Poetry Friday: Green and dying with Dylan Thomas

h1 August 8th, 2008 by eisha

Gwalia Farm in Wales

August is the cruelest month — Eliot had it all wrong. As a child I always hated that my birthday coincided with the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year. It took some of the shine off of the childish thrill of turning another year older, especially on those one or two years when school started exactly on the day itself. Once I was out of school and had passed all the good milestone birthdays, it didn’t matter so much. But now I find myself immersed in academia just in time for my 35th. Not good timing. I’m already finding new gray hairs on a near-daily basis, and I’m about to have to cope with knowing I’m closer to 40 than 30. Having everyone around me preoccupied with the passing of summer’s relative freedom and the beginning of the school year’s drudgery just doesn’t help my frame of mind.

So I’m sharing one of my very favorite poems of all time, “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. Aside from the sheer gorgeousness of the poem — Thomas is a true Poet-with-a-capital-P, and every line just sings beauty — the whole youth-as-carefree-summer metaphor is working for me right now. Oh, and those last lines that sneak up on you after all the sing-songy run-on sentences about apples and foxes and sunshine; that whole last stanza when he realizes his own mortality, sees that every day he played in the sun was a day closer to death, reveals that Time is more of a jail warden than a generous benefactor… oof. It shakes me in my bones. It should be really depressing, but it’s just so lovely that every time I finish it my eyes zip right back up to the top to start it all over. It’s a good pain. Here’s a sample:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
——–The night above the dingle starry,
—————-Time let me hail and climb
——–Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
—————-Trail with daisies and barley
——–Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
——–In the sun that is young once only,
—————-Time let me play and be
——–Golden in the mercy of his means,

Click here to read the rest. Seriously, does it get better than that? No. No it does not. This is a poem to be savored — kind of like youth, like life itself. Savor the beauty and innocence and laughter while you can. We don’t get to play in the sun forever, you know.

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Hey, ya’ll — check it out! My Cybils-buddy Becky is on Poetry Friday round-up detail over at Becky’s Book Reviews. Thanks, Becky!

23 comments to “Poetry Friday: Green and dying with Dylan Thomas”

  1. Thanks, eisha — Dylan Thomas, truly an “Aaaahhhh…” poet.

    (I’ve never read a biography of him for fear it would be depressing — either his life per se, or (who knows?) perhaps finding out he regarded his work as one big put-on, or whatever. I want to keep him fixed in my mind like the photo at the top of the page you linked to: fully adult, cynical maybe, but with signs yet of a tousled-hair boyhood.)

    “Once below a time”: aaahhh…!

  2. Happy upcoming birthday, sweetie. Here’s to the lamb-white days…we may not get to play in the sun forever, but here’s to hats and sunscreen. And playing on.

  3. That has to be one of the most beautiful final set of lines ever. And that it throws you (and me) right back into reading the poem again, so we can relive it…well, genius doesn’t begin to capture it.

    Prince of the apple towns, indeed he was.

  4. This is fitting for me this week, too, since I was strolling down memory lane on that cursed, addictive ‘ol Facebook with old college friends. I had put up old pics, and we actually wondered where the time’s gone and were momentarily waxing nostalgic. How to describe that I look at those pics and think, who is that person from 15 years ago?, yet I also know exactly who she is and who she’s become. It’s just, well…weird to get older.

    But I’ve also always been one of those people who looks forward to aging, who would be happy to find a gray hair (truly, though I don’t expect people to believe me), who loves the lines on women’s faces and the stories they tell. Really, I do, though I know I sound like a Hallmark card or something right now. When I was little, I remember my best friend across the street saying she couldn’t WAIT to be a teen, and I thought I was weird, ’cause I wanted to skip it altogether and be an adult. I still feel that way, even wondering sometimes: When am I gonna be one? Oh wait…I am grown-up.

    I’m rambling, but to summarize: Word to what TadMack said about playing on. Youth and all its joys kick serious ass, but aging and the wisdom that comes with it are under-appreciated. I love love love the silver hairs that have appeared in my husband’s beard, and he thinks I’m crazy.

    Thanks for sharing this poem, E. I saw your gray hairs when you visited, and a) you had to search real hard to find them and show me and b) they’re beautiful.

  5. P.S. Sara’s so right about how the poem begs to be read repeatedly. It’s so beautiful. Don’t you want to grab your favorite teens and say, Appreciate this time as much as you can? But then the very nature of it all is to just live it and not ponder it.

    Sorry I’ve rambled. How can you all stand me? Yeesh.

  6. Eisha, I had this moment a few weeks ago where I couldn’t remember how old I was for a minute and I thought maybe I was 35, and it TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT until I remembered I am really 34 and will be turning 35 in December. So I’m hoping that little experience will save me freaking out then. I think for the me the freaking out has more to do with feeling like I can’t possibly be so old, because if I was, wouldn’t I be more together? Like Jules, that’s how I always imagined adulthood.

