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Things of Middle-earth

When the black breath blows

Type: Songs & Stories

Other Names:
Athelas song (LoTR index only)


A short verse quoted by the herb-master of the Houses of Healing describing the healing power of athelas over the Black Shadow when used by a King:
'For [kingsfoil] has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!
It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives.1 Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

1   Had Celeborn been party to this conversation, he might have repeated his pithy rebuke of Boromir:

'[Do] not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 8, Farewell to Lórien

Lyllyn 27Sep03
Elena Tiriel 14Mar08

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