The theme of the fulfilled life fills the pages of the Lord of the Rings. What Tolkien truly focuses on, with concerns to this theme, is the well-being of the person who is to fulfill a duty. Those who choose to accomplish the task allocated to them live a far happier life than those who stray away from their errand. This theme is introduced within the first few pages of the book. Frodo fears the task assigned to him and exclaims he wishes he were not given the responsibility. Gandalf tells Frodo that people are judged by their actions in life: Gandalf proclaims, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." This line perfectly illustrates Tolkien’s view on how one obtains a satisfied life. By comparing two of his own poems, “Errantry” and “Song of Eärendil,” and characters from the Lord of the Rings, Aragorn and Denethor, Tolkien illustrates how one’s manner of completing tasks is beneficial or harmful to one’s livelihood; Tolkien celebrates those characters who do their duty honorably, while showing moral consequences of avoiding one's duty.
Through the actions of Eärendil, in the poem “Song of Eärendil,” Tolkien illustrates that the completion of tasks is rewarded with treasures and the well-being of one's life. Earendil is tasked with the errand of delivering a message to the Valar and returning the Silmaril to Valinor, which he promptly does ." Upon arriving to the Eldamar, Eärendil receives white garments and lore that he knew not, then promptly goes to see the Valar. He does this and obtains a new ship as well as the gift of choice to which race he and his family, individually, wish to belong to. The poem only reveals his transformation into an elf; revealed in the lines, “wings immortal made for him, / and laid on him undying doom." He is then given a new task and set to herald the sun before it rises. Bilbo states this by saying, "His errand is to sail the shoreless skies and come / behind the Sun and light of Moon." Because Eärendil’s accepts his tasks and thoroughly pursues them, his efforts are rewarded and he is honored with the choice of what life he wishes to live.
Tolkien illustrates another character that is rewarded for his fulfillments in the Lord of the Rings, the ranger Aragorn. Aragorn, knowing his destiny since childhood, is similar in many ways to Eärendil; he tarries around the world looking for answers to his task until a sign is revealed to him to begin: the Silmaril for Eärendil and the Ring of Power for Aragorn. Once this happens, he embarks on his errands, to save Middle-earth, the very same task Eärendil was given. Aragorn’s specific mission is to take up the Sword of Elendil, to claim back Gondor, and fight against Sauron for the sake of man. He does not stray from his task, completes it and is rewarded for it. He reclaims the kingship of Gondor, and for this, is able to take Arwen, Eärendil’s granddaughter, to wife. Aragorn, obtaining fame and fortune for his diligence in pursuing and completing his tasks, reveals the value of the theme expressed in “Song of Earendil.”
On the other hand, the main character in the poem “Errantry,” the mariner, is met with sorrow rather than reward for not fulfilling his duty and straying away from it. The poem starts with a mariner who has a beautiful ship and a mission to deliver a message. The poem illustrates the first evidence of despair saying:
his errantry a tarrying,
he begged a pretty butterfly,
that fluttered by to marry him.
She scorned him and she scoffed at him.
As revealed in the poem, from the very beginning of his tarrying, the mariner is desperate. This is seen by the action of the mariner's begging. He receives even more despair when the butterfly rejects him. Still desperate, he creates a net and catches her for marriage: the poem reads, “he caught her in bewilderment, / with filament of spider-thread." Because the butterfly destroys what the mariner creates for her, the two argue to the point that the mariner leaves the butterfly. The mariner, still tarrying from his duties, imagines that he is fighting elves and paladins. However, this is just a fantasy of his; he just fights bugs for a worthless prize, a honeycomb: the poem explicitly states, “he battled with the Dumbledors, 28/ the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees, / and won the Golden Honeycomb." The poem describes the mariner continuing to wander until he grows lonesome: found when, “he tarried for a little while, 28/ in little isles that lonely lay." As seen throughout the story of the poem, the mariner tarries from his mission, suffers a bad marriage with a butterfly, fights illusions, then ends up lonely on an island. The outcome of these events clearly express that those who turn away from their duty will suffer. The hardship and illusions the mariner encounters suggest that procrastination has no benefit.
