Archive for Dylan Thomas

Manchester Thoughts

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 23, 2017 by telescoper

I went to bed early last night after a long day, so I only found out about the terrible events in Manchester when I woke up this morning. The lives of 22 people ended last night, and many of those who survived will never be the same again because of their physical injuries or because of the awful things they witnessed.

I know it’s a feeble response, but I send my deepest condolences to the bereaved and wish a speedy recovery to all those injured or in any other way affected.

Words fail in situations like this. Comprehension fails too. How someone purportedly of the same species as me can sit down and systematically plan to murder children and teenagers is quite beyond my ability to fathom. The choice of target was as callous as it was deliberate: an audience of young girls. The murderer blew himself up in the course of this attack, which means he has evaded justice. I just hope the police will identify the remains and wrap up whatever network helped him plan and execute this attack.

There’s enough information in the news to make a reasonably informed guess as to what kind of explosive device was used. It’s not difficult to make a bomb of that type, but it’s a step up in sophistication from the event on Westminster Bridge. Let’s hope it’s not the start of a new wave of terror attacks, but even if it is they will not win.

It’s difficult to concentrate on work when something like this happens, but I think it’s important to force oneself to do so. If we allow ourselves to become distracted, then the bastards have won. I won’t write much more, but I will refer you to a poem by Dylan Thomas, arguably his greatest, which came into my mind this morning as it has done (sadly) many times before.

A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London was first published just after the end of the Second World War and was written after Thomas heard news of a young girl who had burned to death when the house she was in was set on fire during an air raid.

The idea behind the poem is complex, and its message double-edged, but Thomas finds a perfect balance between horror and sadness, and between indignation and heartbreak. Children shouldn’t have to die, and neither should anyone else whose life is cut short by another’s hand, but we have to live with the fact that they can and do. There’s no consolation to be found in mourning and in any case it’s hypocritical to favour one death with elegies, when suffering is so widespread. The best we can do is allow the dead some dignity and the bereaved some time to heal.

Here is a short extract from the poem, which sums up my thoughts.

I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

I won’t post the full poem here, but you can find it elsewhere on this blog.

 

Poets in October

Posted in Poetry with tags , on October 27, 2014 by telescoper

I’m sure few readers of this blog can have failed to notice that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. I’ve posted quite a few of his poems over the years so it seems fitting to post this, Poem in October, as a birthday tribute.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.


My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

 
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

 
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

 

I admire greatly the poems of Dylan Thomas for their energy and colour and the truly original way he uses words. Nevertheless I do agree with a friend of mine who said earlier today that Dylan Thomas is the second-greatest Welsh poet of the twentieth century who wrote in English and had the surname “Thomas”. I mean no disrespect at all to DM but, although the two are very different, RS has to be the greater of the two Thomases.

This poem by R.S. Thomas is called Song at a Year’s Turning; the echo of the final phrase of Poem in October and the fact that it was published in 1955 make it very clear that it was written as a kind of elegy from one Thomas to the other:

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble; the familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart’s flower withers at the root.
Bury it then, in history’s sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.

Love deceived him; what is there to say
The mind brought you by a better way
To this despair? Lost in the world’s wood
You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
The earth sickens; under naked boughs
The frost comes to barb your broken vows.

Is there blessing? Light’s peculiar grace
In cold splendour robes this tortured place
For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
The new grass shall purge you in its flame.

The Rev. Eli Jenkins’ Prayer

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on May 5, 2014 by telescoper

Well, this Bank Holiday Monday is drawing to a close. I’ve spent a lot of it working, actually, but also occasionally listening to the wonderful celebration of Dylan Thomas Day on BBC Radio 3. Among other things, this actually made me feel a bit nostalgic for Wales (where I lived until last year)…

This is  the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ Prayer from Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas which is also sometimes known as The Sunset Poem. It’s a different choir, though. This is the Dunvant Male Voice Choir and they’re filmed on the breezy clifftops overlooking the beautiful Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula.

Dylan Thomas and a Male Voice Choir; what could be more Welsh than that?

Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please do keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die

And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I’m sure is always touch-and-go.

We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.

O let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, good-bye – but just for now!

A Poem for Dylan Thomas Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , on May 3, 2014 by telescoper

In honour of the poet Dylan Thomas, BBC Radio 3 has designated this forthcoming Bank Holiday Monday (5th May) Dylan Thomas Day and will broadcasting a number of programmes about him and his work on that day and in fact also on the Sunday preceding it. This is because Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 so this year marks the centenary of his birth, although his actual birthday is 27th October.

