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This is a collection of short pieces from a radio show Dylan Thomas was doing now and again, and short pieces for several magazines. In the main they are not terribly serious, and perhaps were not really of a publishable sort. However, now and again there is a more serious piece and now and again there are a few challenging or interesting comments. However, in the main this is not a very rewarding or exciting collection.
This enchanting stream of consciousness has, as he tells us, “. . . has no order and no end.” In machine-gun fashion memory after memory paints the picture of growing up in Wales on the edge of the sea.
He writes of Wales during World War I and shortly after. Yet the stories remind me greatly of growing up in Dogtown (a neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri) in early World War II.
As did Thomas, we roamed free and unsupervised, other than for the nosy elderly women who might be watching out the window of their homes and might well call my Mom. In our case we kids often roamed in the 1500 acres of Forest Park, with our huge free zoo, which was only four blocks away. There was not only no supervision, but very little danger, yet adventures galore, discoveries unending and boredom unknown.
I was riveted to Thomas’ story, but distracted by my own competing memories. I was trying to match him one for one! A hopeless task I’m afraid.
Out for a very early walk, he creates and remembers streams of consciousness portraits of local people, all different, all seemingly real and fictional at the same time.
". . . I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hand in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.”
These are exquisitely written memories of unnumbered years blending into one another, but clearly the memories of a young boy with a marvelous imagination.
This “story” is more like a poem made of scattered memories. It is divided into two parts, the first is several pages devoted to scenes on a beach on a lovely day, and then in the evening they go to a carnival. The set of jumbled images ends up giving the reader a coherent picture. Here is a small sample:
“There was a cricket on the sand, and sand in the spongecake, sandflies in the watercress, and foolish, mulish, religious donkeys on the unwilling trot. Girls undressed in slipping tents of propriety; under invisible umbrellas, stout ladies dressed for the male and immoral sea. Little naked navies dug canals; children with spaces and no ambition built fleeting castles; wispy young men, outside the bathing-huts, whistled at substantial young women and dogs who desired thrown stones more than the bones of elephants. Recalcitrant uncles huddled, over luke warm ale, in the tiger-striped marquees. Mothers in black, like wobbling mountains, gasped under the discarded dresses of daughters who shrilly braved the gobbling waves. And fathers, in the once-a-year sun, took fifty winks. Oh, I think of all the fifty winks among the paper-bagged sand.”
The title is vague, and the first sentence denies the title in large measure:
“If you can call it a story. There’s no real beginning or end and there’s very little in the middle.”
A bit of a plot does slowly develop. A group of 30 or so men are off on an annual pub crawl and they take the young Dylan along. He happens to be visiting with his uncle, one of the organizers of the pub crawl. The go from pub to pub to pub.
“And dusk came down warm and gentle on thirty wild, wet, pickled, splashing men without a care in the world at the end of the world in the West of Wales.”
For a “non-story” it is highly entertaining.
The story isn’t a story, yet it appears to be a sort of journal of highlights of a year’s doing in the narrator’s life. However, it actually seems to be a prop for a marvelously creative long prose poem of a year in rural Wales. Beautifully and touchingly written.
This is a 1 ½ page lark of a poetic litany of what Langharne is, and it is a delight. It is funny, irrelevant, making the town a bit attractive, yet places one on guard to, perhaps, not rush to Laugharne immediately!
14 years after a bombing in Swansea during WWII, the narrator is looking for a friend who was a young journalist at the time. He is seeking the young man, receiving and creating replies over the period of a day, to hear, at the end from a park guard that the boy he seeks is dead.
Our Journey (Dylan Thomas’ London) is a commentary from a documentary on London during the war and the bombings.
The publisher notes that in this section the short prose pieces (many like prose poems) are from both BBC radio programs and some short magazine pieces.
Quickly after starting this section I realized it was imperative to read these pieces aloud although I was the sole listener. These prosy pieces are musical masterpieces with words and rhythms, rhymes and meter that captivated this reader/player/speaker of his prose poetry.
This piece was a radio broadcast. It is about Welsh poets who wrote in English.
“I am going to introduce, with as little explanation and criticism as possible, poems written in English by poets who are Welsh by birth or have very strong Welsh associations . . . mostly (written) in the forty-five years of this century. I should prefer to call this an anthology with comments, rather than a brief lecture with quotations.”
He then skips to the 20 century rejecting Gerard Manley Hopkins (one of my favorite poets, Welsh or not). He also rejects several other candidates as well, and finally he picks up again with:
Thomas thinks he was the best of the 1920s/30s poets who (writes) “ . . . not of the truths and beauties of the natural world, but of the lies and ugliness of the unnatural system of society under which the worker – or more often during the nineteen-twenties and thirties, under which they were not allowed to work.”
Thomas argues that Jones, while writing in English, uses many features of Welsh poetry. I was struck by how much of what he says of Jones seems to apply to Dylan Thomas himself:
“ . . . he (Jones) has tried, in several English poems, to use very difficult ancient bardic forms. These forms rely a great deal on assonance and alliteration and most complicated internal rhyming . . .”
Lewis gives the reader a lovely bit of Lewis’ poetry in “Christmas Holiday”
“Big-uttered piebald cattle low
The shivering chestnut stallion dozes
The fat wife sighs in her chair
The poacher sleeps in the goose-girl’s arms
All human beings are replete.
