“Not all those who wander are lost” – “All that is gold does not glitter” the right way

In my on-going series Things J.R.R. Tolkien has never said, done, written or had anything to do with (TThnsdwohatdw) I present you with a very quick and dirty post on a quote which has been used by many and it is only wrong by one word. Now, I already know what some people will say -“Man, it’s only one word!” Yeah, right, but take away one word from “I am not an idiot” and you will get the idea why I am doing this.

However, before you continue reading I would like you to use the next link and have a look at it. It is a Google search looking for “Not all who wander are lost” [ATTENTION: This is the WRONG quote.]

Do it – click me – I will make you see!

With me I get 760K results using this particular line. Hell, Wikipedia even has a disambiguation page on this because people have got it wrong. And what is wrong with it? The word ‘those’ is missing.

Your next task is to click the following link to see how many people make money off it at Etsy.com:

Yes, precious, I am an Etsy link 🙂

And your next and last task is to read out these lines out and see whether they work:

1. All that is gold does not glitter,
2. Not all those who wander are lost;
3. The old that is strong does not wither,
4. Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
5. From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
6. A light from the shadows shall spring;
7. Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
8. The crownless again shall be king.

I say to all who consider the songs and poems in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings childish play – you are horribly mistaken. In fact, most of them are well-crafted pieces driving anyone nuts who tries his/her hand at rhyme, metre and scansion. If you don’t care for this – fair enough. However, I do. And I’ll show you why leaving out ‘those’ is a rather grave mistake. (To this very day my alma mater, the University of Cologne, has Tolkien’s Errantry as an example for ‘exotic metrical effects – that is, he is driving students of English literature nuts to this very day!)

The rhyme is ABABCDCD, alternate lines rhyming. The poem consists of two stanzas which in itself consist of two couplets. Lines 1-2 are made up of 8 syllables, lines 3-4 of 9 syllables, lines 5 and 7 of 10 and lines 6 and 8 of 8 syllables. The metre is determined by allocating the stressed and unstressed syllables of every line and may look something like this:

Line 8 All that is gold does not glitter
Syllables 1 1 1 1 1 1 2
Foot Dactyl Dactyl Trochee
Line 8 Not all those who wander are lost
Syllables 1 1 1 1 2 1 1
Foot Anapest Amphibrach Iamb
Line 9 The old that is strong does not whither
Syllables 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2
Foot Iamb Anapest Pyrrhic Trochee
Line 9 Deep roots are not reached by the frost
Syllables 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Foot Iamb Pyrrhic Iamb Anapest
Line 10 From the ashes a fire shall be woken
Syllables 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 2
Foot Pyrrhic Trochee Iamb Pyrrhic Trochee
Line 8 A light from the shadows shall spring
Syllables 1 1 1 1 2 1 1
Foot Iamb Pyrrhic Iamb Iamb
Line 10 Renewed shall be blade that was broken
Syllables 3 1 1 1 1 1 2
Foot Amphibrach Anapest Pyrrhic Trochee
Line 8 The crownless again shall be king
Syllables 1 2 2 1 1 1
Foot Amphibrach Iamb Anapest

“My crest has long since fallen” since I did my last metric analysis and this is probably all wrong (please do let me know what’s right, then!) However, if this is just halfway correct you will see that Tolkien had a particular pattern for this short poem in mind, there is a certain structure to it which would not work with the wrong quote (the other 8-syllable line in the poem works fine with Amphibrach, Iamb, Anapest in differing order – that is: [Unstressed + Stressed + Unstressed] [Unstressed + Stressed] [Unstressed + Unstressed + Stressed] .) And Tolkien was a perfectionist on this (usually.) Other patterns include the repetition of a trochee at the end of lines 1, 3, 5 and 7 and an iambic ending for lines 2 and 6 as well as an anapest ending on lines 4 and 8. I think you are getting the drift. And the pyrrhic foot is often found with classical Greek poetry – something Tolkien knew very well thanks to his school and his first two years at Exeter College. Whether you categorise this poem as a rather odd ballade or a Shakespearean sonnet, cut off before its rhyming couplets (as the first line is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice), I leave up to you.

As this poem is actually quoted twice in The Lord of the Rings (in the chapter “Strider” of Book One, The Fellowship of the Ring and in the chapter “The Council of Elrond” in Book Two, The Fellowship of the Ring) you have to be pretty lazy not to notice the difference. Twice. Or rather careless. In any way, the full quote on this poem has to be with “those” and anything else is … less lyrical.

