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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 63

1955] Wilde—Dylan Thomas 63 
occasionally does topical language suggest the age in which the poetry was
written. One finds references to war, flying, moving pictures and modern
idiom. Images from tailoring are no newer than the Fateful sisters or Carlysle.
 Concern for their art has given bards throughout the ages material to forge
into poetry. Thomas, self-conscious, is conscious of his art; the tools of
his trade work their way into his imagery. He tells us his subject matter
with: 
I would be tickled by the rub that is: 
Man be my metaphor. 
He creates a unity of himself, his art, and nature when his "busy heart/
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words. . . wordy shapes of women
. . . vowelled beeches . . . oaken voices water's speeches . . . spelling
in the scurry . . . hears the darkvowelled birds." Further utilization
of
the poet's tools is found welded to this explanation of the poetic process:
And from the first declension of the flesh 
I learnt man's tongue, to twist the shapes of thoughts 
Into the stony idiom of the brain, 
To shade and knit anew the patch of words. 
In the beginning was the word, the word 
That from the solid bases of the light 
Abstracted all the letters of the void; 
And from the cloudy bases of the breath 
The word flowed up, translating to the heart 
First characters of birth and death. 
And finally the superb explanation of "In My Craft and Sullen Art"
exercised
 for the lovers, their arms Round the griefs of the ages, Who pay no praise
or wages Nor heed my craft or art. 
 The very fact that he wrote for the lovers "their arms / Round the
griefs
of the ages" suggests the elemental nature of this music. Man's life
itself
and its tragedies are his topic and metaphor: the foetus, the baby, the child,
the lover, the adult who fears age and wars against death, who is aware of
religion and occasionally attends a revival meeting, the country man who
can hear thefl "pleasure bird whistle" and feels the rush of life
in all
its elemental beauty, in himself and nature. Thomas was an individual bard
who sang traditional songs in startling new keys, who felt synaesthetically
and sympathetically and saw the big world of the elements in immediate correspondence
with the little 


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