Dylan Thomas’ “Poem in October”

Dylan Thomas, the prophet of neo-romanticism infused the poetry of the times with intrepid Biblical and Freudian imagery. His poems are said to be a cerebral reproduction of sensory experiences. He consistently indulged in “a remaking “of the language and synaesthesia. He often uses expressions like “light of sound”,” sound of light”,” a grief ago”,” once above a time” to put across his ideas with renewed vigor and force. Owing to this tendency of his, he has come in for much criticism. David Helbrook has pointed out that Dylan Thomas invented a babble language which concealed the nature of reality from himself and the readers. He was essentially a Surrealist. Surrealist poetry was basically a revolt against the political and social pre-occupation of the 1930s represented by Auden and the others. “Surrealist poetry has been described a perpetual flow of irrational thoughts in the form of images.”(Gascoyne)Dylan Thomas did not verge on the extremes of Surrealism, but was restrained in his use of the same. He says: He allows an image to be made emotionally in him and then brings to bear upon it his intellectual and critical faculties. He was inspired by the linguistic virtuosity of Hopkins and the technical experimentation of Eliot.

Dylan Thomas subject of poetry essentially dealt with the love of man, and the praise of the Almighty. “Poem in October” is a poem about the poetic art, and therefore takes itself as an example. The poet goes on a morning walk, has a vision of the true joy of his youth and envisages that youth being recycled into poetry. As he leaves Laugharne, he begins by asserting that: it was his thirtieth year to heaven. Heaven here may signify God. As he commemorates his birthday, he also salutes God for the very fact of his existence. The verses have an incantory tone with the waves assuming the shape of prayer; and the mussels and the heron functioning as priests of the ceremony blessing the parishners on the holy shore. Heron functions as a symbol of holiness of thought in his poems The poet therefore sacramentalizes nature. Also ‘Dylan’ means high tide. The morning seems to beckon him as he was being rechristened on his birthday.

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He asserts that his birthday began with the water. Birthday not only means the anniversary of one’s birth but also the day on which one is born. A newborn baby is first introduced to a wash with water and is also prone to tears. So, the verse has double implications when he says that his birthday began with the water. The trees are called “winged trees” as they are filled with birds. The birds seem to be parading his name He says that he rises above “the farms” and “white horses”. He implies that at the moment he was above earthly existence and above dreams in an altogether different other world .This world had the lovely confusion of seasons signified by “rainy autumn. The rain comes down in the form of childhood memories. The rain fills his barren life with poetic fertility. He “walks abroad” or transcends this other world to relive his past youth. He takes this path over “the border” and “the gates”. He wants to traverse all man-made customs and boundaries, and transcend into his past through his time-machine of poetry. He describes the town as “town closed” as it not open to new conventions and ideas. He exhibits a schizoid personality in the fact that when he mentions that he is near to ‘heaven” while celebrating his birthday, there is also an indication of death.

The flying activity of the larks reveal the cloud as rolling over. The roadside bushes seem to be whistling as it is crowded with blackbirds. The sun of October appears “summery’. The confusion of seasons impart universality to the situation. In a beautiful image, he picturises the sun as sitting on the shoulder of the hill. Amidst, “fond climates” and “sweet singers”, he finds the wind wringing the rain dry.

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The “pale” rain dwindles over the harbour. It may be termed ‘pale’ owing to its transparency; and also due to its wringing by the wind in the previous stanza. The wet church is the “size of a snail”. The image of the snail is utilized here to show that the church is wet and sticky. And also to mirror the fact that the church as an institution has become stagnant following mechanical prayers and formal proceedings. The church like the snail, projects its horns through the mist. The walls of the castles were brown as owls. The gardens that have seen all seasons seem to be competing with tall towers “But the weather turned around”. His thoughts started coming back to the painful actualities of the present. It seals the present with a sense of poignant nostalgia.

As ‘it’ shifted from the country and the apples, pears and currants, the poet perceived the forgotten mornings of a child when he walked with his mother. “Green chapels” reflect memories that were fresh and chapels covered with moss. They symbolize his glorious visions of childhood. The reference to parables of sunlight pertain to the Christianity of his upbringing. Just as parables teach, the sunlight taught him about God’s glory and goodness. The poem acquires pantheistic overtones here.

Once upon a time, as a boy he remembered and appreciated them, as a grown up man he remembers them ‘twice-told’. As he recalls his childhood, sorrows are recalled and the heart of the boy is recaptured. As he mentions that” his tears burnt my cheeks”, the boy and the man become one; the past and the present are bridged, and Swansea and Laugharne are united. The phrase “summer-time of the dead” refers to the past of the poet when he was a boy- the fact that his childhood is dead. The boy whispered his tales to the ‘trees’,’ stones’ and ‘fish’- the vegetative world, inanimate world and the animate world. The ‘mystery sang alive’, the inexplicable experience came alive beyond the stillness of the water and the kinetic energy of the singing birds.

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As he celebrates his thirtieth birthday, he also regrets the loss of his childhood. The burning sun’s stinging memories reverse him to the reality that -life cannot be reversed. The weather turns around yet again bringing him face to face with truths of life. As he celebrates his thirtieth birthday, in the “summer noon” of his childhood, the town lay ahead of him laid with October leaves bearing the colour of blood. He wants to celebrate his birthday writing poems. He implores to God that he may write poems as fine as this on this heavenly(St.Joan’s) hill.”Hill in a year’s turning” is used as a phrase for the transformation of time. He contemplates in hindsight the ecstasies of childhood, and aspires that the subsequent birthday will find him equally blessed with poetic articulation. Therefore “Poem in October” comes to terms “with the possibility of regret through prayer.”