P.S.: If you don’t go for the ‘pyrrhic’ foot it might also look like this (and dropping some syllables by the wayside, if you are a courageous poet):

  1. Dactyl, Dactyl, Anapest
  2. Anapest, Iamb, Iamb [wrong quote: Iamb, Iamb, Iamb.]
  3. Iamb, Anapest, Anapest
  4. Trochee, Anapest, Anapest
  5. Anapest, Iamb, Anapest
  6. Iamb, Anapest, Iamb
  7. Iamb, Anapest, Anapest
  8. Iamb, Iamb, Anapest.

All that is gold does not glitter


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

14 Responses

  1. TroelsForchhammer says:

    I am not really confident of my ability to assign classic feet, so I normally just work with stressed syllables 🙂 Still, I agree that the seven-syllable version throws the meter off for the poem.

    In the line we are dealing with, I stress it like this:
    “Not ALL those who WANder are LOST”
    — is this also what you have in mind?

    • Well, poetry has never been my strong suit (although I appreciate quite a bit of it.) And poetry is particularly difficult for any non-native speaker. I would pronounce it:

      “Not all THOSE who WANder are LOST”

      rendering the line without “THOSE” even more pointless. However, that is something only proper scansion can remedy – and that is an art form in itself, open to interpretation 🙂

      • Ian Collier says:

        I’m with Marcel on poetry and how I read the line you two note.

        • Thanks, Ian. This very intricate and well-structured poem disguises as a simple one but when you actually read it out loud you appreciate its easily flowing rhythm – which should be proof enough that leaving out ‘those’ would be strongly against the rhythmic pattern set by Tolkien.

          Honestly. Everybody is prone to errors but if you know a little bit about him (and his retelling of stories in thousands of lines in alliterative verse!) – would you expect him to be ‘wrong’ in scansion on this poem in ‘The Lord of the Rings’? 🙂 – by leaving out ‘those’?

    • Renee Vink says:

      I’m with you here, Troels. The stress on “those” does not make as much sense to me as the stress on “all”. With the latter, the meaning becomes: though some who wander are lost, this does not apply to *all* who wander. Aragorn may seem a vagrant nobody, traipsing around aimlessly, as vagrants are wont to do (the assessment of people like Barliman Butterbur), but this appearance deceives, says the rest of the poem: he’s different.
      Plus, you wouldn’t read line one as “All THAT is gold does not glitter”, would you?

      That doesn’t make “those” superfluous, though, as many who quote the line seem to think. Rhytmically, it’s better when it’s there. Also the parallel of all that and all those is intentional, I’d say – the one between gold and Aragorn.

      BTW, why do you read “reached” as two syllables?

      • Hi Renee, I did a quick check with a syllable counting website (me not being a native speaker and syllables being a very strange concept to English) and obviously went for the wrong one – other services give one, indeed. This would make the nice 8/8/9/9 pattern for the first stanza obsolete but would open up for a 8/all with one superflous syllable in line 3 – and an additional syllable, particularly an unstressed one as in WITHer, is quite okay for any poet 🙂 I then cross-checked all words and found that renewed only has two syllables.

        However, the longer I come to think of it, the less convinced I am on the stress being on ALL in line 2. The teacher I had on poetry once told me the only way to find out how any line should be pronounced (particularly if you a) are not really into poetry or b) not a native speaker which is the case for me) is overboard SCANSION, that is reading out the poem really loudly.

        And with ALL starting off the poem with line 1 it does not make poetic sense to have ALL in line 2 to be the stress-bearing syllable; not all OF THEM who wander are lost, stressing the fact that the Dúnedain will find their way in the wilderness anytime. And I would rather see a particular connection between lines 1 and 3 with the repetition of “that is”, not between 1 and 2 on this point. Having THOSE being the stressed syllable sort of moves the emphasis from the beginning of the line to the end of line; with ALL in line 2 this wouldn’t work as well.

        Writing the poem out in a different way does sometime help but is not necessarily conclusive (Note: if the rhythm is too regular in all lines the poem usually won’t work; you can see the second couplet of each stanza is identical but the first couplet alternates.)



        Damn, I hate metre analysis. 😉 Particularly as I am in no position to judge whether this particular poem has been modelled on a classical Greek or Anglo-Saxon poem style (which could be the case with JRRT.)

