(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.
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 think. 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  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 , 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. thomas.  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.  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." [Trivia] 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"