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Fern Hill -- Dylan Thomas

(Poem #138) 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 heyday 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 honored 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.
-- Dylan Thomas
Perhaps the most startling thing about Dylan Thomas' verse is his
brilliantly orginal use of metaphors. In this he shares much with the
Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, who too delighted in finding
resemblances between dissimilar objects, and in using those resemblances
to illuminate and enrich their poetry. But whereas Donne and his ilk
constructed elaborate and detailed analogies (for instance, comparing
two lovers to the fixed arms of a compass), Thomas' particular mastery
lies in the use of the 'compressed metaphor' - in wonderfully evocative
phrases like 'windfall light', 'holy streams','fire green as grass',
'fields of praise' and 'lamb white days' (all of which are from today's
poem), he juxtaposes disparate words into combinations which seem
utterly _right_. Indeed, these phrases, with their wealth of connotation
and descriptive detail, seem so natural that you don't even notice them
on a first reading... it's only later that they strike you, and make you

As a brief aside, do note the language of the poem; specifically, note
the repetition of the words 'green', 'golden' and 'white'. It's no
accident that these are the colours of Spring; although Thomas uses the
adjectives in unfamiliar contexts ('fire green as grass'), the overall
atmospeheric effect is brilliant.

Technical details [1] apart, what I love about 'Fern Hill' is the sheer
joy that rings through every word. Thomas glories in life, in the wonder
and beauty and mystery of each living day; in his own words (in the
introduction to the Collected Poems (1952)) he wrote 'for the love of
Man and in praise of God'. This, despite his knowledge of the
inevitability of death. It's the same philosophy which informs much of
his work [2], but it's kept from sounding trite by the quality of his
verse - phrases such as 'holy streams' and 'fields of praise' resonate
with an almost religious awe in the face of the glory and majesty of
life. Utterly beautiful.


[1] I would mention the rhyme scheme (yes, there is one; see if you can
spot it) and the metre (syllabics) in greater detail, but I thought I'd
leave that for another day (and another poem). Be patiently.
[2] Including the justly-celebrated villanelle 'Do not go gentle into
that good night', Minstrels Poem #38 - exactly a hundred poems ago :-).

George Macbeth has this to say about Thomas (and his comments are
particularly apt in light of today's poem):

"Whether or not he 'died of drink', whether or not he was unusually
debauched, whether he was a great saint or a great sinner, are not
questions of much importance for the assessment of his verse. With the
exception of the radio play 'Under Milk Wood', almost all of Thomas'
creative energy went into his poetry. He wrote very slowly, often at the
rate of only one line a day after hours of hard, sober work...
... Apart from his painstaking craftsmanship, so at odds with the
popular legend of his life, Dylan Thomas' poetry is perhaps specially
interesting for its optimism. No other poet writing in English since
Yeats has responded to life with such a consistently affirmative and
positive note. This may in part account for his continuing appeal to
readers who don't normally pay much attention to poetry."


The name Dylan comes from the Mabinogion, a collection of 11 mediaeval
Welsh tales. The word means "sea". In the tale Math, the son of
Mathonwy, challenges Aranrhod, his niece who claims to be a virgin, to
step over his magic wand.

    "Aranrhod stepped over the wand, and with that step she dropped a
sturdy boy with thick yellow hair; the boy gave a loud cry, and with
that cry she made her  way for the door....."Well said Math, 'I will
arrange for the baptism of this one......and I will call him Dylan." The
boy was baptised, whereupon he immediately made for the sea, and when he
came to the sea he took on its nature and swam as well as the best fish.
He was called Dylan (:sea) son of Ton (:wave),  for no wave ever broke
beneath him"

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Howard Leigh said...

What can I say about Fern Hill (138) that I did not say on my 6 year old web page at [broken link] . But your review of the poem was most enlightening.

Even so, I really want to avoid all intellectual scrutiny of the verse and just let the words reverberate between my head and my soul. Surely this poem is a miracle. A heaven on earth. Now I am going to look for "High Flight". It too is one of my seven wonders of the poetic world.

Thank you.

Howard Leigh (Ottawa, Ontario)

StefDer2124 said...

Hi I was wondering if you would mind to help me paraphrase fern hill by dylan
thomas. I need a little input from somebody that has been around a little
longer than me.

Hulagirljulie said...

Hello. I have a project to do about Fern Hill. But I can't quite understand
the meaning of the poem. Can someone please explain it to me. Thanks.

Please reply as soon as possible!
Thanks again.

Rita Day said...

Hello, I found your request when searching for something to take to my Writers' Wotrkshop for U3A.(University of the Third Age)
It some time since you wanted a simple explanation of Fern hill. What are you doing now?
Did you enjoy Fern Hill? That was the name of his auntie's farm where he spent his school summer holidays when he was about 10 yrs old.
I used to teach it and to me it is a magical remembering of a boy's dreams and imaginings, complete with incomplete sentences and wonderful juxtapostion of words. He painted with words and emotion.
I am taking his Welsh Christmas to the meeting tomorrow and will give the group the benefit of a treat and a lesson on how someone can write about childhood and encapsulate the freedom of imagining that is part of it.
I suspect that you are not British and so you might have had problems in understanding a life in Wales at that time.
kindest regards Rita Day.

carol251 said...

Thanks so much for your internet pages. I had not read Fern Hill, but
now am SURE Jane Kenyon must have been influenced by it..

I am planning to use Kenyon's "Let Evening Come..." when I speak as the
assistant in a sermon next Sunday. I have been given the freedom to make
up the prayers, and will weave this poem into it... somehow. Wish me

o/o Carol

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

kj said...


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Anonymous said...

Beautiful beautiful poem

denatureenam said...

Thanks so much for your internet pages. I had not read Fern Hill, but
now am SURE Jane Kenyon must have been influenced by it..
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