Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Toad's Favo(u)rite Poem in October

Dylan Thomas is one of my all-time favourite poets. With more than half his collected work written during his late teens, he was a brilliantly gifted man of high passion and intensity, and this is clearly evident in his poetry. His language sings, his imagery is uniquely individual and his mastery of grammatical structure leaves me astounded every time I read one of his famous poems aloud. He described his technique in a letter:
Thomas describes his technique in a letter: "I make one image—though 'make' is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be 'made' emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict."


There are several poems I could have chosen for this post, among them Fern Hill and And death shall have no dominion, but I have selected my favourite favourite: Poem in October, in which he contemplates his October 27 birthday. It was first published in Deaths and Entrances in 1946. The complete poem can be read on the Poetry Foundation page, linked above, or you may like to listen to it being read by Dylan Thomas in the audio clip below, while I share a few excerpts here.

The poem begins with this stanza:

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.

 What strikes me, is the way the poet has introduced the reader to the setting of the poem through the sense of sound, rather than sight: 'Woke to hearing'. I also admire the turn of phrase he employs in the lines: 'And the mussel pooled and the heron/ Priested shore' where 'mussel pooled' and 'heron priested' become the descriptives of the 'shore'. The link between the heron as priest and the water praying infuses the whole scene with a sense of natural spirituality. 

Try reading these lines aloud to yourself (take a deep breath for all the run-on lines); feel the words and sounds roll from your lips and sing in your ears.

      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.

This, to me, is what poetry should be:

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.


Natašek said...

I also love Dylan Thomas's work, but have never read this one, so thank you for sharing. Death shall have no dominion always gives me goosebumps.

Karen said...

Although there are many poems that move me, I still think "and I sang in my chains like the sea" may be the best line ever written.

Hannah said...

Oh, this reading...exquisite.

"high tide the heron dyed"

All of the alliteration and slant rhyming...makes my poetic ears so happy and the bursting with brilliant images...phew...this is magic!

Thank you, Kerry, for sharing such an enjoyable poet/poem!!

Hannah said...

Oh, I meant "heron died," hmm funny.

Marian said...

fantastically perfect, Kerry. just perfect. thank you.

Maude Lynn said...

Truly magnificent.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Yes, Karen, I agree with you about that line from Fern Hill being one of the best things ever written.

Hannah, I think you mean 'heron dived' :)

I am happy to know I am not the only one who thinks this is perfect and magnificent.

hedgewitch said...

I was intensively drawn to Thomas' poetry as an adolescent--I remember baffling my family by asking for his Collected Poems for Christmas--I got it, still have it, read threadbare, but I know my mother always felt she had cheated me of a 'better' present, like dimestore perfume.

This was my favorite poem of his then, and I could recite it from memory. This was my second favorite:


Thanks Kerry for a wonderful choice.

Grandmother Mary said...

I wasn't familiar with this poem of Dylan Thomas. What a treat to hear him speak it, Thanks, Kerry.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood...

Gorgeous! Thanks, Hedge.

Grace said...

I will have to listen to the read later ~ Such power in his words ~ Thanks for highlighting his work kerry ~

Margaret said...

I adored listening to the audio and reading his poem out loud (thanks for the warning of filling up with a big breath :) I am embarrassed to say I have never heard of him until now... and find him mesmerizing. Another to add to my brimming bookshelf.

Panchali said...

such a beautiful poetry...Thanks, Kerry for sharing.

Anonymous said...

glorious, Kerry ~

Lolamouse said...

So beautiful, Kerry. Thank you for sharing this one.

Susie Clevenger said...

Such a talented poet whose words are as alive now as when he wrote them. Thanks so much for sharing your love for Dylan Thomas.

Kay L. Davies said...

An excellent choice from my point of view, Kerry. I spent an inordinate amount of time today wracking my brain to figure out why "A Child's Christmas in Wales" sounded so familiar to me. Now I find in Wikipedia that it was released as a recording, so I probably remember hearing it on the radio in the 1950s. My father was a great one for getting us to listen to interesting things on the radio.
Ancient memories aside, Dylan Thomas was of course much talked about when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, and it has been very interesting to read about him, and read some of his work, again. The birthday poem you chose for today was first published the year I was born.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

"the heron priested shore". Wow. Thanks for this. Fantastic poetry!

Susan said...

Oh! Of course! Thrilling to have his voice falling on my ears. Back in 1973 I played Voice One and others in a staged reading of Under Milkwood. That began my long love affair with theatre, and maybe poetry too. I haven't thought of this forever. Thank you.

Susan said...

walking through the parables of sunlight ....

Fireblossom said...

Excellent choice, Kerry. In reading those last two sections, I got the same feeling that i get when I read Hedgewitch at her best...like, wowwww, it just gets better and better, building upon itself in beautiful language.

Ella said...

I love him! I am smitten and intrigued with how he plays with sound to create such depth~
Thank you Kerry! He is remarkable-he described my shore and now I'm homesick~

hedgewitch said...

Lord, Shay--spare my blushes--my scribbles will never hold a candle to Thomas'--(or yours, for that matter)but I do thank you so much for the props.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Kerry. k .