(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.
A marvellously dense, evocative poem - Dylan Thomas at his dazzling best. 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 magical. 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 scale... thomas. [Links] 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).