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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Wilde, Martha Haller
Dylan Thomas: the elemental poet,   pp. 57-64 PDF (2.7 MB)

Page 57

 Dylan Thomas' songs of the fundamental passions of mankind were terminated
by the poet's death last year. While the Welsh bard lived critics sometimes
felt compelled to warn the reader against obscurity in his poetry. Such evaluations
are likely to iead us away from a major feature of the greatness of the poems:
their ingredients are actually the staples that have constituted poetry and
life for time immemorial. A close reading of Thomas' poetry suggests that
beneath the difficult syntax and startling word combinations lies a unity
of elemental concepts and language. 
 A Thomas poem is "elemental" in form and content; in fact, the
form is the
content, for the order and use of words and verse techniques cannot be divorced
from the meaning. The words and images are basic and often traditional, the
ideas and themes simple and fundamental. Elemental language is not difficult,
academic, or four syllabled; unfamiliar words can usually be traced to a
homely Welsh background. Often the language of the Bible can be recognized.
The fundamental emotional nature of man is here; the elements are mixed by
the associative processes that characterize the mind of natural man who sees
himself as an extension of the external world. 
 The associative method of creation in Thomas does not imply lack of control.
Despite strange juxtapositions and syntax, a unity of feeling is created
because the combinations are not products of a blind "pin the tail on
donkey" game. Such unity courses through the entire body of Thomas'
As one reads the poems en masse they become canons of a special, personal
scripture. In his later poetry Thomas himself learned to label the primary
material projected in these scriptures: 
Four elements and five 
Senses, and man a spirit in love 
There is hardly a poem that does not employ variations upon air, earth, water,
and fireā€”the four elements. To a young poet the water is womb water
of fertility; as he matures the water becomes the sea of life familiar to
all readers of poetry. And the 
 * University of Wisconsin. The author is indebted to Professor Haskell Block
of the Comparative Literature Department for helpful suggestions and criticisms.

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