My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart's truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.
Personal Interpretation of the Poem.
It is possible that the choice of writing a poem on the occasion of his birthday located at Swansea , his birth place, went beyond of the simple fact of describing the moment because he was there that day, taking into account the love and affection the author felt about Wales , where he came from. It could be possible that this description of his thirtieth birthday was a dreamy tale, and thus, the poem could be an evocation of what, for him, can be described as “his place” in the world, his native place, where his childhood went by. This fact may contribute to a major exaltation of the place in the poet's mind and in his idea of the real beauty of the scenery.
The poem starts with the verse “It was my thirtieth year to heaven […]” which is a poetic way to convey that it was his birthday. Here can be seen a religious reference, since it says it is the thirtieth year in his way to heaven, as for a religious person life is journey towards heaven.
In this first stanza Dylan Thomas describes his feelings when he woke up in this day, audible sensations that he conveyed describing the images these sounds evoke in his mind of the harbour and the nearby wood.
The harbour is described as a shore with pooled mussels and priested herons, which evoke and image of a religious meeting, a mass where the congregation, the “pooled mussel” and the priest, the “priested heron” join. This is an image that gives the idea of a place where mussels grow and herons join whistling. John Ackerman's interpretation goes beyond that and says that herons are priest-like in their stance on the estuary's tides and that is why Dylan Thomas describes them like priest. I find more suitable my interpretation as, I said before, mussels are mentioned too in a way that reminds me of a congregation taking on account the priest condition of the herons in the same verse.
(cf. Ackerman, 117)
In this stanza the author personifies several natural events providing then with human abilities.
The morning beckon the poet to wake up and unite with the world, with Nature in the still sleeping town through the sounds, the water flowing, which he expresses as “praying” the seagulls and the rooks whistling, which he expresses as “calling”.
Once he is awakened we reach the second stanza where he tells how his birthday starts. He describes again the Nature surroundings around him. He interprets every natural event in an intimate way, as if those events were performed just for him. Thus, he says how the Water-birds, seagulls, herons and the birds in the trees, which he names “winged-trees”, which shows the idea that they are full of birds nesting in them, “fly” his name above the farms and the white horses, this image describes the scenery as a rural place, where farms and horses can be found. Ackerman sees in the use of the expression “flying my name” above the estuary a reference to the Mabinogion derivation of the name Dylan- sea-son of wave. The Mabinogion is a collection of prose stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts and it was this collection that Dylan's father took the name Dylan from.
He continues saying that he wakes up in a rainy day and uses this fact to build up a metaphor with which he expresses the idea that all his lived days fall over him as it is his birthday, “[…] And walked abroad in a shower of all my days”. However, Ackerman sees this shower as an expression that conveys the idea of the shower of long gone childhood days.
The idea of the early hour in which the celebration of his birthday starts is conveyed when he mentions that the gates of the town are closed as it awakes.
(cf. Ackerman, 117)
He begins the third stanza giving us the idea that, despite it is October, the weather is springlike, which is reflected by the use of the word “springful” and the fact that he speaks about larks which are migrating birds and in October they might be in their way to the south countries in search of warmer lands. Using the larks he builds an image of them in a “rolling cloud”, he is describing the image above him and next he describes the reality that can be found beside him as he walks by at the side of the road, bushes full of whistling blackbirds, he mentions again the sounds he is hearing to describe the scenery, which facilitates to recreate and almost feel what is happening. I find a contrast between the summery sun he describes and the rain to represent the fact that it is his birthday, the days and the years fall over him and move him further away from his childhood, the golden years for him . Ackerman finds a reference that conveys that Dylan's wanderings and listening that morning moved him from time present to time past in the verse “fond climates and sweet singers” linking with the start of a verse in the next stanza ”beyond the border” .
(Cf. Ackerman, 117, 119)
In the next stanza he continues describing the weather, a rainy weather, and the harbour and a church of which he says it is the size of a snail. This comparison conveys the distance from which he contemplates this scenery. It is important to emphasize Dylan's tendency to compare the buildings and the different inanimate elements with animals, creatures that complete the concept of Nature. In contrast with the rainy weather and the time of the year where the poem is set, October, The poet describes the blooming gardens, events more typical of summer or spring.
In the fifth stanza he describes how the weather is more suitable of summer than autumn, season in which he is situated. These ideas of a mild shiny weather and blooming and lush scenery give certain sensation of joy and well-being. This leads him to evoke his childhood, to see the child he once was, described as another person, walking with his mother. He talks about parables, which represents perfectly childhood, since it is in this time of people's life when the capacity for abstraction, imagination, curiosity and longing for knowledge are, partly, satisfied by tales and stories. In the last verse he mentions the “Green chapels”, evoking the great epic tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ackerman finds in this reference to “the green chapels” a biblical metaphor suggesting the sacramental identity of the natural world as in other verses could be seen before,” water/praying”, “heron/priested", the mention of parables, this could be true but I find, as I said before a reference to Sir Gawain and the green knight as he speaks of “legends of the green chapels”, the word legend may refer to the previously mentioned epic tale.
(cf. Ackerman, 115)
In the penultimate stanza the memory and sensations of his childhood makes him recognise himself in that child and cry for the loss of that same child turned into the adult he is in this moment.
He recalls these where the places in which his childhood joy took place and feels that that mystery the child lived, the great longing for discovering, typical of childhood remains alive in the waters and birds of the place. It seems the author mentioned this idea of regaining the old feelings of his childhood in this place in a letter later written. Ackerman interprets this stanza as conveying the idea that the delight of the beauty of the scene has turned into an active participation of the visionary state Nature can give .
(cf. Ackerman, 118)
In the last stanza he talks about the shiny weather that made him feel that the joy that the child he once was felt, named as “dead child” as the child died to the present adult to be born, still continues alive in the sun, in the place, in the Nature scenery described along the poem, which may mean he is still that boy and has not lost his way of feeling and of communion with Nature. He finishes the poem saying again it is his thirtieth year in his way to heaven and that that moment takes place in a summer afternoon despite being October, autumn. This idea is beautifully conveyed by the verse “[…] though the town below leaved with October blood”. This verse represents to Ackerman a reminiscence of the passing of the epiphany, a return to the present autumn scene of falling leaves, this may be another way to express the same idea I mentioned in the previous lines. And wishing the happiness felt in his thirtieth birthday could be enjoyed again in that same place in his next birthday.
(cf. Ackerman, 118)
- A Dylan Thomas Companion by John Ackerman, The Macmillan Press LTD, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London , 1994.
- The Dylan Thomas page by Steward Ogilby.
Section: Poem in October
- Dylan Thomas Biography: The Writer. On BBC Wale's homepage, section Arts and entertainment, Dylan Thomas.
- Dylan Thomas Biography: The early years. . On BBC Wale's homepage, section Arts and entertainment, Dylan Thomas.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
These websites were used the second and third weeks of October 2006.
Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Mª Elena Mármol Rodríguez
Universitat de València Press