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Poem In October -- Dylan Thomas

October finally rolls around...
(Poem #225) Poem In October
    It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
    And the mussel pooled and the heron
            Priested shore
        The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
        Myself to set foot
            That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

    My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
    Above the farms and the white horses
            And I rose
        In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
        Over the border
            And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

    A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
    Blackbirds and the sun of October
        On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
        To the rain wringing
            Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

    Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
    With its horns through mist and the castle
            Brown as owls
        But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
        There could I marvel
            My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

    It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
    Streamed again a wonder of summer
            With apples
        Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
        Through the parables
            Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

    And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
    These were the woods the river and sea
            Where a boy
        In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
        And the mystery
            Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

    And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
    Joy of the long dead child sang burning
            In the sun.
        It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
        O may my heart's truth
            Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.
-- Dylan Thomas
One of those wonderful poems which make you feel glad just to be alive.

I've mentioned Thomas' skill in using the compressed metaphor before [1]. Poem
In October has many beautiful examples of his art: phrases like 'the
heron-priested shore', 'a springful of larks', 'the parables of sun light' and
'the legends of the green chapels' fairly shimmer with joy and wonder and
mystical beauty.

Simply glorious.


[1] In the commentary to Fern Hill, poem #138

As a matter of fact, Fern Hill is very similar to today's poem in theme,
especially in the sense of almost religious awe in the face of the beauty and
majesty of Nature... read it!

[More Analysis]

George MacBeth has quite a bit to say about today's poem...

"This has great interest as one of the earliest poems written in England in
syllabics, a metre later to be exploited by Thom Gunn and other poets. The
mathematical principle underlying the syllabic form was not always appreciated
by critics of Thomas, to whom the rhythms of this poem seemed flaccid and its
metrical pattern purely visual and arbitrary. A syllabic metre depends on the
presence of a given number of syllables in each line, but no given number of
feet or stresses as in iambic or accentual verse, In this case the number of
syllables per line in each stanza is as follows: 9,12,9,3,5,12,12,5,3,9. This
number sequence is repeated throughout the poem. The effect is great ease and
rapidity of movement combined with a delicate precision of form. Thomas
contrives to retain the forcefulness of his earlier poetry by ending each line
with a strong word, often a noun. This keeps the metre from becoming too loose.

The poem itself is an exquisitely gay and cheerful one. It describes how a man
gets up early in the morning on his birthday and goes out for a walk through the
country to a place where he can look down on the town where he lives. The man is
almost certainly Thomas himself, and the town Swansea, where he was born.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is highly original. It seems to depend on normally
using the same vowel sound but different consonants, so that the word 'water'
can rhyme with the word 'horse'. Thomas is not completely consistent about this,
but he is consistent enough for the principle to be observable."

    -- George MacBeth, Poetry 1900-1975.

[Minstrels Links]

There's a brief biography of Dylan Thomas accompanying one of the very first
poems to be run on the Wondering Minstrels, Thomas' Prologue to his Collected
Poems, at poem #14

Prologue is a denser work (both in sound and meaning) than Poem In October.
Closer to today's poem in form and spirit is the beautiful Fern Hill,
poem #138

The commentary accompanying Fern Hill has more material on compressed metaphors
and syllabic verse; it also talks about Thomas' poetic philosophy. You can learn
more about the latter by reading everybody's favourite Dylan Thomas poem, the
utterly magnificent Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, poem #38

56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

United Palestinian Appeal said...

somehow, the rich and complex language in Thomas' poetry is never
overdone. Thomas lets on towards the end of Poem in October that he
thinks his death may not be so far away, and, after all, he sees the
hills leaved with "October blood." in spite of that mortality, he is
still able to capture the mystical beauty of life in his own special
Saahir Lone


Charles Bane said...

Finest poem in English in the 20th Century.Thomas's poetic gift at the

P. Srikant said...

> I turned 24 this week - and encountered another poem
> Dylan Thomas wrote on
> another birthday ..

> Twenty-four years
> Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
> (Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave
> in labour.)
> In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like
> a tailor
> Sewing a shroud for a journey
> By the light of the meat-eating sun.
> Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun.
> With my red veins full of money,
> In the final direction of the elementary town
> I advance as long as forever is.

Well, what can I add to something like that ..

admin said...

Truly gorgeous, and one of my favourite poems of all time. I sent this poem
to a friend the day before her 30th birthday ­ she was so moved she planned
to rise up early the next day and greet the morning by reading this poem
aloud as the sun rose. I can¹t think of a better way to celebrate a
birthday, Œthough for me, 30 was quite a while ago!

isabel said...

My thanks to John Franklin for introducing me to the works of Dylan Thomas in 1958. I have been a lifelong fan

thecassidy said...

When I was a boy in college, we would go upon the roof and recite Thomas to the night sky. The memory of such goings on should be embarassing to me today, but it is not. The great poet demanded our exultatations. Forty six years later in my reading here tonight, I'm destroyed again.

Martin Cassidy
EarthLink Revolves Around You.

Libby said...

I remember reading this rich work Poem in October' on my own thirtieth
birthday and now with my own children and children of friends turning
thirty, I cannot find, though I've searched the anthologies for years, a
more fitting poem- other than the equally famous birthday poem 'My heart
is like a singing bird.' It was wonderful to b e able to source it for
my godchild who lives in England (and will awaken to a birthday on water
as she is in a houseboat), as my Dylan Thomas poetry collection is
missing from my bookshelf, and I needed it today!
Libby Hathorn
Australian children's writer

Libby said...

I remember reading this rich poem on my own thirtieth birthday and now
with my own children and friends of children turning thirty, I cannot
find, though I've searched the anthologies for years, a more fitting
poem other than the equally famous birthday poem 'My heart is like a
singing bird.' It was wonderful to b e able to source it for my godchild
who lives in England as my Dylan Thomas poetry collection is missing
from my bookshelf, and I needed it today!
Libby Hathorn
Australian children's writer

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