(Poem #476) In my craft or sullen art
In my craft or sullen art Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages And the lovers lie abed With all their griefs in their arms, I labour by singing light Not for ambition or bread Or the strut and trade of charms On the ivory stages But for the common wages Of their most secret heart. Not for the proud man apart From the raging moon I write On these spindrift pages Not for the towering dead With their nightingales and psalms But for the lovers, their arms Round the griefs of the ages, Who pay no praise or wages Nor heed my craft or art.
Why do poets write? Is it for themselves? Their readers? Posterity? Dylan Thomas offers a rather non-traditional answer to this question, but one which (on reflection) seems much truer than the usual ones. As he himself said elsewhere, "My poems are written for the the love of Man and in praise of God". This poem puts those words into practice. thomas. [Construction] Notice the very interesting rhyme scheme - 'abcde bd ecca abcde ecca' - not quite regular, but strong enough to lend a degree of structure to the poem. Indeed, Dylan Thomas' verse is almost always meticulously structured, each word chosen with painstaking care and attention to detail . It's not by accident that he refers to the practice of poetry as a 'craft'... The wonderful thing is that despite this degree of construction, his poetry remains natural and spontaneous. This in itself is the highest possible testimony to his mastery of the language; I can think of no other poet since Yeats  who could craft words with such consummate ease while retaining such depth and power of meaning. Another thing: Notice the typical Thomas compounds - 'raging moon', 'spindrift pages', 'towering dead', and my especial favourite, 'singing light'. They each contain more meaning than whole stanzas of a less concentrated poet's output; yet they're so natural as to go unnoticed on a first reading. Skilfully, skilfully done.  It's said that he would often spend days pondering single words and turns of phrase.  Now that I think about it, the essential quality of Yeats and Thomas (and Auden at his finest) is best summarized by the word 'balance' - their poetry is carefully orchestrated, yet remains graceful and natural. It's incredibly difficult to pull off, but when it happens, it's utterly magical.