Procrastination does not have to just promote things non-beneficial, but could be detrimental. This is illustrated through Denethor, who is the exemplar of how neglect of one’s duty leads to sorrow. He, the Steward of Gondor, is tasked with maintaining the city of Gondor until the return of the King. It is up to him to bring about an heir to the Steward line. He produces two, Boromir and Faramir. However, Denethor fails the task of raising his sons equally, choosing to attend to Boromir over Faramir. The death of Boromir serves as punishment for Denethor's failure to raise his sons with equal love and care. This causes excessive misery in the grieving of Boromir. Denethor then fails at his most important task, to protect Gondor. He neglects fighting the enemy, which leads to him throwing away his life. All of these failings cause both despair and death. Thus, Denethor represents the mariner, and reveals that moral consequences come to those that neglect their duties.
When contrasting all of these characters to find how the fulfilled life is achieved, it can be seen that one does not live happily just because one is in a place of power or wealth. Both Denethor and Eärendil are kings; however, Eärendil is held up on high for being diligent, not just majesty. Denethor may receive benefits for his splendor that would appear to make his life full of joy. However, as seen through the way he completed his obligations, he suffers, and these perks do not matter to his well-being. This is similarly seen, comparing the characters in both of the poems. The mariner and Eärendil have both have wealthy panoplies of armor; however, Eärendil is glorified for his efforts, not his riches. Again, just like having power, one would imagine possessing riches would make a person happy. As expressed in “Errantry,” the mariner has fun with his rich panoply of armor. However, in the end he is lonely, and his treasures do not matter. Thus, nothing else, besides diligence in one’s duties, results in happiness.
By analyzing the poems alone, one can see that the poetic devices of the two poems reveal the different manners in which the characters fulfill their duties. The consistent meter in “Song of Eärendil” reveals the unwavering diligence Eärendil possesses. The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter and never changes throughout the entire course of the poem. One can infer that this is symbolic of Eärendil’s unchanging desire to complete his errand. This steady meter stands out against “Errantry’s” alternating rhyme scheme. The secondary rhymes halfway through the second line of each pair in “Errantry” illustrate the straying tendencies of the mariner. This abnormal rhyme scheme, that jumps from end rhyme to internal rhyme, as well as having end rhymes every other line, is symbolic of the mariner’s diligence, and represents his method of procrastination.
Similarly, contrasting word choices of the two poems reveal the differing characteristics and moods of the characters in the poems. Bilbo uses word choice to portray Eärendil’s diligence by declaring, “He tarried there from errantry." This reveals that Eärendil does not wander around this majestic world, which no man has yet seen; rather, he does his duty in a hasty manner and sticks to his errand. On the contrary, in “Errantry,” the word choice differs. In a explicit comparison to the line “He tarried there from errantry” in “Song of Eärendil,” the mariner in “Errantry” is characterized by the line, “his errantry a tarrying." This one line expresses the complete and utter disregard to the message the mariner is supposed to deliver. This lack of attention to his responsibility, in the end, leads to the description of the mariner as “lonely," “weary," “sorrowing," and a “tarrier." These negative words reveal the disapproval of the mariner’s actions and illustrate his despair.
Revealed through the actions of the characters in the poems and the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien illustrates the method of achieving a fulfilled life. The descriptions of the actions and personality of these characters, as well as the poetic devices used, express their nature and livelihood. Through the manner of which one completes a task, Tolkien reveals that those who complete their tasks with diligent conduct lead rewarding lives. They do not simply have a pleasant life by owning many things, or being the King of a Realm, for these are simply illusions of happiness. If one does not complete their errand or strays away from it, one will incur loneliness and despair into one’s life.