        The 10/8/9/8 is not too problematic; it makes the poem more dramatic, as the lines gets shorter in a ‘leaping’ way, increasing the tension by returning from longer lines to the short line of the opening (that’s probably thinking as a poet.:)

        • Renee Vink says:

          Marcel, if you include the Dunedain as a group, your reading makes sense, too, but I’m inclined not to do so. It may be a matter of interpretation; an inquiry among native speakers of English might shed light on the scansion pattern. The fact that “those” is left out so often in quotes suggests that many people do not put stress on it. And if you read the poem my way, you get 2 stanza’s with each three identical lines, each preceded by a different first line.

          The fact that I’m not a native speaker weakens my position, of course, but I consider the poem a kind of pseudo-doggerel, the way Aragorn himself is a pseudo vagrant. It takes a closer look to see that both are more “valuable” than they appear to be at first. To me this suggests that too much analysis of the metre is unnecessary. The verse may look somewhat irregular, but if you read it aloud, it scans well enough, especially after the first line. Aragorn does not look a regular guy at first, but… you get my meaning.

          • You are making a very good argument there, Renee, I agree, but I think that with someone like Tolkien any “dropped” word would have a function, even if it were only in a pseudo-doggerel. He would have realised dropping THOSE would just as well work when reading out the poem – but he chose to leave it in. I would rather argue this from his point of view, not from the point of view of the general populace without the education he had. Or possibly I am just putting him on a pedestal when he, in fact, just scrambled down a few notes to make fun of high and mighty Aragorn via Bilbo (i.e. himself 😉 – let’s talk about going off on a tangent!)

            Getting down to the nitty gritty could even mean talking about repetitive patterns of consonants/vowels (which would make the a/o-sequence in line two particularly interesting/ evocative) but this is way beyond my means. I would have to dig in again into a topic which is highly interpretative, both in form and meaning, let alone the wider sense of putting this one piece into the context of “The Lord of the Rings”, Tolkien’s writings at this particular place in time etc. 🙂 And as I mentioned before – I appreciate poetry, I love its presentation but working with it? *grawrrg*

            But thank you very much for this – maybe someone more apt to discuss this than me might take note for a future publication. Renee? 🙂

          • Renee Vink says:

            Thank you, too! I doubt I’m the someone more apt, but who knows…

  2. Taz says:

    I (and for what it’s worth, my brother with an MA in English Literature too) stress it
    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.

    Dactyl dactyl trochee
    Amphibrach amphibrach iamb
    Amphibrach amphibrach amphibrach
    Amphibrach amphibrach iamb
    Amphibrach* amphibrach amphibrach
    Amphibrach amphibrach iamb
    Amphibrach* amphibrach amphibrach
    Amphibrach amphibrach iamb

    Pretty basic.

    * pronouncing “from the” as a half-foot each, metrically

    • Thanks for the answer, Taz, appreciated! And I have to say, it does look interesting, if not convincing!

      I have a magister artium in English literature, too, so I am not quite fully convinced yet, though 😉

      Tolkien being Tolkien, using such a simple rhyme scheme (which you can often find with limericks – thanks, 3*amphibrach ;)) would seem … I don’t know… inappropriate?

      Or knowing Tolkien such a simple rhyme scheme might simply be the remnant of a literary age where such rhyme schemes weren’t reduced to one particular function only and he would try to reconstruct it. Damn you, Tolkien.

      P.S.: My point being that nother is ever “basic” with Tolkien – he was an artist when it comes to using any metre in the English language. If he chose such a “simple” rhyme scheme he would have had reasons for it … hmm …

  3. kmc says:

    Well, I’m joining the conversation late and I also seemed to manage to assign incorrect feet somewhere between 78% and 97.3% of the time when we did this sort of thing in school, so I’ll just stick my own interpretation of the couplet in question. While there is, clearly, a correct answer, and while I’m sure Tolkien himself cared very much about the meter he chose, I will also counter with an argument for the wrong version.
    When I read the correct version, I hear it as “dactyl dactyl trochee/amphibrach amphibrach iamb”, or, in musical terms, two lines of four measures each in a 3/4 time signature, and “Not” comes in on the last beat of the first line.
    When I read the incorrect version, I hear it as “dactyl dactyl trochee/dactyl dactyl trochee” where the downbeat of the second trochee is silent. I’m not even sure if that’s valid meter, so perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as “dactyl dactyl trochee/dactyl trochee iamb”.

    As for which sounds better, the wrong version sounds, to me, a little (and I mean this respectfully) like the poems my grandmother would write in to her housewives’ magazines in the mid-20th century. It has almost a limerick-y quality to it, as though it should go, “All that is gold does not glitter/Not all who wander are lost/But Frodo and Sam/Love a good Christmas ham/With some pipeweed and ale for the frost”.

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