Sadly, Elleirabird was caught in the horribly knotty fishing-net of Life, College, and Work, so after her sincere apologies and regrets, I find I must bravely soldier on by myself through the tangled and nonsensical jungle that is Paolini’s poetry.

Paoem the Fifth: Elfsong

For the consideration of the readers, I’m presenting the translated version of this poem, which was put very considerately in the long list of pointless translated words and phrases at the back of the book that nobody ever looks at.

Sing, O white-browed Fate
Of ill-marked Berundal
Born under oaken leaves
To mortal women . . .

T: One of the things that consistently bugs me about Paolini is that he throws in all of these throwaway references and never mentions them again. It’s a small blessing that either Paolini or his editor didn’t want to print the whole thing. Berundal? Sounds like Paolini was trying to plagiarise the story of Beren and Luthien, but didn’t have the patience or chops to rewrite the entire thing in his Ancient Language. As a poem, it’s difficult to judge given the Word Of God ‘translated’ nature of it, so things like rhyme and metre can be a bit more flexible, and it’s possible some metaphors could be lost in the translation. Possible, but unlikely. The phrases are simple to the point of uselessness, and only really the first line has anything in the way of poetic techniques. But why is fate ‘white-browed’? That just seems to be playing on the cliched ‘Father Time’ trope, the metaphor of time or fate as a wrinkled old man or woman. “Born under oaken trees” adds precisely nothing to our understanding of the character, expect that he was born possibly in a forest. The point of a poem is to reveal the most information with the fewest words. If you waste lines to add that sort of information, it had better be absolutely essential.

Paoem the Sixth: The Raven’s Riddle

Dragons, like wagons,
Have tongues.

T: Maybe I’m behind on wagon terminology, but do wagons really have tongues? I’ve never heard of it before.

Dragons, like flagons,
Have necks.
But while two hold beer,
the other eats deer!

T: Behold the might of Paolini’s wit. Working with the theory that Paolini is sincere but inept (or, at least, sincerely inept), I can really see him laughing himself to tears over his brilliantly witty wordplay. The original and creative rhyming of “dragon” and “flagon” reminds me a bit uncomfortably of the “the flagon with the dragon holds the brew that is true” sequence from The Court Jester.

Paoem the Seventh: Under the Moon

Under the moon, the bright white moon
Lies a pool, a flat silver pool,
Among the brakes and brambles,
And black-hearted pines.

T: Definitely not the best description I’ve ever read. What can a pool be except flat? Unless it’s a pool of mercury, ‘silver’ is the wrong word as well. I like the line ‘brakes and brambles’, but I had to consult my Indo-European dictionary to check if ‘brakes’ is used right. It is, but in Middle Low German. Seems like the sort of thing that would translate across to English, but I’ve never heard it before. Possibly it relates to the English word ‘bracken’? Also, when are pines ‘black-hearted’? I mean, aside from when they’ve been roasted by an angry red-haired Shade.

Falls a stone, a living stone,
Cracks the moon, the bright white moon,
Among the brakes and brambles,
And the black-hearted pines.

T: Reversing the syntax does not make it artsy and poetic. “falls a stone” requires some syntax/logic of position. Like “From the cliff falls a stone”, or “tumbles a stone down the gully”, but even then the grammar is suspect. I can only imagine that “a living stone” refers to a dwarf, but that might be reading too much into it. Paolini’s the sort of author who would carve a house “out of the very living rock”, after all.

And what’s the moon doing in the middle of a forest? How is it cracked by a falling stone? Unless the rather oblique image is a stone falling into the pond through the reflected image of the moon. Quite probably it is that, but the way he describes it is ridiculous.

Shards of light, swords of light,
Ripple ‘cross the pool,
The quiet mere, the still tarn
The lonely lake there

T: See, that’s actually a really interesting image, and an effective metaphor. Why does Paolini taunt us with hideousness when he is capable of such beauty? Again, I had to look up ‘tarn’. Paolini has a really bad habit of using inappropriate words from other languages, and long-dead words and phrases. Some authors can get away with it, but with Paolini it looks exactly as it is: blatant and unrepentant etymological thesaurus abuse.

In the night, the dark and heavy night,
Flutter shadows, confused shadows
Where once . . .

