Tattoo Thursday//Malin Freeborn

Tattoo Thursday is a new theme I’ll be running on a weekly basis where people will be showcasing and discussing their tattoos. If you are interested in getting involved, e-mail me at! 

What does your tattoo translate to from Quenya?

‘Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying, life. Bright, the starlight on the empty sky’

Why did you decide to get it?

I’ve been obsessing over this poem and the concept of duality for some time. So, the original poem said ‘bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky’ on the fourth and fifth lines. Duality’s always been something I’ve been very interested in. The idea is that a thing exists only due to its own opposite and it’s opposite, in turn only exists due to it’s opposite. For instance, hot and cold only exist due to each other. If we take away the concept of heat, you wouldn’t feel cold any longer. Cold wouldn’t be anything you could identify. It wouldn’t be a state of affairs, it would just be the world.

Imagine taking away darkness and having nothing but omnipresent light. You’d be blinded. You’d be a blind person in the light. The light is really made by the darkness that surrounds it, by the shadows. I’ve always found it a really interesting idea so I wanted to put it in this poem which best expresses it.

Unfortunately, Quenya didn’t have a definite word for hawk. Tolkein’s handwriting is barely legible so I switched one of the words and decided to update the poem a bit. It has exactly the same base meaning. I’ve always liked looking at starlight more than birds.

My translation is certain and accurate this way, even if some of the words come from old Quenya and some from new Quentya.

Do you plan to get more?

I was thinking about it. I like tattoos. My interest in duality suggests I could get a Ying-Yang.

So you intend to maintain within the theme of duality with future tattoos?

I was thinking of it.

Do you think it’s important to maintain a theme?

Yes. I think people with patchwork tattoos, each one of which was just a random idea  look ridiculous. I think it’s a little akin to decorating your living room first choosing which segment of carpet you like and then choosing another segment to just stick next to it and then deciding you’re going to go with a winter picture in the background, straight on top of the pastel-green wallpaper that you’ve stuck up then painting over the entire thing with a bit of matte-white.

How did your friends and family react to your tattoo?

They… didn’t. My family are ex-hippies, they’re quite liberal, nobody cares.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get tattoos?

You can spot a shit tattoo a mile away. You may not care about being judged but you will, in fact, be judged if you go into a tattoo parlour and pick something rubbish. The worst example I saw of this was when I was in the Czech Republic, I saw some guys walk into a tattoo parlour looking slightly inebriated. They started leafing through the book of pre-set tattoos. They’re called flash. Flash? They started pointing at the Chinese characters that probably didn’t mean what they thought they meant. When you stick two Chinese characters together, they make an entirely different word a lot of the time. Some of the time that word will be ‘fart knocker’ and sometimes it will be jibberish. The only way to get a Chinese tattoo on yourself is to go to a Chinese person, a native speaker, and ask them what they think about it. If you ever pick out flash in general, everyone will know you’re a wanker. Everyone will know you picked a stock image out of a book.

Sometimes, ‘stock images’ are fine though, it’s OK to have flash. No tattoos will ever be the same but it is OK as long as it’s 1. what you want and 2. designed by the artist you’re going for. Uniqueness isn’t always necessary.

It’s not necessary for a tattoo. It’s necessary for a good tattoo.


One comment

  1. The original poem is in English by Ursula Le Guin, so by ‘translating’ it into Elvish you’re committing the same crime as those who drunkenly get inked with ‘flash’ Chinese characters. Ugh.

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