But the cock upon the dunhill feels
God’s needle quiver in his brain
And thrice he crows: and at the sound
The sober and the tipsy men
Jump out of bed and with one accord
The fat wife comfortably sleeping
Sighs and licks her lips and smiles.
But the goose-girl is weeping.”
Wilfred Owen died in France at only 24 years old. Dylan Thomas is deeply moved by Owen’s poetry and, in regretting this life cut so short, he eulogizes the poetry itself:
“Had he lived, English poetry would not be the same. The course of poetry is dictated by accidents. Even so, he is one of the four most profound influences upon poets who came after him; the other three being Gerald Manley Hopkins, the later W.B. Yeats, and T.S. Eliot.”
The poetry Thomas shares in this short essay is powerful and profoundly sad. Alas that Owen died so young.
Thomas gives the reader a short biography of Sir Philip Sidney’s life under both Queen Elizabeth and Henry VIII. He argues that Sidney’s best work, published after his death, was “Astrophel and Stella.”
“But it is only in the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella that he is to be seen as a great poet. It was published five years after his death, in 1591.”
In a very short piece he argues that too many Welsh poets move to England and effectively abandon the Welsh language. Others bury themselves in Wales and are never known outside. Finally he criticizes those who spend too much time talking about Welsh writers rather than writing.
Dylan Thomas focusses primarily on De La Mere’s children’s stories. However, I had the feeling this short essay was more to exhibit the Dylan Thomas prose style than it was to analyze De La Mare. It is a lovely verbal romp.
This short passage is from a radio dialogue with Arthur Calder Marshall. Thomas bemoans the death of good British comic writers. He argues that there are excellent American comic writers citing James Thurber, S. J. Perelman and Robert Benchley among others, but bemoans that they are mainly humorist essayists, not writers of stories. He complains of the loss of this art.
Oh my, the first half of this essay was aimed at ME!!! Thomas goes on a diatribe about people who read poems aloud to guests in their homes. I do it all the time. We’ll be sitting in our dining room talking, some topic comes up and I rush into the living room to my large collection of poetry books and rush back to read this or that poem, which, of course, is so very relevant to the topic of the moment.
Thomas roundly denounces the practice and people like me.
Yet he goes on with great toleration, even approval of an annual English contest of reading poetry aloud. He seems accepting, even approving of this event, perhaps because all the audience are there knowing why they are there and the quality of the reading is strong.
Thomas reads four of his “early” poems. I found them extremely esoteric, nearly unintelligible, but struggled to flow with him, to listen and come to see why “these”? I didn’t succeed.
Along the way he tells us:
“Reading one’s own poems aloud is letting the cat out of the bag. You may have always suspected bits of a poem to be over-weighted, overviolent, or daft, and then, suddenly, with the poet’s tongue around them, your suspicion is made certain. How he slows up a line to savour it, remembering what trouble it took, once upon a time, to make it just so, at the very moment, you may think, when the poem needs crispness and speed. Does the cat snarl or mew the better when its original owner – or father, even, the top poet – lets it out of the bag, than when another does, who never put it in?”
In a rather funny short introduction he tells his audience that he has had a plan for a long time for a set of poems. Only bits and pieces have been written.
Thomas demeans his talent and energies, but allows the hopes that he will actually finish the work someday. He then reads two of the poems in draft form, allowing that they are yet to be fully edited.
It’s a rather comical piece, and very difficult poetry!
Thomas had invited questions from his audience and answers them on the radio.
I enjoyed some remarks in his responses, one being a response about the influences of Freud on his poetry:
“. . . whatever is hidden should made naked . . . Freud cast light on a little of the darkness he had exposed.”
And in his reply to his political stand he says is part:
“I take my stand with any revolutionary body that asserts it to be the right of all men to share equally and impartially every production of man from man and from the source of production at man’s disposal.”
In a radio program Thomas has a very strong reaction to a claim of James Stephens who had claimed some notion that virtually everything is poetry. Thomas heatedly responds.
This is a very sarcastic attack on poets who are measured by how much money they make from their poetry. The notion of such a measure, which Thomas sees as widespread, is simply horrifying!
Thomas seems to be trying to be both funny and sarcastic and first recommends you know your audience and write for it.
He surveys a few possible strategies for different sorts of stories, and how to start them. He surveys the clichés of a few sorts of common stories and ridicules them.
Thomas is clearly aiming more at a light, almost silly humor, than any serious literary discourse.
This festival was held in the heart of London on the Thames. It had 22 pavilions and 13 restaurants, cafes, bars and buffets.
He jokes that some do the pavilions first, then sort of collapse into the cafes and bars. Others begin with the thirteen, and then stagger through the exhibitions
His view is not very a serious piece should have been simply edited out of this collection. It’s thin, though he tries to dazzle us with language games he plays at the expense of the exhibition.
A small Welsh town is having a large international festival of music and exhibitions. It is filled with different sorts of people and groups all in old-style native costumes and playing charming music. It is, after all, a magical event.
He mocks the small army of European scholars of every sort who go on lecture tours to the U.S. each summer, where, among other things they are “up against the barrier of a common language.” (One of the better images of the piece.)
Soon they weary, finding the Americans too accepting and too undiscerning. Eventually beaten, they retreat back to their British homes, travelling back via New York for departure – the one city, after all, in which they find “a haven cozy as toast, cool asBob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com