the vile like ripe wheat,
Though of all of Beauty's guarders he is last:

Last to pass into the shadow of defeat,
And last to feel the full despair,
And leave his weapons lying there --
Take his half unhanded hand from battle seat.

Across the plains of the Land they all swept --
Treachers lust at faltering stride
As Berek fled before the tide,
Till on Mount Thunder's rock-mantled side he wept.

Berek! Earthfriend! -- Help and weal,
Battle-aid against the foe!
Earth gives and answers Power's peal
Ringing, Earthfriend! Help and heal!
Clean the Land from bloody death and woe!


The Lords of the Council sing of their renewed devotion to the Land.

Seven Wards of ancient Lore
For Land's protection, wall and door:
And one High Lord to wield the Law
To keep all uncorrupt Earth's Power core.

Seven Words for ill's despite --
Banes for evil's dooming wight:
And one pure Lord to hold the Staff
To bar the Land from Foul's betraying sight.

Seven hells for failed faith,
For Land's betrayers, man and wraith:
And one brave Lord to deal the doom
To keep the blacking blight from Beauty's bloom.


Saltheart Foamfollower expresses the lament of the Giants

Now we are Unhomed,
bereft of root and kith and kin.
From other mysteries of delight,
we set our sails to resail our track
but the winds of life blew not the way we chose,
and the land beyond the Sea was lost


From The Illearth War

Elena sings eloquently of self-doubt, revealing inner turmoil at odds with her blazing determination to defeat the Despiser.

Where is the Power that protects
beauty from the decay of life?
preserves truth pure of falsehood?
secures fealty from that slow stain of chaos
which corrupts
How are we so rendered small by Despite?
Why will the very rocks not erupt
for their own cleansing?
or crumble into dust for shame?
Creator!
When You desecrated this temple,
rid Yourself of this contempt by
inflicting it upon the Land,
did You intend
that beauty and truth should pass utterly from the
Earth?
Have You shaped my fate into the Law of life?
Am I effectless?
Must I preside over,
sanction,
acknowledge with the bitter face of treachery,
approve
the falling of the world?


From The Power That Preserves

In Morrinmoss Forest the former Unfettered healer sings to build her courage enough to heal Thomas Covenant

When last comes to last,
I have little power:
I am merely an urn.
I hold the bone-sap of myself,
and watch the marrow burn.

When last comes to last
I have little strength:
I am only a tool.
I work its work; and in it hands
I am the fool.

When last comes to last,
I have little life.
I am simply a deed:
an action done while courage holds:
a seed.


From The Wounded Land

Caer-Caveral laments his vision of the death of Andelain

"Andelain I hold and mold within my fragile spell,
While world's ruin ruins wood and wold.
Sap and bough are grief and grim to me, engrievement fell,
And petals fall without relief.
Astricken by my power's dearth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.

"Andelain I cherish dear within my mortal breast;
And faithful I withhold Despiser's wish.
But faithless is my ache for dreams and slumbering and rest,
And burdens make my courage break.
The Sunbane mocks my best reply,
And all about and in me beauties die.

"Andelain! I strive with need and loss, and ascertain
That the Despiser's might can rend and rive.
Each falter of my ancient heart is all the evil's gain;
And it appalls without relent.
I cannot spread my power more,
Though teary visions come of wail and gore.

"Oh, Andelain! forgive! for I am doomed to fail this war.
I cannot bear to see you die -- and live,
Foredoomed to bitterness and all the gray Despiser's lore.
But while I can I heed the call
Of green and tree; and for their worth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth."

Pitchwife sings an ancient Giantish sea-chanty

"Let breakers crash against the shore --
let rocks be rimed with sea and weed,
cliffs carven by the storm --
let calm becalm the deeps,
or wind appall the waves, and sting --
and sting --
nothing overweighs the poise of Sea and Stone.
The rocks and water-battery of Home endure.
We are the Giants,
born to live,
and bold for going where the dreaming goes.

"Let world be wide beyond belief,
the ocean be as vast as time --
let journeys end or fail,
seaquests fall in ice or blast,
and wandering be forever. Roam --
and roam --
nothing tarnishes the poise of Sea and Stone.
The hearth and harborage of Home endure.
We are the Giants,
born to sail,
and bold to go wherever dreaming goes."


From The One Tree

Findail laments his fate as the Appointed

"Let those who sail the Sea bow down;
Let those who walk bow low:
For there is neither peace nor dream
Where the Appointed go.

"Let those who sail the Sea bow down;
For they have never seen
The Earth-wrack rise against the stars
And ruin blowing keen.

"Mortality has mortal eyes.
Let those who walk bow low,
For they are chaff before the blast
Of what they do not know.

"The price of sight is risk and dare
Or loss of life and all,
For there is neither peace nor dream
When Earth begins to fall.

"And therefore let the others bow
Who neither see nor know;
For they are spared from voyaging
Where the Appointed go."


From White Gold Wielder

Pitchwife sings of his bereavement by Cable Seadreamer's death

"My heart has rooms that sigh with dust
And ashes in the hearth.
They must be cleaned and blown away
By daylight's breath.
But I cannot essay the task,
For even dust to me is dear;
For dust and ashes still recall,
My love was here

"I know not how to say Farewell,
When Farewell is the word
That stays alone for me to say
Or will be heard.
But I cannot speak out that word
Or ever let my loved one go
How can I bear it that these rooms
Are empty so?

"I sit among the dust and hope
That dust will cover me.
I stir the ashes in the hearth,
Though cold they be.
I cannot bear to close the door,
To seal my loneliness away
While dust and ashes yet remain
Of my love's day."