I read the poem Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas a few times before listening to the following readings:
I found that reading the poem, even reading it aloud to myself it came across differently when read by different people. Dylan Thomas’s reading of the poem has a lilting melodious quality. At moments during the reading it sounds more like it’s being sung, it reminded me of the sound of chanting or spoken liturgy in catholic churches. However listening to the reading by Richard Burton the poem feels more sombre and dramatic, it takes on a mournful quality.I actually prefer hearing the poem read aloud to reading it and trying to grasp it in my mind.
Notes on the poem:
I think the poem is quite wistful, it captures a sense of longing for care-free days, capturing the beauty of rural life and the experience of youth. I think it takes the reader along a journey from the delight of the freedom and carelessness of youth to the sadness of the affect of time or ageing.
The poem is rich with poetic devices, Dylan uses personification so frequently in relation to ‘time’ that it becomes a character within the poem; “time let me hail and climb. Golden in the heyday of his eyes…Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means”. Time becomes this altering force that impedes upon Dylan’s freedom; “Time held me green and dying. Though I sang in my chains like the sea”. The use of frequent assonance and alliteration lends the poem a song like quality, you feel the rise and fall of words like the rising and falling of notes in a tune; “house high hay….simple stars…wander white with…windfall light”.
The use of repetition particularly of the words green and golden add to the theme of time and place. Green being a symbol of youth and fresh life, and golden being a symbol of favour or good times and also the sun, a way that we measure the passing of time; “happy as the grass was green…Golden in the heyday of his eyes….Golden in the mercy of his means…fire green as grass…children green and golden…”. In the final lines that imagery is used as a juxtaposition, “Time held me green and dying”, no longer green and golden, green sat next to the word dying takes on other connotations, I think of mould or decay, and reinforces that idea of the passing of time or ageing.
The poem explores place guiding the reader on a journey through rural life, we ride along with the poet as he “rode to sleep the owls…bearing the night away”. We have this picture of rural life “apple boughs…green grace…the farm was home…”, rural practices/farming, “I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves sang to my horn….the hay fields high as the house”. The inclusion of animals associated with the countryside completes this picture of idyllic rural life; “the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold…the owls were bearing the night away…blessed among the stables the nightjars…lamb white days”.
There is also some religious imagery which seems oddly placed, “And the Sabbath rang slowly, In the pebbles of the holy streams…fields of praise”. But most oddly I find some imagery relating to birth or pregnancy, “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…”. I wonder if the imagery of birth or pregnancy is to enhance the idea of youth, and also to remind us of the inevitability of death.
The ‘speaker’ of the poem seems important, the poem is based around the speakers experience and feelings it seems at the passing of time and of his youth. His views are generally clear and if not plain they are inferred heavily through the use of the poetic devices already mentioned.