“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
“‘That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo’s rhyming,’ said Pippin.
. . .
“‘I don’t know,’ said Frodo. ‘It came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?” He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.'”
(The Lord of the Rings, one volume edition, p. 73-74)
Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry have just narrowly escaped into the town of Bree, and they’re just arriving at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Gandalf said he would meet them there, but there’s no sign of him (other than a letter they receive from the innkeeper), and the person showing the most interest in the party is a strange and untrustworthy-looking man named Strider, a wandering vagabond with a mysterious past.
But at the end of the letter, Gandalf tells the party that Strider’s true name is Aragorn, and Gandalf includes a poem that Bilbo Baggins had written years earlier about Aragorn, a poem that includes the wise counsel to think twice about the way they judge the enigmatic figure. There’s more to him than meets the eye. Here it is:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. (Lord of the Rings, One-Volume Edition, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, page 170).
|I don’t own this picture, but I found it on lotr.wikia.com
In other words, things may not always be as they seem, and we should not be so quick to judge. Though the first thing that may come to our mind when we hear the word gold may be something shiny and polished, we must recognize that not all gold glitters; and though those who may wander might seem lost or homeless, that may not actually be the case. Just being old doesn’t mean that one is also weak, and below-zero temperatures do not necessarily kill plants that have deep roots–there’s a lot that happens underground that we do not always (or even sometimes) see. Ashes don’t necessarily mean that the fire is completely out because there may still be some coals within from which one can start a flame. Aragorn, you’ll remember, was the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor.
In addition to its counsel to beware of poor judgments, I think this poem is also a poem of hope–like the entire Lord of the Rings saga. During the War of the Ring in Middle-Earth, when the dark Lord Sauron was waging war in order to dominate and take control over the known world, there was still hope, and that hope came from a small band of seemingly insignificant creatures–a handful of halflings, or hobbits.
Many terrible things happened in Middle-Earth, but the good eventually did prevail. It took many long struggles and sacrifices, but a new era of peace eventually was established.