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Especially when the October wind -- Dylan Thomas

(Poem #568) Especially when the October wind
 Especially when the October wind
 With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
 Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
 And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
 By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds,
 Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
 My busy heart who shudders as she talks
 Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

 Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
 On the horizon walking like the trees
 The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
 Of the star-gestured children in the park.
 Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
 Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
 Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
 Some let me make you of the water's speeches.

 Behind a post of ferns the wagging clock
 Tells me the hour's word, the neural meaning
 Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
 And tells the windy weather in the cock.
 Some let me make you of the meadow's signs;
 The signal grass that tells me all I know
 Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
 Some let me tell you of the raven's sins.

 Especially when the October wind
 (Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
 The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
 With fists of turnips punishes the land,
 Some let me make of you the heartless words.
 The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
 Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
 By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.
-- Dylan Thomas
A marvellously dense, evocative poem - Dylan Thomas at his dazzling

The central conceit is simple enough: the poet, walking in his beloved
Welsh countryside, makes a present to his sweetheart of all the things
he sees ("Some let me make you of the meadow's signs"). Only, since he
is, after all, a poet, his gift takes the form of words - his "busy
heart ...  sheds the syllabic blood".

Of course, the idea of words as a gift is not new to Dylan Thomas;
indeed, it's central to the Welsh bardic tradition to which he owes so
much. What _is_ different is the way Thomas expresses himself:
everything he sees from within his "tower of words" is transformed into
language; thus we have vowelled beeches, oaken voices, the water's
speeches, dark-vowelled birds, spider-tongued autumnal spells, the loud
hills of Wales... In any other writer, the adjectives would appear
incongruous, sometimes ludicrously so. In Thomas, though, they're

A second theme running through today's poem (and indeed, through much of
Dylan Thomas' work) is the passage of time: the "crabbing sun" makes men
old; the bare branches and "winter sticks" tell of seasons passing; the
"shafted disk" (i.e., the sundial) does the same, but on a smaller



Dylan Thomas is one of my favourite poets (Martin's, too), and we've
covered a fair bit of his work in the past.

'Prologue' is very similar to today's poem in its descriptive detail; I
talk more about the _sound_ of Thomas' poetry in the accompanying essay.
Both poem and commentary can be found at poem #14

'Fern Hill' is an exquisitely joyous work; it's also a showcase for
Thomas' mastery of compressed metaphor. You can read it at poem #138

Very similar to 'Fern Hill' (and equally good) is 'Poem in October', poem #225

For sheer _density_ of word and sound, 'Under Milk Wood' is hard to
beat; along with the poem there's a (longish) piece on the difference
between denotation and connotation in poetry. It's archived at poem #270

The theme of life being magically transformed into art is most famously
addressed in Yeats' 'Sailing to Byzantium':

 Once out of nature I shall never take
 My bodily form from any natural thing,
 But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
 Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
 To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
 Or set upon a golden bough to sing
 To lords and ladies of Byzantium
 Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

(The entire poem is at poem #21).

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bkandba4 said...

"Fern Hill" is not "joyous." It is profoundly direct, and as marvelously
constructed, and introspective, as is any individual work, in all of the
collective poetry of Dylan Thomas. The poem contains the commensurate, and
appropriate amount of pain, for that particular day's, week's, month's...or moment's
experience...and articulation. Commensurate with what Thomas knew, at its
writing; and appropriate to what Thomas always knew...through the entire span of
his inordinately prolific, foreordained and constrained,
elliptically-eclipsed existence.

"Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

"Poem in October" is equally dark. Thomas seeks the child, and he
desperately tries to evoke it. But it is like the church, with "its horns through
mist." It's an inaccessible mystery. Beckoning, but strangely dark, and
foreboding. He catches a slight glimpse. And trumpets a desire to see more. "May my
heart's truth."

He suggests that he will come back, and look, again.

He does. And he comes up with "When I Woke."

Dylan Thomas lied to everyone else, indiscriminately...but never to himself.
And that is the true nature -- and power -- of his poetry. He was profoundly
honest. Even when he knew that the cost of that would necessarily be
unspeakably prohibitive.

He was one of our supreme poets.

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