    And gray hair? Really? I’m with Jules–I don’t see it.

    Jules, Do you think Facebook might be the *real* reason we’ve all started running out of time to blog???

  7. One of my all time favorite poets and one of my all time favorite poems. I played the records (LPS) he did reading his poetry until they wore out.

    Lots of poets can’t read their own work. It’s as if they are unacquainted with the words they put on the page, the pace of it, the places to emphasize. But Thomas was a grand reader and carried you along with him on the journey into and out of his poetry.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  8. First, Jane Yolen just commented. Jane Yolen!! You are so very cool by association. Makes me want to find a recording of Thomas reading (maybe poets.org has it, actually).

    Loved this poem, which I’d not read since college. Thanks for reminding me of it. I must read it again. And find out what a dingle is, too.

    Happy upcoming birthday, Eisha.

  9. P.S. Meant to say earlier (pre-distraction by DT-related pages and also that gorgeous photo at the top of this post): I’m closer to 40 than 30.

    That kind of thing used to bother me, too. (Another favorite: “Oh no, I’m now N years older than the national life expectancy!”) But then I realized I could just say (in your position) “I’m way closer to 30 than 50.”

    By the time the exercise loses its meaning, you no longer care. 🙂

  10. What a grand poem and beautiful photo!
    Happy upcoming birthday. August is not a cruel month, it is good — five people in my family have August birthdays. And 35 is very young!!

  11. JES, “by the time the exercise loses its meaning, you no longer care.” BEST QUOTE OF THE WEEK.

    Speaking of exercise, enjoy this little piece of brilliant writing from Haven Kimmel. (“Brilliant writing from Haven Kimmel” is redundant, by the way).

  12. What a wonderful site! I am so glad I stumbled across it — a great link from angrychicken.

  13. A dingle is a small valle, a vale.


  14. P.P.S. N years older than the national life expectancy


    That SHOULD say, “N years past the midpoint of the national life expectancy.”

    That thud you heard was probably my mother, keeling over at the thought that I might be 10-20 years older than her.

    I love Haven Kimmel! (And learned about her first here on 7-Imp.)

  15. Thanks for posting this, Eisha. This poem makes me think of Charlotte’s Web, which I just finished reading aloud to my daughter, with all of its celerbrations of the pastoral and life and death intertwined. “Stop talking in that funny voice!” she commanded. (Guess who was crying.)

  16. JES, that last comment does clear things up – I was a little worried if our life expectancy had dropped so low.

    TadMack, right on. I’m nowhere near done playing. But yeah, with sunscreen.

    Sara, yes, and lordly and golden he was.

    jules, I didn’t have to search that hard, I just had to find a mirror – I can’t quite locate them by sonar. But thanks for the kind words.

    adrienne, thanks for pointing out that I’m older than you. That’s awesome. 😉 Seriously, though, I could’ve shown you the gray hairs if I knew you wanted to see ’em.

    Jane, YES, I love to hear Dylan Thomas read. His voice is so mellifluous, so resonant.

    Kelly, I took your advice and found this recording of him reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which is also lovely.

    jama, as always, you’re as sweet as your cupcakes. And I’ve noticed August is a popular birthday month. Something to do with November being so cold and boring, I expect.

    Howdy, nicole! Welcome, and glad you found us. I love Angry Chicken!

    Alkelda, how can anyone read Charlotte’s Web aloud without doing all the voices? And I can’t hear anyone but Paul Lynde for Templeton thanks to the animated movie of my childhood.

  17. It’s less than 6 months–hardly counts.

  18. I am going to have to keep reading that one over and over. What he does with phrasing!

    BTW, the 40s are even better than the 30s. Don’t believe the hype.

  19. I agree with Jane — nothing better than hearing Dylan Thomas read his own work.

    Clouds — I’m holding out hope for the 50’s…they are looming close!

  20. Pikers. I am heading rapidly (in February) for 70.

    Dylan Thomas was a true both-ends-candle-burner. My favorite non-poetic line of his was in an interview asking him what he was looking for in America when he arrived here for the first time. He said, “Young women in wet mackintoshes.”

    He found that and a LOT of drink at taverns like the White Horse where his worshippers kept buying him drinks. But I think he knew he was dying young, which is why there is such an elegaic ending to that poem. He didn’t want or expect to grow old.


  21. Oh thank you, this is so sublime. Thomas speaks to me deep down in my unarticulated soul!

  22. cloudscome, I hope you’re right. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Hey, Mary Lee – I agree too.

    Jane, cut us some slack, we’re all aging as fast as we can, here. But if I’m half as cool as you are when I get to almost-70, I’ll consider that a fine accomplishment indeed.

    “Young women in wet mackintoshes” is maybe the best line I’ve ever heard. *sigh* Why do so many of the great ones die young?

    Pamela, he does, doesn’t he? Glad you liked it.

  23. where can i see the words and poem Green and Dying something like that without paying? John in Tampa

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