Friday, December 14, 2018

The Living Dead

Fern Hill

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,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

– Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

This is my final Friday feature for 2018. After Sunday your staff at Poets United go on holiday for a little while. (More about that in the Poetry Pantry on Sunday.) For many people, the up-coming religious festivals include gift-giving. And in the Wisdom Circle, a 'real-life' discussion group I attend, we've just been looking at the healing power of beauty. So I thought I'd like to give you all the gift of beauty via one of my very favourite poems – Dylan Thomas at his best and most beautiful. 

He attained that peak in a number of his writings, actually, not just this one piece. I also picked this poem because of the reminiscences of a childhood which was truly innocent, and because the last few lines of the fourth verse always suggest Christmas to me – though that is not stated, and I think was almost certainly not the poet's intention. 
It is well-known that he was a heavy drinker who died quite young after a turbulent life, from illness exacerbated by the effects of alcohol. You can check the details in his Wikipedia entry. While not meaning to gloss over that sad fact, I'd like to focus right now on his brilliant talent. He left us not only a number of wonderful poems but also the radio play Under Milkwood which many consider his masterpiece. He was Welsh of course, and the play is a loving and very entertaining recreation of Welsh village life. 

You can get a free download of Richard Burton (another Welshman)'s acclaimed reading of the play as an Audiobook here.  Or you can listen to it here, on YouTube. It's long, but marvellous.

You can read Thomas's poems at PoemHunter and you can find his books of poetry, short stories and the play on Amazon, along with a volume of his love letters.

I featured another of his poems, my all-time favourite, in 'I Wish I'd Written This' back in September 2012.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is
presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images
remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may
be out of copyright). This photo by Gabriel Hackett of Dylan Thomas at Gotham Book Mart New York City in 1952 is used according to Fair Use. 


  1. Oh, WOW! This is a shining beauty of a poem! Each line rolled through me like a trip back to childhood innocence, how the world shone then, as it shines in this beautiful poem. Sigh. Thank you for this gift of beauty, Rosemary, and for another year of wonderful Friday features. Have a wonderful Christmas break.

  2. This poem is a gift indeed. I really like the nostalgic way he wrote about his childhood. Made me want to ooh and aah just a little bit. Sometimes it is good to read such classical poets. So sad that he died so young.

    1. Sad indeed – but his legacy of wonderful words lives on.

  3. Thank you so much for this, Rosemary! I have been a huge fan of Dylan Thomas since my school days and love his prose as much as his poetry. One of my favourite short stories is 'A Child's Christmas in Wales'.

    1. I've loved him since my own school days, too – since a family friend who was 50 years older than me, almost to the day, gave me a copy of 'Death and Entrances' when I turned 13. I bless her to this day whenever I open it. (A hardback, it has lasted well.)

  4. Beautiful! This piece simply bursts with a cornucopia of images taken from nature and pinned against the easy, carefree time of being young … the repetition of the word green, throughout, evocating those wonderful early days. Children seem to be so much closer - and more in tune with nature, than adults - and the saddest of that loss, as we age, suffuses through this piece. Lovely choice, to end the year on, Rosemary.

    1. Yes, this is certainly a case in point for the power of repetition, which you were so recently discussing with Sherry. He's a poet one could learn a lot from, I think.


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