The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, XV: The Sea-Bell

This story features a person who travels out to sea and is gone over a year in a mysterious land, which changes them as a person. It could be associated with the type of despair and darkness that is felt by people who have taken to the “wandering-madness” (p.258) which is a perspective of the Hobbits, making them “queer and uncommunicable” (p.258). This poem is a a revised and expanded version of Looney, which was published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934.

The narrator is walking along the coast and discovers a white shell in the sand. They get a sensation of wanting to go onto the sea. At this moment they see a boat which they board and start sailing the sea. They hear a sea-bell. The voyage thakes them to a long white shore. Under the cliffs were dark caves and the narrator hurries away.

They followed a rill and discovers a beautiful country with lots of flora and fauna. They heard dancing and music, but the ones making the sounds fled and the narrator didn’t meet anyone. They made a mantle, wand, flag and crowned themself with flowers. From atop a hill they called “why do you hide?” and declared themself king of the land.

They experienced a black long night, and the narrator went to a wood, and sat for a long time. They saw their hair hanging long and grey. Once again, the urge to find the sea is awoken. The aged narrator makes their way back to the coast. The winter was approaching, but they still found their boat, and laid down into it. The boat took them away from the land. They crossed the sea and arrived at a dark and silent haven in the night.

The narrator, cast away all their belongings, sand, the sea-shell (silent and dead). Never again will they listen to the shell, or walk on the shore. They talk to themself, because still, no one will speak with them.


There were not specific characters or places named. My guess is that the Sea mentioned is the Great Sea west of Middle-Earth. The alternate title of this poem is “Frodos Dreme” (dream). The poem features both the results of wandering of from the Shire as percieved by Hobbits (wandering-madness) and their distrust of the sea. It is really quite a sad and tragic poem. The poem itself is quite subjective, it is written more with the perspective of the narrator, rather than a real representation of the world. So, the sea is described quite differently when they first set out and the second time they voyage over the sea. For me, it was well worth reading the commentary to this poem, it was easier to understand it that way.

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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