Remembering their poet Dylan Thomas
THUNDER BAY – LIVING – There’s really something, as our seasons come and go, about a classic piece of writing that regenerates one’s spirit in the re-reading of it. Works like Charles Dickens’ Christmas Story. Or, William Butler Yeats’ immortal Easter ballad of 1916. And, in this case: Poem In October composed by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas saluting a panoramic view of his landscape, and, seascape on his birthday in Autumn. The piece begins: ”It was my thirtieth year to heaven… Woke to my harbour…and neighbour wood… The morning beckoning, With the call of seagull and rook, And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall Myself to set foot In the still sleeping town, and, set forth.”
For the Welsh come from a vast, and, lengthy tradition as singers and poets. Going back to the legendary history of Welsh warriors battling as far away from their home frontier as Scotland. Recorded centuries ago by the poet Anerin in his epic poem, sometimes sung in college poetry classes, called the Gododdin.
Thomas will forever be aligned with the printed, poetic word in the way others from Wales became international hits on the stage of their calling. Examples being the Welsh Pop-singer Tom Jones and the likes of actor Richard Burton in his Award Winning roles on the Silver Screen of Hollywood with Elizabeth Taylor. Besides Welsh golfers at the historic British Open Ian (Woosie) Woosnan and this year’s Ryder Cup’s incredible winning shot maker Jamie Donaldson. Besides, Wales claim to the best soccer player in the United Kingdom, since David Beckam, Garth Bale. Bale as a striker became the youngest ever to play for the Welsh National Soccer Team at age 16. He is presently acquiring thousands of new fans playing in Spain for Real-Madrid.
As a student, in Europe, I travelled through Wales wondering about the landscapes that inspired Thomas. Discovering the rolling, dramatic and tumbling green valleys with postcard coastlines Thomas wrote about in poems like Fern Hill. As well an English professor whose classes I took was one who admired the sound of poetry being read aloud. Then actually had a chance to hear a live Dylan Thomas poetry reading in the 1950’s. Because Thomas had such a resonating Welsh choir voice when giving a reading on BBC Radio or in his soldout University campus tours in America.
Reading not only his own poems but those of W. H. Auden, Thomas Hardy, Louis MacNeice, W. R. Rodgers and so many others Thomas and, his editor, Vernon Watkins collected into poetry anthologies. The American troubadour of the 1960’s Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, took Dylan’s first name for his recording label’s last name. And that’s how everyone knows Bob Dylan in our time. Looking again at Poem in October it has a universal touch one might apply in reading it by our Canadian Atlantic or Pacific coasts or the lovely settings one finds in Wales like places called Cardiff or Swansea (where Dylan was born). “High tide and the heron dived when I took the road Over the border And the gates of the town Closed as the town awoke…
And the roadside bushes brimming with Blackbirds and the sun of October… Summery… On the shoulder of a hill.
Then… A pale rain came over a dwindling harbour All over the sea…and A (distant) church the size of a small snail… Its horns through the mist… Though all the gardens of summer Were still blooming Where I might marvel my birthday away…
Thomas then repeats a chorus line before ending Poem in October, this way: It was my thirtieth year to heaven… The town below lay leaved in October… Oh, may my heart’s truth Still be sung… On this high hill… In another year’s turning!” In the aftermath, it was revealing hearing the acclaimed International music composer Igor Stravinsky (author of the famous Rite of Spring Symphony) was eager to commission Thomas in penning a libretto for an opera to come. However things, in life, often seem to sift by too quickly. Thomas passed away at the very tragic age of 39.
Stravinsky, then, composed a Memoriam with violins and cello honouring both Thomas reading voice and Thomas gift with words on a poetic page. I listened to Stravinsky’s tribute the other day while driving our inner harbour on Lake Superior. It was, as always, illuminating and elevating in its performance. Particularly at this time of year as this upcoming week prepare us for the introduction to November and a snowy blanket to eventually settle on Nature’s grand stage preparing us for another winter.