Passdagas the Brown wrote:No, but seriously, Tolkien had his flaws. I just don't quite know what they are.
His poems sucked.
That's another one I have often heard, and my response is:
1. Some of his poems in the Hobbit are excellent and very evocative (Misty Mountains, etc), as are some of his LOTR pieces (I especially love the Ring poem, of course).
2. He wrote poetry that he felt his characters would recite. He wasn't trying to write great poetry, but rather, to say something about those characters through the language of their poetry (something he also did with the "mode" of their dialogue - familiar and casual with the Hobbits, and high and mighty with Aragorn, etc). So, Sam's poetry is rustic and unpolished. The elvish poetry is ethereal and almost beyond human empathy. The dwarvish poetry is deep and dark, yet ringing with the love of craft. Orcish poetry is full of harsh sounds, and meanness. Entish poetry is ponderous.
3. Yes, there's some bad poetry in there, but in real life, people write bad stuff all the time! The last I checked, Middle Earth wasn't populated by Pulitzer Prize winners for poetry. Most people are bad poets, including in Middle Earth!
4. Lots of ancient and dark age poetry doesn't sound so great to modern ears, and Tolkien was often aping those techniques.
I think if you accept what it is that Tolkien was attempting, all of it makes perfect sense.
In that context, I think the bad poetry gives Middle Earth an extra dose of realism. It's similar to how I feel about dialogue in PT Anderson films. It's often awkward, and sometimes incoherent, much like most people's dialogue actually is.