Poetry Friday: Genesis, Dylan Thomas-style

h1 April 24th, 2009 by eisha

…burning ciphers on the round of space, heaven and hell mixed as they spun.If you’ve known me for very long, then you probably know that I have a very… let’s call it “complicated” relationship with organized religion. What you may not know about me is that, in spite of it, I do still love the Bible. At least, I love parts of it, as mythology, and as literature. For example, I think Song of Solomon has some of the most beautiful passages of any love poem ever written. I mean, how great is this: “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” Wouldn’t you swear that was Sappho?

I also love the first chapter of Genesis. That line about the holy spirit moving upon the waters always gave me chills. So of course the first time I heard “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson I was totally blown away. Such a powerful retelling, with such rich imagery… but that’s a post for another day.

I recently discovered that one of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, also re-imagined the creation story with his poem “In the Beginning.” And just as you would expect from the brilliant Mr. Thomas, it is amazing. Here’s how it starts:

In the beginning was the three-pointed star,
One smile of light across the empty face;
One bough of bone across the rooting air,
The substance forked that marrowed the first sun;
And, burning ciphers on the round of space,
Heaven and hell mixed as they spun.

Please, oh please, click here to read the rest.

Every time I read Dylan Thomas, I find myself repeating this question over and over: “How the hell did he DO that?” I just don’t know how he came up with phrases like “bough of bone” and “substance forked that marrowed the first sun.” I mean, it’s perfect. It conjures with utter precision the harrowing violence inherent in the act of creating a universe. A Big Bang of words.

It seems like a fitting poem to share, in the aftermath of all the spring holidays: Easter, Passover, Vernal Equinox… um, Zombie Day. They’re all celebrations that reflect on the cycle of life, and new beginnings.

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This week Lisa Chellman’s got your back, rounding up all the Poetry Friday posts at her blog Under the Covers.

12 comments to “Poetry Friday: Genesis, Dylan Thomas-style”

  1. Eisha – Beautiful poem…Do you know this other D. Thomas poem? It’s one of my favorites:
    And you’re absolutely right – “How did he DO that?” is the question I’d love to be able to answer.

  2. In the beginning was the word, the word
    That from the solid bases of the light
    Abstracted all the letters of the void;
    And from the cloudy bases of the breath
    The word flowed up, translating to the heart
    First characters of birth and death.


  3. “the secret oils that drive the grass” That one phrase alone slays me, and a whole poem packed with such power and beauty is about more than I can bear. It’s like each line is a little Genesis, exploding and setting off whole worlds in my head.

  4. What an astounding poem to read after Earth Day. Like Sara, I’m stunned by “the secret oils that drive the grass.” What must it have felt like to write this?!

  5. Thanks! You’ve sent me to the Song of Solomon!

  6. “And from the cloudy bases of the breath”

    It’s amazing to see how many cultures converge on the idea of wind/breath as the driving force of creation.
    Breath, wind, voice, word, song: things we can feel, we can hear, things that imply movement, movement that implies a change in essence and matter.

    You can also check out the Ayvu Rapyta, a version of Genesis by the Mby’a Guarani natives.

    Thanks for such a pretty poetry Friday. I just love Dylan Thomas.

  7. *sigh* I think I’ll just go back a read it one more time. Thanks.

  8. To quote another favorite creation re-telling, that’s good. That’s real good.

  9. p.s. The pic is real, real good.

  10. Julie, that really IS a good one. Too bad that site decided to pair it with a Casio-Musak version of “Paint it Black.” WTF?

    Tanita, Sara, Ellen: I know, I know. It’s almost too much.

    Miriam, you’re welcome! Someday I should do a whole post on that.

    Maggie, good call. I always loved the first verse of John, too, about “the word.”

    Andi, it just gets better. Glad you liked it.

    Jules, it is cool, isn’t it? Obviously I didn’t take it, though – I linked it to the site where I found it.

  11. Whoa, awesome! The stanza Tanita quoted is my fave, too.

  12. Wow.

    Final stanza is my favorite, but over all: wow.

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