In The Road Goes Ever On, Donald Swann collects seven of J.R.R. Tolkien's poems and sets them to music as a song cycle, arranged so that they may be played and sung individually or back to back. The cycle opens with the title song, The Road Goes Ever On, a variation on the theme of Bilbo's earlier song which appears in The Hobbit, Roads go ever ever on; the tune of this is echoed in the sixth and final songs. Bilbo sings The Road Goes Ever On to Gandalf as he is leaving the Shire to live with elves in Rivendell; these are his last words to his old friend before his departure.
...in a low voice, as if to himself, he sang softly in the dark:
The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?
I cannot say.*
The complete song listing is as follows:
- The Road Goes Ever On
- Upon the Hearth the Fire Is Red
- In the Willow-meads of Tasarinan
- In Western Lands
- Namárië (Farewell)
- I Sit beside the Fire
Bilbo Baggins sings songs one, two and six; Treebeard sings the third song, Samwise Gamgee the fourth and Galadriel the fifth. All of the songs appear in The Lord of the Rings except for Errantry, which is taken from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The tune of Namárië is Tolkien's own; he bridled at Swann's original interpretation and instead hummed him the song as he had imagined it, in the style of a Gregorian Chant. The other tunes were all written by Swann independently and received Tolkien's approval later.
My edition of the book was published in 1968 by John Dickens and Co Ltd. It is a beautiful A4-sized hardback printed on heavy, cream-coloured paper, decorated top and bottom with lines of Tolkien's elaborate Elvish script. Following the songs themselves is an appendix of Notes & Translations from Tolkien, beginning with his Namárië carefully calligraphed in Elvish. He gives word-by-word translations of Namárië and A Elbereth Gilthoniel (a prayer which appears as part of I Sit beside the Fire), followed by less literal, more poetic renderings and several pages of linguistic 'history' in the peculiarly earnest style Tolkien used when he was expounding on the languages and histories he invented for Middle Earth.
A new edition of The Road Goes Ever On was released on August 19, 2002 by HarperCollins, ISBN: 0007136552.
* This is the poem as it appears in the first chapter of The Fellowship of The Ring; as it appears in the song cycle, weary feet replace eager feet and the words 'The road goes ever on and on / And whither then?' are repeated before the last line.