Anyway, I thought I’d use this event as an excuse to post a poem by Dylan Thomas. I’ve loved this particular one since I first heard it when I was a student many years ago. I say “heard it” rather than “read it” because it was through buying a tape of the man himself reading his poems that got me hooked. Fern Hill reflects about the passage of time, the loss of childhood happiness and the inevitability of death but its mood is defiant rather than gloomy. It’s full of vibrant imagery, but it’s also written with a wonderful feeling for the natural rhythms and cadences of the English language. You can listen to Dylan Thomas reading this exactly as you would if it were music.

I remember once getting very drunk at a conference, standing on a table in a pub and reciting this loudly to a largely foreign (German) audience. To my astonishment they gave me a standing ovation, but my rendition wasn’t a patch on the original. My voice has nothing like that resonance!

 Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

I see the boys of summer

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on June 29, 2013 by telescoper

I

I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren,
Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils;
There in their heat the winter floods
Of frozen loves they fetch their girls,
And drown the cargoed apples in their tides.

These boys of light are curdlers in their folly,
Sour the boiling honey;
The jacks of frost they finger in the hives;
There in the sun the frigid threads
Of doubt and dark they feed their nerves;
The signal moon is zero in their voids.

I see the summer children in their mothers
Split up the brawned womb’s weathers,
Divide the night and day with fairy thumbs;
There in the deep with quartered shades
Of sun and moon they paint their dams
As sunlight paints the shelling of their heads.

I see that from these boys shall men of nothing
Stature by seedy shifting,
Or lame the air with leaping from its heats;
There from their hearts the dogdayed pulse
Of love and light bursts in their throats.
O see the pulse of summer in the ice.

II

But seasons must be challenged or they totter
Into a chiming quarter
Where, punctual as death, we ring the stars;
There, in his night, the black-tongued bells
The sleepy man of winter pulls,
Nor blows back moon-and-midnight as she blows.

We are the dark deniers let us summon
Death from a summer woman,
A muscling life from lovers in their cramp
From the fair dead who flush the sea
The bright-eyed worm on Davy’s lamp
And from the planted womb the man of straw.

We summer boys in this four-winded spinning,
Green of the seaweeds’ iron,
Hold up the noisy sea and drop her birds,
Pick the world’s ball of wave and froth
To choke the deserts with her tides,
And comb the county gardens for a wreath.

In spring we cross our foreheads with the holly,
Heigh ho the blood and berry,
And nail the merry squires to the trees;
Here love’s damp muscle dries and dies
Here break a kiss in no love’s quarry,
O see the poles of promise in the boys.

III

I see you boys of summer in your ruin.
Man in his maggot’s barren.
And boys are full and foreign to the pouch.
I am the man your father was.
We are the sons of flint and pitch.
O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Posted in Literature with tags , on December 24, 2012 by telescoper

Well, I’m up early to get the train Up North, so I thought I’d just sign off for the holiday with a little gift. I have posted this before but, on the grounds that you can’t have too much of a good thing, here it is again. Plus, of course, this will be my last Christmas in Wales…

There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who have heard Dylan Thomas reading his wonderful short autobiographical story A Child’s Christmas in Wales; and those who haven’t. I’ve heard it hundreds of times, like a favourite piece of music. Technically it’s a prose work, but it’s prose that’s so close to poetry that it really defies categorisation. Either way, the language certainly has a musical quality, and the author’s voice brings it to life in a way nobody else has ever been able to. It’s also shot through with flashes of a dry offbeat humour that tickles my fancy any time of the year but at Christmas time I think it’s just magical.

Another Refusal to Mourn

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on December 17, 2012 by telescoper

I posted this poem after the terrible events in Norway last year. Sadly the awful killings in Newton, Connecticut make it relevant again.

The full title is A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London  and it was written  by Dylan Thomas. Published just after the end of the Second World War, it was written some time earlier when Thomas heard news of a young girl who had burned to death when the house she was in was set on fire during an air raid. Here is the poet himself reading it.

The idea behind the poem is complex, and its message double-edged,  but Thomas finds a perfect balance between horror and sadness, and between indignation and heartbreak. Children shouldn’t have to die, and neither should anyone else whose life is cut short by another’s hand, but we have to accept that they can and do.  There’s no consolation to be found in mourning  and in any case it’s hypocritical to favour one death with elegies, when suffering is so widespread. The best we can do is allow the dead some dignity and their families and loved ones some time to grieve.

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.