This text appears in two different stories by Tolkien, both published posthumously: the “Lost Road” (LR/36-104) and “The Notion Club Papers” (SD/145-327). In both stories, a modern Englishmen retrieves the text from visions of the ancient past. The text summarizes the tale of the fall of Númenor. Tolkien did not himself name the text, but it has been called “Atalante”, “Atalante Fragments” or the “Lament of Atalante” in the literature, the last of these names being adopted here.
There are five basic versions of this text, some with minor variations:
The very first version of this text is in the draft of the Lost Road (LR/56). It differs considerably from later versions.
The second version appears in the final revision of the Lost Road (LR/47). Most of the elements of this version are retained in some form in all later versions.
The third version is in the first draft of “The Notion Club Papers” (SD/310).
The fourth version can be seen in later revisions for “The Notion Club Papers” story. This version has not been published, but can be reconstructed from Christopher Tolkien’s notes (SD/311). It differs from the final form in only a few points.
The fifth version appears in the final revision of “The Notion Club Papers” (SD/246-7). It appears in two places, a typescript version (SD/246-7) and manuscript version (VT24/7-8) that differ only in their English translation.
There is considerable variation between the different versions of the text and there is no definitive version, since the stories where it appeared were unfinished. The presentation of the poem here is an amalgam of elements from the different versions written by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrating as many features of the different versions as possible while remaining internally consistent.
This presentation of the Lament is compiled from the phrases appearing in at least one version of the text, with a preference for later forms over earlier ones. Further discussion of the textual history can be found in the analysis of the individual phrases. A more extensive analysis of the text can be found in the article “AF” by Aleš Bičan.