The year 2014 marks the centenary of the birth of the Welsh poet s in 1914 in Swansea. Dylan Thomas is one of the few names from my English A-Level which not only rings a bell but also reminds me of the modest power that language can sometimes wield.
Wrapped up in all the drama you might expect of a seventeen year old, and slightly jaded by my course on the delights of pastoral literature, I expected little from Fern Hill and Poem in October. But Fern Hill seemed to invoke an imagined paradise of childhood, green and carefree, which avoided all the clichés of the pastoral that I was beginning to dislike.
But Dylan Thomas is not all about frolicking in the daisies. He also has a dark side which appealed to my angsty, pensive teenage self. The lines: “time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea” spring to mind. I remember the moment when I decided that actually, I quite liked what this Dylan Thomas had to say. I liked the way he put things across, and that still resonates with me as I re-visit his poetry.
Poem in October becomes even more poignant this year. Thomas’s meditation on the passing of time
marks his own birthday: “it was my thirtieth year to heaven”. On reading these lines now, and as the academic year also rolls to an end, it offers a particularly dramatic and beautiful representation of transience: “And the true joy of the long dead child sang burning/In the sun./It was my thirtieth/Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon/Though the town below lay leaved with October blood”.
A Poet in New York is a brand new one-off drama starring Tom Hollander and is based on the life and later years of Dylan Thomas. It will be broadcast on 30th April 2014 at 9pm on BBC Two. Don’t miss it!