The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Here is Dylan Thomas eloquently describing the inexorable effects of the passage of time, of decay and aging, on himself, on humanity in general and on the beauties of nature. The same processes are in play whether it be a flower, a spring or a man – young, healthy, beautiful and vigorous one day, bent, withered and fading away not long after. Unlike the Baroque poets, this is purely descriptive, accepting of this reality – there is no carpe diem moralising here. Somehow, it is more powerful that way.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

From <;

The structure of the poem is to build each stanza around a different metaphor of he aging process, first describing it in nature and the making the parallel with the poet’s own, human experience. The cumulative impact of this imagery is powerful and accentuated even more by those final two lines which stand alone – the worm of decay is eating away at the lover’s tomb and the poet’s own body.

Not so much carpe diem as memento mori, in poetic form.

The Poetry Dude

Shall gods be said to thump the clouds

In this poem, Dylan Thomas dramatises the rainy stormy weather that so often sweeps across his native Wales (and of course the whole of Britain). Such weather is so intense that it must indeed be the work of the gods, according to Thomas’s lines here. Or is he mocking the natural human tendency to ascribe supernatural causes to natural phenomena? Either way, this poem immerses us in the experience of a wet and windy day in Wales.


Shall gods be said to thump the clouds
When clouds are cursed by thunder,
Be said to weep when weather howls?
Shall rainbows be their tunics’ colour?

When it is rain where are the gods?
Shall it be said they sprinkle water
From garden cans, or free the floods?

Shall it be said that, venuswise,
An old god’s dugs are pressed and pricked,
The wet night scolds me like a nurse?

It shall be said that gods are stone.
Shall a dropped stone drum on he the ground,
Flung gravel chime? Let the stones speak
With tongues that talk all tongues.

From <;

Hold me back, before I jump on the next plane to Aberystwyth….

The Poetry Dude

And death shall have no dominion.

This is one of Dylan Thomas’s most famous poems, memorable for the striking title, which is also a repeated theme bookending each stanza; and for the rhythm of the poem which engages the reader and provides momentum and energy sustained from beginning to end.
The poem is about the invincible power of life and vitality, even in the face of our knowledge that we shall all die one day. Life itself will continue in many forms and triumph over death.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Dylan Thomas

From <;

This poem not only reads very well, particularly out loud, but it is also very artfully constructed. The title and opening line starting with the word “And” links the poem to a larger discourse and implies continuity with human experience before and afterwards. The repetition of this line at the beginning and end of each stanza binds the poem together and reinforces the power of its message.

The paradox of death not being triumphant over life is echoed in supporting paradoxes through the poem, “Though they go mad they shall be sane”, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not”, “Split all ends up, they shan’t crack”, and a number of other examples of pertinent wordplay.

I bet this is one of the poem’s they read at funerals.

The Poetry Dude

In my craft or sullen art,

Another poem about poetry from Dylan Thomas (see also the poem of his which appeared on this blog on October 13th 2014, “Notes on the art of poetry”). Here he uses a poem to set out why and for whom he writes poetry.

And the title implies his attitude to the act of writing – it is a craft, to be learnt, practised and mastered, it is a sullen art, because it is not easy, finding the right words, the right references, the right sounds, the right rhythms all at once can only come with immense effort and unceasing vigilance to all the parts and to the whole.

In My Craft Or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art

Dylan Thomas

From <;

Writing poetry is an anti-social art, it is done at night, when everybody is asleep, away from the distractions of the day and of other people. The poet labours alone and in isolation, not for fame and fortune or to have his name in lights, but to feed the language of love, to appeal to the secret heart of all the lovers at peace in their beds.

The poet’s intended audience is not proud and wealthy men, or to praise the dead, but those lovers for whom love is everything and who may not even be aware f the poet’s gift to them.

The Poetry Dude

On no work of words for three lean months in the bloody

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

Dylan Thomas

From <;

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

Here in this spring, stars float along the void;

Despite the title, this poem from Dylan Thomas is not so much just about springtime, but about the passing of the seasons and being alert to the signs given by nature, changing according to the time of year.

Here In This Spring
Poem by Dylan Thomas

Here in this spring, stars float along the void;
Here in this ornamental winter
Down pelts the naked weather;
This summer buries a spring bird.

Symbols are selected from the years’
Slow rounding of four seasons’ coasts,
In autumn teach three seasons’ fires
And four birds’ notes.

I should tell summer from the trees, the worms
Tell, if at all, the winter’s storms
Or the funeral of the sun;
I should learn spring by the cuckooing,
And the slug should teach me destruction.

A worm tells summer better than the clock,
The slug’s a living calendar of days;
What shall it tell me if a timeless insect
Says the world wears away?
Dylan Thomas

From <;

Thomas goes through the four seasons, first spring, then winter, then summer and finally autumn, but each season is seen as here and now, not remembered or anticipated. The tone is reflective and observational, calm and measured. It is as if the poet is telling us to take a deep breath and look around us, watch the natural world. The main way we should stay in touch with the passing of the seasons is by observing the trees, the worms, the birds, the slugs. (Or here in Texas, perhaps the alligators, raccoons and opossums…)

The Poetry Dude

The sky is torn across

Today we have a somewhat sad poem from the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, composed on one of his wedding anniversaries. It is easy to guess that wedding anniversaries were not necessarily happy occasions in the Thomas household, since the poet’s reputation as a drunken oaf much of the time seems to have been well-deserved. His wife stood by him, as Dolly Parton would have recommended, but there must have been a great cost in strained relationships and domestic discord and distress. This poem acknowledges the difficult times and the almost impossible stresses which Thomas put on the couple’s initial love.

On a Wedding Anniversary

The sky is torn across
This ragged anniversary of two
Who moved for three years in tune
Down the long walks of their vows.

Now their love lies a loss
And Love and his patients roar on a chain;
From every tune or crater
Carrying cloud, Death strikes their house.

Too late in the wrong rain
They come together whom their love parted:
The windows pour into their heart
And the doors burn in their brain.

From <;

The poem opens with images of breaking apart, of destruction, after three years of the couple trying to follow their marriage vows. It is a cry of pain and regret, but without any redeeming notion that things could have been, or could be, different.

The second stanza deepens the despairing mood, acknowledging that love has been lost and that death may be the only way out, threatening the couple’s house. Death and destruction have conquered love, in this marriage.

The final stanza seems not to bring a happy ending. It is too late, the circumstances are wrong to reconcile their love and start again. The windows and doors of the last two lines may represent a prospect of escape, but more likely a sense of entrapment in this destructive cycle.

But at least the world benefitted from the couple’s unhappiness by means of a fine poem.

The Poetry Dude