For my northern hemisphere readers, the full flush of summer has arrived. In honor of the season, I’ve picked an appropriate poem for this installment of Poetry Sunday: the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ idyllic, evocative hymn to nature and childhood, “Fern Hill”, from his 1946 collection Deaths and Entrances.
Born in 1914, Dylan Thomas was named in honor of his uncle, a Unitarian minister. He moved to London in 1934 and that same year published his first volume of poetry, 18 Poems, which was highly acclaimed. A sought-after speaker, he frequently gave readings of his work both in person and on the radio: both his poetry and also scripts and plays such as Under Milk Wood. He was excused from military service in World War II on account of chronic pulmonary illness, but witnessed the Blitz firsthand while living in London. He recounted the experience in a poignant poem, “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London“, which reveals the author’s freethought sympathies: “After the first death, there is no other.” As Ian Lancashire puts it in his analysis of the poem, “Without relying on religious belief in personal salvation or an afterlife, Thomas represents death consolingly as part of life” (source).
Thomas’ poems are luminous, dense with imagery, rich with brilliant detail and metaphor. During his life and after, he was internationally acclaimed. His deservedly most famous work, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night“, was written for his father, who was dying of cancer. Like “Refusal”, it does not appeal to an afterlife for consolation, but rather calls upon us to face death with dignity and defiance in this world. Thomas died in 1953 at the age of 39; his death was generally supposed to be the consequence of alcoholism, but evidence surfaced in 2004 indicating it may have been a result of complications from pneumonia.
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.
Other posts in this series: