Here is Dylan Thomas writing a poem about the struggle of the creative process, the physical stress and mental anguish of being compelled to write when the words don’t come. We have seen poets on this blog write about this in a light-hearted vein like the 13 line sonnet, or the sonnet which doesn’t rhyme, but here Thomas exposes the draining angst and terror of the blank page, which it is the poet’s only duty to fill. The irony of course is that the subject produces a fine poem, with the intensity of vocabulary and the momentum of the rhythm combining to result in a powerful poetic statement. I wonder how many long nights of beer and whisky went into this.
On No Work Of Words
On no work of words now for three lean months in the
Belly of the rich year and the big purse of my body
I bitterly take to task my poverty and craft:
To take to give is all, return what is hungrily given
Puffing the pounds of manna up through the dew to heaven,
The lovely gift of the gab bangs back on a blind shaft.
To lift to leave from treasures of man is pleasing death
That will rake at last all currencies of the marked breath
And count the taken, forsaken mysteries in a bad dark.
To surrender now is to pay the expensive ogre twice.
Ancient woods of my blood, dash down to the nut of the seas
If I take to burn or return this world which is each man’s
The opening stanza hints that writers block has been affecting the poet for about three months, leading him to despairingly regret that his talent for poetry leads him into such visceral, frustrating struggle and into the precariousness of poverty. You can almost feel the abyss of misery into which the poet has convinced himself he has fallen,
The second stanza reveals the hard bargain of poetry – it depends on taking words, the gift of the gab, and transforming them into heavenly dew – but now the process is failing, the words fall back unused and unusable, down the blind shaft, perhaps the dark mineshaft of a Welsh coalmine.
The third stanza evokes the consolations of death as a way out of the impasse, leaving people only to remember the treasures, the successful work – such is the block that the poet is despairingly looking for any way out.
But in the final stanza, he returns to the struggle, recognizing that the easy way out will bring no benefit and that each man must struggle to make his world as best he can. And so the poet goes on – it is almost an existentialist poem. But if this is the way Thomas worked most of the time, you can almost understand his constant recourse to the demon drink.
The Poetry Dude