Fern Hill – Dylan Thomas

From the Phoenix Poetry 60 paperbacks of 1996 comes this great collection of Dylan Thomas poems featuring most of his most popular works other than ‘Under Milk Wood’ which I have covered in a previous blog back in 2018. There are thirty three poems in the collection including the brilliant ‘Do Not go Gentle into that Good Night’, a refusal to meekly accept death and of course the titular work ‘Fern Hill’ which describes an idyllic childhood, all life is here. What I love about Dylan Thomas is his wonderful sparse descriptive writing epitomised by the first poem in the book ‘Prologue’

This day winding down now
At God speeded summer's end
In the torrent salmon sun,
In my seashaken house
On a breakneck of rocks
Tangled with chirrup and fruit,
Froth, flute, fin, and quill
At a wood's dancing hoof,
By scummed, starfish sands
With their fishwife cross
Gulls, pipers, cockles, and snails,
Out there, crow black, men
Tackled with clouds, who kneel
To the sunset nets,
First 14 lines of Prologue by Dylan Thomas

This small book is an excellent introduction to the works of Thomas who despite being Welsh wrote only in English and the cover illustration is a lovely portrait of him by Augustus John which now hangs in the National Museum of Wales. Despite this being just a short collection it took me several days to read as I kept going back over the poems, savouring the words and pausing over particularly beautiful phrases that caught my imagination. The subject matters are often dark, and death is a frequent topic making him a difficult read at times but well worth persevering with. The powerful verse will pull you in even though I sometimes had to read a poem a few times to fully pick up the rhythm and appreciate it fully before I discovered that as part of his broadcasting career with the BBC a lot of his works are available on youtube being read by him such as this example of Fern Hill.

Sadly Thomas died in 1953 just two weeks after his 39th birthday, primarily from pneumonia although his heavy drinking could not have helped, and with his passing the world was deprived of arguably one of its finest poets who had only just finished his famous play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’. I want to finish with extracts from the poem that first brought me to Dylan Thomas and which shows the raw power of his verse probably more than any other of his works.

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.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

First three and last four lines of Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

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