T: The third line there throws off the rhythm. This is a real shame, because this is a rare time when Paolini actually had a rather nice rhythm flowing, if you squint sort of sideways at it. Unless he’s pronouncing “confused” as “confus-ed”, which is an old poetic trick that only really works half of the time.

All in all, not one of his worst poems. The pace and rhythm are appropriate for the content, the imagery is largely appropriate, and only a few words seem out of place. It almost gives me hope.

Paoem the Eighth: Arya’s Song

Away, away, you shall fly away,
O’er the peaks and vales
To the lands beyond.
Away, away you shall fly away,
And never return to me.

T: This first stanza is terrible. I don’t know if Paolini was just burned out at this stage or what, because he went from bad to good to terrible in the space of a few chapters. There’s almost no rhythm to speak of, the metre is all over the place and this poem hobbles around like an ant missing a few feet. Which, incidentally, it is.

Gone! Gone you shall be from me,
And I will never see you again.
Gone! Gone you shall be from me,
Though I wait for you evermore.

T: This really doesn’t say anything, and that’s one of the biggest problems. If this is a poem about love and loss, as it seems to be, there should be much more emotion in it. This is like saying “I am sitting in a room. It’s rather dirty, and smells funny.” instead of saying “I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy ray/Of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall” (A.B. Patterson, Clancy of the Overflow). There’s no emotion, no powerful or descriptive language, and certainly no metaphors or anything else that one usually finds in poetry.

Paoem the Ninth: Eragon’s Epic Poem

Please refer to Part One for a proper dissection of this mess.

Paoem(s) the Tenth: Assorted Shorts

1: Raven’s Second

By beak and bone,
Mine blackened stone
Sees rooks and crooks
And bloody brooks!

[. . .]

While two may share two,
And one of two is certainly one,
One might be two.

T: By this point I’m prepared to believe that Paolini’s editor actually believes the guy is good at this stuff. This should have been cut, as it serves even less of a purpose than the Seventh Paoem (which was literally just “Eragon found a scrap of paper with some writing on it”).

2: Riddles

Tall I am young
Short I am old.
While with life I do glow
Urur’s breath is my foe

T: That’s funny, the version of that that I learned in primary school was “Thin, I am quick; fat I am slow. Wind is my foe.” Credit to Paolini for trying to make it his own, retracted for using such a well-known pre-existing one.

What herb cures all ailments?

By the black raven’s crime, and by this rhyme,
The answer would be thyme.

T: This isn’t even a proper riddle! The clues and rhyme are supposed to be the question, not the answer. Riddles are supposed to be answerable by someone other than the writer, and unless everybody has this answer ingrained into them from an early age, that’s just not going to happen. Second, what does “the black raven’s crime” have to do with anything? This is rhyming for the sake of rhyme, and DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.

I am named Morgothal’s Forge and Helzvog’s Womb.
I veil Nordvig’s Daughter and bring grey death,
And make the world anew with Helzvog’s Blood.

T: ANY Dwarf raised in Dwarf society should be able to answer this from the word “forge”. Riddles about religious symbolism are all very well, but when it’s so blatant as that then the audience should be rolling their eyes in disdain. Also, the Sun is a really absurd thing for an underground civilisation to fixate on as the origin of their gods. One might think, say, a volcano, or underground rock formations (which also come up), or any number of things. One day a god was mining when his pick hit a piece of diamond that splintered into a thousand pieces and became the Dwarves. But the sun? That thing that more than half of them have never seen?

3: Scrap of Doggerel

Under a cold and empty winter sky
Stood a wee, small man with a silver sword.
He jumped and stabbed in a fevered frenzy,
Fighting the shadows that massed before him. . . .

T: Yes, that four-points ellipsis actually appeared in the book. This one is supposed to be crowding out Eragon’s conscious thoughts, in an effort to prevent his mind from being read. A common enough tactic in fiction. The problem is, this is far too narrative for such a thing. The absolute best defence against a mind-reader would be either 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, or What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?. Why? Because they are ear-worms. They have a clear beat, a simple repeating pattern and are difficult to forget. They can be marched to. Eragon’s Scrap of Doggerel (that’s what the book refers to it as) is just too difficult to remember and recite while under stress. Even more so without any clear rhyme or rhythm.

