Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 4

Book: Dylan Thomas. (1977) Collected Poems 1934-1952. London: Everyman's Library. JM Dent & Sons.

Bought in Paton Books (an independent bookseller now, unfortunately, no longer in business) in the late 1970s.

Details:
  • Cherry red and inviting
  • Smooth, cartridge-paper thick pages
  • Its smell has almost disappeared, but there remains the faint memory of stationery office and ink
  • Part of a uniform collection carrying a picture of a Churchillian Thomas, pen in hand, smoking what I take to be a cigar, and touting Thomas' spidery signature in black ink.
  • Beautifully weighted so that it fills the hand and feels satisfyingly heavy
  • The volume is "An Everyman Paperback" with a picture of a pilgrim leaning on a staff and the words, "EVERYMAN, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side." Which lends it the feel of portability (I sometimes took it on walks, snug in my pocket).

Stopping off on my way home from work - bicycle teetering against the large plate glass window - I re-found Dylan Thomas in Paton Books on the precipitous Holywell Hill. The poetry section was in the corner. It was a dark, liminal space where I could crouch and hold in my hands such wonderful new worlds. 


Ever since sitting down with my family, as a lad, to listen to Under Milk Wood on the radio I had been mesmerised by Dylan Thomas' use of words. .... ah those words! 


"To begin at the beginning: 
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black..." 

To be honest, I understood very little of it. I knew that it was funny because Mum and Dad laughed, but was not sure why (not that it mattered, I liked it when Dad laughed; it was a good, round sort of laugh with no sharp edges to it).

I loved Adventures in the Skin Trade and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, but it was Thomas' poems that lured and yet taunted me in equal measure. Their words drew me in and set my heart beating even though their sense evaded me (and often still does).

"Altarwise by owl-light in the half way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies..."

I had no idea what it meant and yet it filled me too with fury and I too walked among ancient altars in primaeval nightfall.


I read (and still read) poetry atrociously. I am a poet's nightmare. There are times when I've read poems completely back to front. I quite often start in the middle if my eye catches a word or a line. My eyes seem incapable of linear movement, sliding over words, lines, whole verses, even pages and then they will be captivated by a line, phrase, or word. I will read it over over and over and over again, letting the image and sounds roll around my mouth and mind. Too often I find myself staring into the sky (or at the ceiling) having read just a few lines...


As I grew into adulthood, Thomas' words rang in my head. I never tried to learn them, they just seemed to migrate organically into my being. However, I knew one thing, I wanted to stand tall and let the words that roared in the belly of my soul loose upon the world. I ached to find a voice for my spirit that so ill-fitted my adolescent body. His writing somehow emboldened me. The world was so large and so frightening, but reading Thomas' poetry filled my heart with fire and I felt that I could throw myself into the howling waves of life and live. Here were words to woo angels and shame devils.

Reciting poetry while I walked was an obsession for me. I walked and walked as if driven by demons. I remember one snowy day, taking the dog for walk. The cruel wind flayed the small copses scattered across the fields. We walked and walked and walked until my legs turned to lead. I can remember turning my face to the heavens and hurling at the top of my voice Thomas' bold, audacious words up to a sky as white and as hard as the flints that splintered the chalky fields upon which I strode. Lament, I particularly loved.

"When I was a windy boy and a bit
And the black spit of the chapel fold
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,"

Of course I couldn't understand it, for I WAS still that 'windy boy and a bit' and for whom I had yet to grieve. And my blood churned with hormones as I stood on the brink of my own gooseberry woods that made me ache so much and filled me with such sweet and desperate sadness. Strange fire was kindled upon my altar and cast a dangerous and unholy glow upon my world, but it would be many years before I felt its flame touch my body. Understanding would come later as would the grieving - but, perhaps, not quite for the same things that Thomas grieved.

The skies remained silent as the snow continued to fall and down in the dell was the sound of a pigeon weeping.


Over the years I have fallen in and out of love with Dylan Thomas many times - but his use of words always remain to captivate me. Even though I now recoil from the sentiments expressed in some of his poems, I am entranced by his passion and playfulness and the roar of his heart.


20 comments:

  1. How nice to get a glimpse into your literary wanderings~ If my books were not packed away (still awaiting our move that was supposed to happen a few months ago) I would share some of mine.
    And your post serves to remind me, that I need to get back to writing. (Perhaps after my research papers are finished!?)

