Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dylan Thomas for St. David’s Day

Actually, this poem has nothing whatsoever to do with St. David’s Day other than the fact that I am writing about it today. So whilst the nation is busy sporting daffodils, anthem singing, dressing up in national costume of dodgy provenance and being rightly proud of itself (Wales 27, France 6, just to remind you), I am sitting in rainy Paris, reading.

The force that through the green fuse (pg. 13) deals with the big issues life, love and death which haunt most of Dylan’s poetry. The force, and yes, you can think Star Wars here if it helps, seems to be the notion of universal energy. It is both life giving and life taking as the poem is packed with these opposites from the natural and human world, every stanza has this.

The poem starts with a repetition of the title in the opening line. It’s striking these days how archaic this structure seems to be. It’s unnecessarily repetitive and something most current poets try to avoid. That said, what of this mysterious ‘green fuse’? Young spark I think we might say more clunkily, but it’s arresting and functions to call the readers’ attention from the start – you are going to have to read this one carefully.

As well as the pattern of opposites, the poem focuses on the poet being silenced – the word ‘dumb’ is used in each stanza, but, of course, this is an irony as the poem is anything but silent on its topic. Perhaps it is better to think of this less as silence and more as an inability to articulate fully.

Key words, because they are repeated, are water, blood, love, hang, force, crooked and wind; the basic elements of life and death, if you will. This writing is again in contrast to contemporary practice where we tend to eschew non-patterned word repetition, but we are forgiving readers and can luxuriate otherwise in the imagery.

The antecedent poem that this brings to mind, and which Dylan acknowledged, is Blake’s Sick Rose, with its invisible worm, both of which Dylan makes crooked here:

O rose, thou art sick:
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy.
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

I once went to a lecture by Germane Greer, who talked for over an hour about these eight lines of Blake’s, so Good Luck trying to explain that in one short blog post. Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus.


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