Paoem the Eleventh: Woolly Goat

T: The good folks over at Anti-Shurtugal tried to rewrite this to fit into some sense of song-like verse. Despite their best efforts, none of them could successfully sing it in any sort of songlike harmony.

So with her hair a-flying, sweet Aethrid O’Dauth
Ran to Lord Edel and cried, “Free my lover,
Else a witch will turn you into a woolly goat!”
Lord Edel, he laughed and said, “No witch shall turn me into a woolly goat!”

T: Bear in mind, this was supposedly being sung by a minstrel troupe. Somebody was paying money for this tuneless piece of tripe. As I said before, we tried (and failed) to give this… thing… even the slightest sense of rhythm, let alone try to turn it into a song. The closest we got was to force it rather messily into the tune of “Mist and Shadow”, as sung in the movie version of Return of the King. Even then, it was a really tenuous fit.
Basically, there are no redeeming features of this so-called “song” whatsoever.

Paoem the Twelfth: Eragon’s Fantastic Flower-Song Spell

For the consideration of the readers, I’m presenting the translated version of this poem, which was put very considerately in the long list of pointless translated words and phrases at the back of the book that nobody ever looks at.

Grow, O beautiful Loivissa, daughter of the earth
Grow as you would with sun and rain
Grow and put forth your flower of spring
For all to see.

T: This is simultaneously a song and a spell, so I’m going to make some concessions about poetic content. After all, one cannot lie or exaggerate or personify or use metaphor in the Ancient Language, can one? Except that here we have anthropomorphism, which should be impossible in the Ancient Language (come to it, that goes for every single poem we’ve heard in the Ancient Language. None of them should exist in a language where the word is the thing, and no lies can be spoken). I can’t quite imagine the tune that this would be sung to, but the concession has to be made that this is the translated version. The meter of the Ancient Language version is far less consistent.

Paoem The Last: Eragon’s Terrible Riddle

Strong and stout,
Thirteen stars upon his brow,
Living stone sat shaping dead earth into dead stone.

T: Miraculously, this was acknowledged by the characters in the book, including Eragon himself, as a terrible poem. What’s terrible about it? Maybe the fact that the first two lines are three and seven syllables respectively, and then the last line is 22 syllables long? Maybe the lack of rhyme or rhythm, or the complete lack of any sort of emotive content? I suppose we might never be able to properly dissect such condensed, concentrated fail. As a riddle, it doesn’t make sense, and as a poem, it lacks almost anything that might be called poetic.

Until Paolini publishes again, this may well be the last! A moment’s silence for our fallen stomachs and IQ scores, and a toast in memory of my brave and wise comrade-in-sporks, Elleirabird.

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Comment

  1. TheArmada on 12 May 2012, 02:32 said:

    These are from books one-through 3, right? Im looking forward to you dissecting whatever lies in book four (which I’m not getting.)

    If not, I will gladly provide my own horrific poetry for the laughs and the lessons.

  2. Taku on 12 May 2012, 02:40 said:

    TheArmada, these are from all four books. Mercifully, the only poem in the final Inheritance!Brick is the last one in the series, Eragon’s terrible, terrible, awful riddle.

    I’m glad you enjoyed these, and I assure you if you offer your own poetry up for critique I will be incomparably gentler and more constructive (emphasis on the latter), because you’re actually trying to improve, unlike Mr. Paolini up there. You might like to start a thread in the forums.

  3. Betty Cross on 12 May 2012, 06:45 said:

    Born under oaken leaves To mortal women . . .

    To mortal women? How could more than one woman have given birth to him / her?

  4. Asahel on 12 May 2012, 11:50 said:

    TheArmada, these are from all four books. Mercifully, the only poem in the final Inheritance!Brick is the last one in the series, Eragon’s terrible, terrible, awful riddle.

    What about the little rhyme that Nasuada recites to herself to keep Galbatorix from probing her mind?

  5. Taku on 12 May 2012, 17:17 said:

    Ack! I must have missed that one. What chapter is it in?

  6. Fireshark on 12 May 2012, 20:52 said:

    Wow, there were a lot more terrible poems than I remembered. I must have skimmed quite a bit when I read the series.

  7. Asahel on 12 May 2012, 20:55 said:

    It’s first in the chapter “Burrow Grubs.” The first two verses show up again in a later chapter (or perhaps later in the same one; I don’t recall).

