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In my craft or sullen art -- Dylan Thomas

(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.
-- Dylan Thomas
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.



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 [1]. 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 [2] who could craft words with
such consummate ease while retaining such depth and power of

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.

[1] It's said that he would often spend days pondering single words
and turns of phrase.

[2] 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.

18 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Gwilym Williams said...

Having pilgrim'd to the Boathouse shed of an evening and peeped through the window and seen the several 'spindrift pages' scattered on the floor I enjoyed reading this poem again.
I always imagine the 'proud man apart' is Dylan himself (his workshed is apart from the house) and his wife Caitlin 'the raging moon'.

bart midwood said...

two delicate and long ago people
asleep in the laughter of their tree
sat nodding in assembly with the leaves
to delegate the perfect autumn of their waking

bart midwood

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