Into The West

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You’re only sleeping

[Chorus]
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don’t say: «We have come now to the end»
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

And you’ll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

[Chorus]

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

Into The West – Annie Lennox

Above are the lyrics to Into The West, sung by Annie Lenox for the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. This is quite possibly the best song in the movie, in my opinion of course, and the reason why I believe so is due to the perfect imagery the song writer conveys. It shows all the aspects of Tolkien’s view of the afterlife in his world. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Part One

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

This passage is the opening to the song, setting the tone for the rest of the music. What I also see from this is a fundamental theme in Tolkien’s world. We see in The Silmarillion that death was a gift to Men, and the Kings of Númeor willingly gave up their life when it was time…well at first. This part speaks to that theme. “Night is falling/you’ve come to journey’s end/Sleep now/And dream of the ones who came before/They are calling/From across the distant shore.” This conveys that image that the time has come to accept the “gift.” From here it shows that there are others waiting, calling for you to join them, wherever that might be.

Part 2

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You’re only sleeping

This passage is one of the most obvious examples of human nature. We all inherently have a fear of death, no matter what you believe. Will it be painful? How will it happen? How will it affect those I love? And the biggest one: What will happen to me when I die? Every religion in our world has an answer to that question, and Tolkien’s world is no different. He was a devout Roman Catholic, so of course he believed in an afterlife. When he created the world, I don’t think he added the afterlife because he was modeling after Christianity. I believe it’s there because he believed it to be fact, so every world must have one.

The afterlife in Arda is tricky to understand at first. The Elves are immortal in all sense of the word. They are bound to Arda, so even if they die in battle, their spirits don’t “move on” as we think of the idea. They are truly bound. Their spirits go Into the West (aaaah, getting it now?) where they are either set in limbo in the Halls of Mandos, or are reembodied and released into Valinor. Men, and presumably Hobbits, are different. Their spirits move on to “go where we know not whither.” Since they do not know where their spirits eventually go, whereas the Elves do, this of course will instill a natural fear of that death. I’m reminded of a quote in The Silmarillion whenever I hear Annie Lennox sing this passage:

And the Númenoreans answered: ‘Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while.” ~ The Akallabêth

The singer asks, “Why do you weep?/What are these tears upon your face?/Soon you will see/All of your fears will pass away”. This to me seems sung to Men by Ilúvatar himself, saying to Men: “Do not fear, trust in me and you will see.”

Part 3

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

At first in Arda, the West, the Blessed Realm, was set in in the world. You could sail across the Belegaer and reach the shores of Tol Eressëa and eventually Aman. This passage eludes to that fact. The Blessed Realm was removed from the world after the Númenoreans foolishly attacked Aman in search of eternal life. Otherwise, you would have been able to sail across the Sea and see the shores on the horizon. Before the Earth was bent, the keen-eyed Númenoreans could stand in their towers on the western shores of Andor and see the towers of The Lonely Isle.

The “White Gulls” the singer talks about could also mean the White Swans of the Teleri, who steer their ships. The ships themselves could also be referencing the ships at the Grey Havens, that carry the Elves across the Sea to the Undying Lands.

The next batch of lines are interesting, as they are taking from the book.

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” ~ The Grey Havens, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

This directly shows you what Tolkien envisioned entering that afterlife once it had been removed from the circles of the world would be like. I envision that silver glass veil to be the barrier between Arda and Aman, and only those who know how to venture down the Straight Road set  open by Ilúvatar in order for the Sindar to sail to Valinor when they became weary of Middle-earth. This line is different than most songs that deal with the theme of death, as it describes exactly what you see when that happens.

Another thing to note here is the line “All souls pass.” This means it’s not just the Elves who pass into the West, but Hobbits, Men and Dwarves. Now, their souls do not stay there as the Elves do, but there is proof in Tolkien’s writing that they themselves are housed in the Halls of Mandos for a least a short while before they pass from the Blessed Realm for the place that Ilúvatar set apart from them.

Part 4

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don’t say: “We have come now to the end”
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

Hope fades/into the world of night” This again, to me at least, is a representation of our fear of what’s to come. All we think about when we see death is darkness, night, etc. And inevitably our hope starts to fade. We see ourselves falling through those shadows, destined to be forgotten.

The next batch of lines talk again about the vision you see when you first pass through the Silver-glass veil: “White shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” We also see a line from the movie (and I’m sure the book, I just cannot find the quote now!). During the scene when Gandalf and Pippin are sitting during the siege of Gondor, Pippin turns to Gandalf and says: “I never thought it would end this way.” Gandalf cocks his head and says: “End? No, it doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.” And since all souls pass, of course they will meet again!

Part 5

 And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

You’re probably reading this and going: “Finally! we are at the end!” Well thanks for letting me ramble on. Only one point I want to make here is this: The line “Grey ships pass/Into the West” is simple: The Elves were the only ones who could sail to the Undying Lands. I think they imagery of the “Grey Ships” go back to who it is that is sailing them. The Sindar are also called the Grey Elves. Simple enough?

So thanks again for reading. Again, I love this song because of the imagery it conveys and it brings us even deeper into Tolkien’s world. One of the great things about the LOTR Soundtrack is that it is wholly original. We don’t have random songs from popular artists thrown in there like other movies tend to do. Howard Shore worked his tail off in order to deliver. And boy did he ever. If you are interested in learning more about the themes of the music of LOTR, check out Doug Adams’ book The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films. Thanks again for reading!

Featured image: The Shores of Valinor by Ted Nasmith


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