The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, X: Oliphaunt

The poem Oliphaunt is in the Lord of the Rings story recited by Sam Gamgee in The Two Towers (Book IV, Chapter 3), the volume where it was first published. Sam Gamgee explains “That’s a rhyme we have in the Shire […] we have our tales too, and news out of the South, you know.”  This bestiary poem is related to an earlier one imagined by Tolkien called Iumbo. I have quoted Oliphaunt below.

Grey as a mouse,
Big as a house,
Nose like a snake,
I make the earth shake,
As I tramp through the grass;
Trees crack as I pass.
With horns in my mouth
I walk in the South,
Flapping big ears.
Beyond count of years
I stump round and round,
Never lie on the ground,
Not even do die.
Oliphaunt am I,
Biggest of all,
Huge, old, and tall.
If ever you’d met me,
You wouldn’t forget me.
If you never do,
You won’t think that I’m true;
But old Oliphaunt am I,
And I never lie.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, p.88-89.

Characters to note:

  • Oliphaunt – Olipaunts is a huge animal, similar to elephants, which lives in Far Harad, south of Middle-Earth.


Oliphaunts are familiar to those of us who have read The Lord of the Rings. However, this poem and a couple more of bestiary poems featured in this volume gives the reader a sense of what relation hobbits had to beasts, monsters and the world outside of their home. Partly they are used as cautionary tales but also they are framed as imaginative creatures, not completely possible to believe that they are real. However, Sam does see an Oliphaunt, and it is greater than he had imagined. I adore this poem. It is quite straightforward but still manages to feed your imagination!

Have you read this poem?  Please comment and tell us what you think of this story and if you have anything to add!


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