Monday, April 12, 2010

Annotation 6: Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas
Selected Poems : 1934-1952
New Directions Publishing

There is a famous quote from a Blaxploitation film. Something to the effect of "Some cats just aint right". Dylan Thomas is definitely one of 'those cats'.

A little background, for the uninitiated. Dylan Thomas is a Roman Catholic Irish poet from the mid 20th century. He therefore fits rather squarely into the height of the Modern Poetry age, and school. Like Robert Frost, Thomas did not see a point to free verse. While his poetry does not possess a hard rhyme scheme (example: the first line ends with bee, the second with tree), he does impose a strict rhythm and meter to his poems. He also is fixated on three major topics: 1) Love of people, 2) Love of God, 3) Love of Life. The 'aint right' part comes in his expression of these particular loves. Worry not, I will provide quotes to prove my contentions.

Love of People

Dylan Thomas has a strange way of showing his affection for people, and yes, I do mean ALL people male and female. As he writes in the poem If I Were Tickled By The Rub of Love (p. 12):

'Shall it be male or female? say the fingers
that chalk the walls with green girls and their men.
I would not fear the muscling in of love
if I were tickled by the urchin fingers
Rehearsing heat upon the raw edged nerves.'

The 'I would not fear' line is indicative of a lot of Thomas' poetry. This 'do not fear' motif is a regular thing with the Irishman. It's as if he's done fearing stuff, and he's going to neurotically demand that every body should follow his example. A noble impulse until you get to the "urchin fingers" reference. Urchin can refer to a shellfish, but oftentimes it indicates young children. My mind does not wish to explore the thought that is currently taking residence in one's imagination. However, Thomas has this tendency to write such contentious words and metaphors. I think on a certain level he wants to start a fight, or violate someone. As shall be seen with-


Whoo boy. This is the big one. Thomas was a devout Roman Catholic, true. But he was also this dude ready to spar with anyone and resist the urge to fear or submit himself. There are many confrontational and potentially odious pieces of verse I could quote here, but I decided to go with the least problematic, the debate with God titled Do You Not Father Me? (p. 51):

'Do you not father me on the destroying sand?
You are your sister's sire, said seaweedy,
The salt-sucked dam and darlings of the land
Who play the proper gentleman and lady.
Shall I still be love's house on the widdershin earth,
Woe to the windy masons at my shelter?
Love's house, they answer, and the tower death
Lie all unknowing of the grave sin-eater.'

To be fair, I'm not entirely certain all the imagery he uses here, but it seems to me that he has a tendency to view his lord in a strange light. This seems to parallel conversations prophets have with the creator in the old testament. Where people rail at God until they get the matter explained or handled (more often than not, explained and not in a satisfactory manner). Here however, this seems to be a debate with God about whether or not the lord will serve as love's house, despite an incident of incest (you are your sister's sire). It makes you wonder two things: a) what biblical story he's referencing, and b) why would one want to discuss such things with God? Did Dylan Thomas know from incest? Did he fear the unknowing brought about by this grave sin-eater? I'm afraid the religious part leaves way more questions than answers.

This brings us to:


In many poems, Dylan Thomas is aware that sleep is 1/60th of death. To sleep = die. He's painfully aware of that, and brings it up time and again. You become aware that Dylan does not wish to die. That he might very well attempt to lie in wait for the Grim Reaper and beat the entity senseless. Were Gaiman's Endless analogy accurate, he would probably not care to meet death even if she is a cute goth chick with an Ankh around her neck. To prove this inverse display of love for life I quote my favorite of his poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (p. 122):

'Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Bind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

While he seems to be fighting against sleep, this is in point of fact a declaration of war against Death. Dylan does not want anyone to die. He wants them to fight until they collapse of the effort and live on forever. On this point I tend to disagree with Mr. Thomas. While life is great, and I would not mind getting a full measure of life out of it. There's something to be said for death. Death is an endpoint, yes, but it's not the end. While we are not given to know what happens in the next round of existence, I think it's only part of the greater adventure that is your life to find out. Sure, one loves life, but if my dad's death of an industrial mishap taught me anything back in 2002, it's that life is not meant to last forever. At least not life as we know it, in this fleshy body that we wear for however many years.

Ultimately, I thought he's a pretty good poet. But as indicated, there are some interesting issues going on in that man's head. Poetry is the expression of your emotions, your thoughts, your beliefs. By creating a world of strong emotional reactions, you get the real sense that something was not entirely 'on' about Dylan Thomas. To sum up, 'that cat aint right'.

Still, if someone wanted to read modern poetry, I would recommend him.

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