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    1. Just think about how wonderful and exciting it is going to be when you get to unpack them all; being reunited with all those old friends. I'm pretty much banished from packing and unpacking books as it takes only a moments weakness to flick open one and I'm lost for a good couple of hours! :)
      Please do share some - I love rootling through other people's book cases and YES!!!!! You MUST get back to writing!!! :)))

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    2. Thank you for the little push I needed. I am going to do that over the holiday break. I agree, I am the same way. I have purchased so many books with the intention of reading them, that there are several I have yet to get to. I am going to dig them out and photograph them!! I think it is great idea. I finally have the time to get back to my writing too and will work on posting that as well.

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  2. I can relate so much to what you've written here...I have collections of my favorite poems, but to anyone but me there would seem to be no rhyme or reason as to why I picked them - from Updike to Walker to Dickinson to, yes, Thomas!

    As for reading poetry atrociously, I don't think that's possible! Poetry is written in so many different forms - why can't it be read in different ways, as well?

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    1. It is funny what sticks and when. This summer I came across a poetry book that I have had for years and years and years. I'd never really got into it, but it was a slim volume so I kept it. I ideally flicked through it - it was brilliant!!
      Haha! You are, of course, absolutely right about reading poetry. Perhaps I should have said 'not the way I was taught to at school'!! :))

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  3. I loved reading this, because Thomas' words often come into my mind, too. (Lines from the wonderful Fern Hill, especially) I used to live in Swansea and often thought about his poetry and inspiration. A truly remarkable talent.
    Although I have a Kindle now, I never think about putting poetry on it. I think I will always have to read poetry from a book.

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    1. Ah, Fern Hill is one of those that has become part of me too - "Now when I was young and easy under the apple boughs about the lilting house and as happy as the grass was green".
      Yes, I don't have a Kindle, but I understand completely. There is something organically whole about the words, their setting and the physicality of the book form.

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  4. What a wonderful piece. Loved your description of your father's "round laugh". Dyxlan Thomas would have liked that I think. He did not go "gentle into that dark night." A challenge to me not to seek only to stretch out the years.

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    1. Thank you Stephen.
      'Do not go gentle into that dark night' is one of those poems that I regularly struggle over. However, I like your reading of it, in the sense of not drifting into a bland decline.

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  5. It isn't my intention to drink myself to death! There are other ways to live life with passion.

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    1. Hahaha! The thought never crossed my mind, Stephen!!
      Actually there was an interesting Arena programme on Dylan Thomas a few years back exposing the myth of his death (now there's a loaded phrase we're both familiar with!). It was traced back to pulp-biography written by someone who wanted Thomas to be the archetype anti-authoritarian beat poet. He seems to have been killed by an ill-advised injection from a quack doctor. The programme also suggested how Thomas (particularly in America) cultivated this image of a boozy, womanising poet. Although he did seem to be fairly free with his affections, it was very different from the man at home. He liked his drink, but none of his friends really saw much evidence of excess. The BBC also saw him as as an extremely conscientious and professional writers/broadcasters.
      A man as enigmatic as some of his writings.

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  6. This post induced a lot of lovely nostalgic thought to mind. When I was young . I wandered around in nature often, book in hand , dog at my side waiting for the right spot to entice me to sit and be lost between the book and peeking over the pages, from time to time , at the beauty surrounding me. I could walk miles in the woods before a certain spot called out . It was always an exciting adventure the walk, the book , finding the spot that beckoned .

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    1. What a wonderful picture and I can relate to so much of it - there is something special about reading outside. There are some books - or at least passages from them - that are indelibly linked in my mind with certain places. Even now, I can feel the rough bark of a tree trunk on my back, the warmth of a summer sun playing through a canopy of leaves and the sound of bees when I think of Richard Jefferies description of a walk.

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  7. All posts are a sweet wave of light and hope. I think the website is a flame of love.

    Warm greetings from my family.
    Yannis Politopoulos

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    1. Thank you so much for dropping by, Yannis. Warmest of greetings to you and your family too.
      Richard

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  8. Your words are so descriptive and beautiful. Loved this post and can't wait to read more.

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    1. Thank you Mandy and thank you so much for dropping in!

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  9. I agree with Remembering Grace - poetry is so beautifully subjective that I don't think there's a right or wrong way to read it :)

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    1. I am sure you are right. However, I do get a twinge of guilt when I read of poets agonizing for weeks over single lines and writing and re-writing... only for the likes of me to read it as though it were haphazard lines thrown onto a chalkboard! :)

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  10. You have a splendid style of writing that entices me more towards your blog posts.

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For your voice is important... and words that are shared grow wings.