Soundtrack to a farewell

To me, nothing symbolises the ephemeral life like music. We can frame light and colour in a photograph, in a painting, but we cannot retain a melody. Music comes to us, touches our soul and leaves. Like those subtle notes in Beethoven’s fifth piano concert. They come, float casually in the air and leave. Like the Forest Spirit in Mononoke Hime. Flowers grow with each of its steps, and, as soon as it lifts its hoof, they wither and die. Life comes and goes in an endless cycle as it walks through the forest. And so does music, lightening a sparkle inside us, illuminating a dark corner for a brief moment; and then, gone. We can replay the tune a million times and every single time it will slip through our fingers, leaving us with that bittersweet feeling. Happy that we experienced it, sad that we could not retain it.

I am listening to Howard Shore’s soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings as I write. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it, the music, is the one who writes, the one who moves my fingers as I watch the screen, half asleep as if I were in a dream. Listening to this music I realised something that had escaped my attention all the many times I have read the book and watched the films. I just realised what LOTR really is.


It is a story about a world that ends and will not come back, swept by time, by change. A swan song. Like Gone with the wind.

Even though our heroic friends won the battle against Sauron, it would not change the fate of Middle Earth. A new era had to begin anyway. The orcs, the shadows of the elves, were doomed the first day the elves started leaving Middle Earth from the Grey Havens. No shadow can exist without light. Their existence was doomed, they could never have won. Frodo and Bilbo could not stay once their shadow, Gollum, had died. Gandalf, too, had to leave once his own shadow had vanished. The dead came back to help the living close the cycle. Even Galadriel finished her atonement and left. It didn’t matter who won the war. It was meant to be the end of the world as they knew it. Farewell to elves, to sorcerers, to magic, to the coalition with nature, while we men are left here to live the ephemeral life, the gift of the Secondborn.

I listen to Howard Shore’s music and I can see the sadness in the victory. I can see now how the whole story is in reality an epilogue. A closing chapter in which our friends travel the continent to behold the greatness of elves, dwarves and men one last time. Moria, Rivendell, the Argonaths, Osgiliath and, above all, Lothlorien.  They travel through all these places as if they were waving goodbye.

After all, tomorrow is another day

Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the wind

Is it, though? It rather feels we are in this perpetual cycle of life and death in which we play our necessary part. The passengers in the wheel. Only at dusk and dawn do we perceive the power of this cycle. With the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Everything changes, and yet, does it?

…let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendixes. Aragorn’s last words to Arwen, as he was dying