October 27: DylanThomas was born on this day in 1914 in Swansea, South Wales. The family waspoor, but Thomas was no Welsh pit-boy: he had a poet-Uncle, aschoolteacher-father with a full library, Shakespeare for his bedtime story,and elocution lessons for his local accent. Because he was bronchial,frail-boned, and unenthusiastic about school, he would often stay home withreal or faked illness, or be allowed to run his “heedless ways” onhis Aunt’s tumble-down Fern Hill farm, “green and golden” and truant.
Thomas’s mother recalled that he was always reading orwriting poetry—one, she remembers, about the kitchen sink, another about anonion. Thomas remembered himself as “a bombastic adolescent provincialBohemian with a thick-knotted artist’s tie made out of his sister’s scarf…anda cricket-shirt dyed bottlegreen.” But he did more than dress the part ofthe poet. In a three-year period starting at age sixteen-and-a-half, he wrote allthe poems for his first book of poetry, most for his second book, and earlyversions of many of his later poems. “Three-quarters of his work as apoet,” writes one biographer, “dates in style, concept, and often incomposition from these three years.” The darker view of Thomas’s earlypoetic development is that there was so little later. Some famous poems layahead, but more than a few critics spot a stalled, repetitive tone in manyothers.
The lines below are from “Poem in October,”written in commemoration of Thomas’s thirtieth birthday. In the early stanzashe recalls earlier birthdays spent “in the twice-told fields ofinfancy”—hearing “the birds of the winged trees flying my name /Above the farms and the white horses,” walking with his mother”Through the parables / Of sunlight / And the legends of the greenchapels.” But then the unstable October weather turns, and the child issuddenly thirty-one:
…And there could Imarvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long deadchild sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stoodthere then in the summer noon
Though the town belowlay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
On this high hill in ayear’s turning.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.