J.R.R. Tolkien, born in 1892, is Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford. Well known for his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (with the late E.V. Gordon), for his work on Beowulf, and for his verse trans-lation of The Pearl. Professor Tolkien’s fairy-story, The Hobbit, is a great favourite. Something caught my eye here: that Tolkien was “well known […] for his verse translation of The Pearl”. Was he really? This is surprising, considering that it wasn’t published until two years after his death!
According to Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s précis, Tolkien made his translation of the poem during 1925–6 while he was supposed to be working on an edition of it with his Gawain collaborator, E.V. Gordon. In 1936, he submitted the translation to J.M. Dent for publication, but although they rejected it, it caught the attention of Guy Pocock, who arranged for part of it to be read on the radio in August of that year. Shortly thereafter, George Allen & Unwin considered publishing it, but all thought of that was swiftly swept aside in the wake of The Hobbit the following year.  A few years later in 1942, the renowned publisher and bookseller Basil Blackwell prepared to publish the translation at last. Galley proofs were even printed in March 1943 (Christopher Tolkien owns a set). All Tolkien had to do was write an introduction. Alas, the ever dilatory (and at this point, very distracted) Tolkien could not get the job done, and — to make a long story a little shorter — the translation never reached the public during his lifetime. 
He certainly intended to publish it, discussed it repeatedly, and was forever on the verge of actually doing it, but this simply never happened. So how did he become so “well known” for it? That is a riddle worthy of Gollum (or better, Bilbo, since it’s not actually a proper riddle :).
I suppose private copies may have been circulating among Tolkien’s friends and colleagues, rather like Songs for the Philologists and Tolkien’s edition of Sir Orfeo. But if so, I have not read of any surviving. Perhaps he passed around his own (only?) copy. But that would have been risky, wouldn’t it, my precious, yesss. The radio broadcast probably helped, but how large a portion of the translation was read? It’s a long poem, well over a thousand lines! Was the unknown author of the contributor blub in Essays and Studies exaggerating? Was this one of Tolkien’s friends, someone who had indeed read and passed around the translation?
All these questions prompted by an all but forgotten note on a contributor! Perhaps someone can unearth a little more infor-mation. In the meantime, I suppose it’s true after all that “lesser work can earn more pay; / And the longer you reckon, the less hath more” .
 Essays and Studies, Vol. 6 (1953), [n.p.].
 Gordon died unexpectedly in 1938, and plans for the edition of The Pearl went on hold. The edition was eventually completed by Gordon’s widow Ida (with assistance from Tolkien) in 1953, the same year Beorhtnoth was published!
 Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 748–9, et seq.
 This, like the title of the post, is from Tolkien’s translation of The Pearl, finally published in 1975. The title comes from 70.9, the closing quotation from 50.11–2.