Dylan Thomas

A portrait of Dylan Thomas by Alfred Janes, 1953

I came to poetry or perhaps it was poetry that came to me, rather late on my journey through the cosmos in this space time.

“Poetry interrupts the momentum of story, unweaves the narrative thread with which we cocoon our inner worlds. A single poetic image can lift us from the plane of our storied worldview toward the gasp of a whole new vista, where in the spacious silence of the unimagined we imagine ourselves afresh.”

Writes Maria Popova in her excellent work of brilliance and love these past fifteen years The Marginalian.

To celebrate the birthday of Dylan Thomas, October 27, 1914, I am highlighting a couple of poems I love of his and a couple of links to radio broadcasts I found to be both moving and insightful.

In the first section of this programme Josie Long introduces us to a recording produced by Sarah Cuddon for the excellent Falling Tree Productions of Terry Jones reading Poem In October. It is an especially heart-rending listen as it was recorded at a time when Terry was becoming more aware of the effects of dementia to his life. He died from complications of dementia on 21 January 2020.

This is a link to the whole of the Short Cuts programme containing the interview.

Short Cuts: Encounters With Old Texts

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
Summery
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.

In this, Archive On 4, I found much to dispel the myths surrounding Dylan and to shed a light on the person behind the media stories.

“Cerys Matthews unlocks an archive of rare interviews, made by her uncle Colin Edwards, with Dylan Thomas’s closest friends and family. The recordings date from the early 1960s, a decade after the poet’s death, when his reputation was becoming clouded by scandal.” Cerys Goes Under Milk Wood

Finally, I want to include this poem that has softly meandered alongside my life for many, many years and help entwine my heart to the realisation of how much I love poetry and how deeply in can touch our lives.

"Being But Men" Dylan Thomas

Being but men, we walked into the trees
Afraid, letting our syllables be soft
For fear of waking the rooks,
For fear of coming
Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.

If we were children we might climb,
Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig,
And, after the soft ascent,
Thrust out our heads above the branches
To wonder at the unfailing stars.

Out of confusion, as the way is,
And the wonder, that man knows,
Out of the chaos would come bliss.

That, then, is loveliness, we said,
Children in wonder watching the stars,
Is the aim and the end.

Being but men, we walked into the trees.

For as long as I can remember I have always felt a deep connection to forests and woods and the wild places neglected by urban sprawl.  Large portions of my childhood were spent investigating the countryside and woods near my home.  I especially liked to cross fields, furtively, like a wild animal watching for the farmer or gamekeepers who, it was widely known amongst my peers, carried shotguns, to visit those clumps of trees you often see, sometimes on the top of little hills, like islands in the otherwise flat, sea of farmland.  Is there a name for that kind of feature?  I know some people call them “nearly home trees”, when returning from a journey in a car, they recognize them as being close to home.

There is an alchemy at work here, the sounds, the odours, the play of light and wind in the leaves and branches, an alchemy that sends tremors of delight through my bones.

“Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood–
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.”

 ~ Pablo Neruda ~

“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world awaits. A world lives within you. No-one else can bring you news of this inner world.  Through our voices, we bring out sounds from the mountain beneath the soul.  These sounds are words.  The world is full of words.  There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on TV, on radio, in the paper, in books.  The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us.  We take each other’s sounds and make patterns, predictions, benedictions and blasphemies.  Each day our tribe of language holds what we call the “world” together.  Yet the uttering of the word reveals how each of us relentlessly creates.  Everyone is an artist.  Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.” So wrote, John O’Donohue in the prologue to his book, Anam Cara, (Soul Friend) a wonderful exploration and meditation of Celtic spirituality, philosophy and mythology.