A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A Dog Among The Fairies

During my week in Wales my thoughts naturally turned to the 2 great Welsh poets R. S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas. As readers of this blog will know, R. S. is one of my favourite poets, and I've written about him and quoted some of his poetry on several occasions. But I don't think I've mentioned Dylan yet.

I have a special affinity with Dylan. In a previous existence I used to sell his books all over the Midlands and Wales, calling on bookshops, wholesalers and even on a small grocery store in Laugharne (Pembrokeshire) where he lived for a large part of his life and is buried. You could find there rare, out-of-print volumes on Dylan lurking among the turnips and tins of baked beans. And Japanese Professors of Literature popping up among the packets of instant potato. The characters in Dylan's captivating work Under Milk Wood, originally a play for radio, were not-so-loosely based on the villagers of Laugharne - which pleased them not a bit. Laugharne became Llareggub in the play. (Try reading this backwards!)

However, this play (and his wonderful short stories) aside, I've always been a little divided about his poetry. Sure, there are some matchless poems (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and Fern Hill are masterpieces) - but there are many others which I like in parts but which, taken as a whole, are just too verbally dazzling, too flamboyant, just too - over the top. Dylan has certainly had his critics, notoriously Kingsley Amis who criticized his poems for being all sound and no meaning. Amis has a point - but only up to a point. And I don't want to defend Amis particularly, for his opinions became more and more reactionary and curmudgeonly as he grew older. It's just that I do like a bit of meaning, philosophy, content in my poetry - rather than it being pure sound and fury. Meaningful content seamlessly wrapped in metaphoric form would be the ideal.

Anyway, since the posts of some of my blogfrères and blogsoeurs have been somewhat owl-haunted lately, here are 2 Dylan quotes continuing the same theme:

To Wales in my arms.
Hoo, there, in castle keep,
You king singsong owls, who moonbeam
The flickering runs and dive
The dingle furred deer dead!
Huloo, on plumbed bryns,
O my ruffled ring dove
In the hooting, nearly dark
With Welsh and reverent rook,
Coo rooing the woods' praise,
Who moons her blue notes from her nest
Down to the curlew herd!

From the Author's Prologue to Collected Poems 1934-1952.

Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies;
Abaddon in the hangnail cracked from Adam,
And, from his fork, a dog among the fairies,
The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
Bit out the mandrake with to-morrow's scream.
Then, penny-eyed, that gentleman of wounds,
Old cock from nowheres and the heaven's egg,
With bones unbuttoned to the half-way winds,
Hatched from the windy salvage on one leg,
Scraped at my cradle in a walking word
That night of time under the Christward shelter:
I am the long world's gentleman, he said,
And share my bed with Capricorn and Cancer.

The 1st stanza of Altarwise by Owl-light.

Sounds absolutely gorgeous. But for me the alliteration and all such tricks sometimes just get a bit too much at times.

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