The Poems of Dylan Thomas, Dylan Thomas
New Directions, 1971 (poems from 1934-1952)
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 town
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
-from “Fern Hill”
It’s not easy being fifteen. Or even twenty for that matter. Afterwards, well … too depressing to even mention, too creepy to even talk about. But fifteen. Forever fifteen. Back then it all began in class, on some hot autumn day. Crisp books that snapped and smelled of fresh white paper. The broken lead pieces from a pencil. The smudged erasers. The rulers and shiny folders. Cloth binders and ruled paper. Creases in new pants that left purple marks on your skin. There were blank pages and filled pages. Stiff wooden desks that held secret things deep inside. And someone stood gray and musty there at the head of the class, someone different, someone who was so odd and out of place, talked in pauses and asked strange questions. It might have been October. Might have been April, when suddenly, as a young man, you found the courage to speak out and ask what you thought then was a simple question, “What does this author mean by ‘looking through the cut glass all the world was broken’?” There was a long silence. The response that came back was cool and metered, thick like the green patches surrounding the school buildings outside, “Now you are beginning to understand.” And then she read on.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
-from “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”
At fifteen you thought you were old and dying even before you even started living. You had a part-time job as a busboy in a casino restaurant, took the bus to school on clear, desert mornings. Ran cross-country in the sagebrush hills above your school. Instead of dreaming about cars and girls and football you read cryptic German literature in the high school library. Listened to ’60s records your father repossessed from one of his check-bouncing renters. You bought a guitar (Spanish one by mistake) and wrote bad war protest songs at home after school. But somehow something was different. You were different. You felt out of place. Didn’t know what it was but you didn’t fit in. You were a stranger. An outsider. You felt old and dead long before you really knew what dead meant. You were alone. And you were searching.
Children of darkness got no wings,
This we know, we got no wings,
Stay, in a circle chalked upon the floor,
Waiting all vainly this we know.
-from “Children of Darkness Got No Wings”
You stained sweet-smelling cedar in woodshop class. Grinded greasy valves in autoshop. You had to really, really concentrate in Algebra II and Advanced German. Your fingers danced wildly across electric keys in a Typing I. But your true passion, your real heart, was nowhere else but in the long afternoon hours of your English class. Shakespeare and short stories. Poetry and verse that flowed through thick anthologies like cool, rippling water. You loved it all. The hard grammar. The punctuation. Sentences that threaded together with colons and semi-colons, periods and commas. It was a mad sea, and you lapped it all up. It lapped you up. Kissed you. It swelled around you and made you forget you lived in a shit town in a shit state at the edge of a very shit world that would only one day leave you alone on a path so long and winding that you might suddenly forget how you got on it in the first place. Then one spring afternoon you were given a short poem by Dylan Thomas. A simple poem but rich like summer sap. It was only then that you became truly aware. Truly knew. Why hadn’t anyone ever told you before? Time was dying like an ill and fragile animal trembling in the dark. You were dying. We were all dying. And if you didn’t change your course now, immediately, didn’t escape. Didn’t seize it all by the throat suddenly. Do something this very minute. It would all go away. Disappear. Forever gone. Like some glorious singing bones, white and glowing as the tide sucks them back into the sea.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever
-from “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower”
After that—is there ever really an after that? After that, well … you took the essence of it with you wherever you would go. Took it with you wherever the path would lead. It was hard and thick like an autumn kernel, a shining diamond seed held preciously inside your self. Sometimes you would take it out and show your friends. Your loved ones. You would write about it time and time again. Always writing about it. Wrote about nothing else. Is there really anything else? It would bend and sway in the swift March winds. Rustle in the late breezes of June. It would twist and gnarl and show it’s fleshy scars to a star-fused night. The juice and sweet would break in tears from its bark. A brittle leaf snaps gently and falls. You are not sad. You are not afraid. You are not alone. The shine, the glowing protects you. It leads you onward deep into the dark. It’s a hot and fiery jewel, a thing to be sung forever.
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.
-from “Fern Hill”