    It goes:

    In El-harim, there lived a man, a man with yellow eyes.
    To me, he said, “Beware the whispers, for they whisper lies.
    Do not wrestle with the demons of the dark,
    Else upon your mind they’ll place a mark;
    Do not listen to the shadows of the deep,
    Else they haunt you even when you sleep.”

    I’m no expert on poetry and even I can tell that it loses its flow very quickly.

  8. Betty Cross on 12 May 2012, 22:08 said:

    In El-harim, there lived a man, a man with yellow eyes. To me, he said, “Beware the whispers, for they whisper lies. Do not wrestle with the demons of the dark, Else upon your mind they’ll place a mark; Do not listen to the shadows of the deep, Else they haunt you even when you sleep.”

    14 syllables
    14 syllables
    11 syllables
    9 syllables
    11 syllables
    9 syllbles

    There’s no consistency in the number of syllabls to a line. The scansion is all over the place. The imagery is screwed up. How do you listen to a shadow? Paolini’s poetry is even worse than his prose.

    Do Gloria Tesch’s books contain any poetry? If not, then she’s actually better than Paolini in one way.

  9. TheArmada on 12 May 2012, 22:51 said:

    Im looking through my writing folder. I had this awesome poem about a space ship I wrote for ELA, but its missing. I have something else: this poem/song that appears in my novel. Can you look at it?

  10. LoneWolf on 13 May 2012, 05:50 said:

    Why does Paolini constantly break rhythm? He seems to be aware of its existence.

  11. Asahel on 13 May 2012, 13:39 said:

    Here’s my attempt at improving Nasuada’s poem. Bear in mind that I’m no expert on poetry, but I do think this works better:

    In El-harim there lived a sage,
    A man with yellow eyes.
    He said to me, “Beware the cage,
    A hush that whispers lies.
    Wrestle not with demons dark;
    On your mind they sear a mark.
    Listen not to shadows deep;
    For they haunt you in your sleep.”

    It follows an 8/6/8/6/7/7/7/7 meter (I guess is the term) and an ababccdd rhyme scheme. Probably not great, but what do you think? Is it an improvement?

  12. LoneWolf on 13 May 2012, 15:15 said:

    An improvement, but the transition from 8/6 to 7/7 is awkward.

  13. Betty Cross on 13 May 2012, 18:47 said:

    The El-harim poem is interesting as the only example of a Hebrew-sounding place name in Paolini-Land that I“m aware of.

  14. Silvestrate on 18 May 2012, 21:19 said:

    Great article.
    One thing, though, everyone probably knows this, but it hasn’t been commented yet. Wagons do have tongues, they’re pieces of wood which stick out the front of the wagon.
    Knew this from Oregon Trail years ago, never thought I’d apply it here. How strange.

  15. yo on 30 May 2012, 01:10 said:

    Good job, but unless I’m mistaken, I believe that the 7th poem was actually the one written by Arya.

  16. Raz on 23 January 2015, 13:44 said:

    It’s not that his editor thought he was good, it’s that the riddles were vital to the story. And besides, Paolini quite literally had one to two minutes to come up with each riddle. Also, all except for the first aren’t planned books, he just let it flow. The editor only cut out about 10 or 20 pages in each book, usually unnecessary tibets like armor design and such.

  17. swenson on 23 January 2015, 13:58 said:

    And besides, Paolini quite literally had one to two minutes to come up with each riddle.

    …reaaaally. Do elucidate. Especially as to why.

    And cite your sources, because I used to be a massive Eragon fan and I have literally never heard this claim before.

  18. Juracan on 23 January 2015, 14:13 said:

    I am still a big Eragon fan, and I haven’t heard of that, nor do I think it excuses anything.

  19. Takugifian on 23 January 2015, 17:04 said:

    the riddles were vital to the story.

    As far as I remember, not a single one of them was anything more than filling. None of them had any direct bearing on the plot, characters, or necessary background information whatsoever. The books do not gain anything from their inclusion at all, and would probably be improved by their removal.

  20. Tyler on 11 October 2018, 08:11 said:

    In regards to the religious riddle, your reasoning is flawed, Orik makes it very clear that the Dwarves love the open air just as much as elves and humans, They do have above ground cities, and farthen dur is at least partially open to the sky.