Dylan Thomas´s "Fern Hill" as an Autobiographical Anglo-Welsh Poem

Seminar Paper, 2006

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

Introduction: A Short Summary of Dylan Thomas´s Life

A Summary of The Poem Fern Hill

A Characterisation of The Speaker

Analysis of The Stylistic Devices / Time As A Second Character

The Welsh Background / Autobiographical Influence


Works Cited

Introduction: A Short Summary of Dylan Thomas´s Life

We only know few renowned authors whose origins are in Wales. Apart from Raymond Williams, or Ken Follett, Dylan Thomas is one of the writers who has often been associated with Welsh literature and culture in the last sixty years; furthermore, he is possibly the most notable Welsh author. Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914. After he left school at the age of sixteen, he started working as a journalist in Swansea. At that time, he also started writing, notably short stories and essays. Thomas also published radio-plays that have been broadcast on the BBC, such as “Under Milk Wood”, which portrays typical Welsh peasants. Moreover, he wrote numerous poems of which “Fern Hill” is the best-known. It was part of a sequence of Thomas´s poetry, named “Deaths and Entrances”, released in 1945.

In 1937, he married Caitlin MacNamara who gave birth to three children. These circumstances indicate a typical British, conservative and straightforward approach to family life. However, Dylan started drinking heavily, and Caitlin is rumoured to have had several extramarital affairs, even with colleagues and friends of her husband. Having moved to London, alcohol and indulgence were expensive for the young family, so they could not cover their costs anymore. Thus, in 1950, Thomas announced that he would emigrate to the United States because he thought he would be paid better there than in England. He settled in New York where he recited his works, and was profoundly admired. Nevertheless, the money he earned was spent on alcohol, which led his marriage with Caitlin into a serious crisis. On November 9, 1953, he died after a heavy drinking binge in a Manhattan hotel, at the age of 39. Later, Thomas´s body was brought “home” to Wales. He was buried in the churchyard of Laugharne.

Fortunately, it is mainly his literary work, and not his tumultous lifestyle, that is still associated with him. The analysis of his poem “Fern Hill” is an authentic example with which to draw a comparison to Thomas´s biography. Its content, its language and its imagery mirror his sincere relationship to Wales and lead to the assumption that the speaker of the poem is Thomas´s alter ego.

A Summary of The Poem Fern Hill

Dylan Thomas´s poem “Fern Hill” consists of six stanzas and is written in free verse. Each stanza consists of nine lines. In the first part of the poem, a young child describes his carefree and enjoyable life. In contrast the second half of the poem portrays the thoughts of a child threatened and thus changed by the German air raids in World War II. The poem as a whole vividly depicts time´s influence on our existence.

The plot is not told from a present point of view, yet the narrator looks back and indulges in a sense of reverie: “Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs” (1). The first twenty lines reflect ease, joy, and peace. The child describes his adventures and games in natural surroundings, he refers to animals and conveys a remarkably detailed image of the Welsh landscape. Suddenly, this balance changes, night begins, and the young boy feels terrified and anxious. He awakes and again utters ‘liberty’; nonetheless, his condition has changed since he appears to be haunted and have surrendered to a higher power. Finally, the narrator realizes that childhood is over and the poem ends with an allusion to death.

A Characterisation of The Speaker

It appears to be relatively easy to chraracterise the only “human” character in the poem. Dylan Thomas presents a first-person narrator, which indicates that indirect characterisation has to be applied, for a neutral voice does not appear. Thus, both the surface and the subtextual level have to be examined in terms of literary analysis.

The reader can easily infer that the narrator is a young child. The poem´s language reveals several mistakes that are typical of the way in which children talk. The utterance “And once below a time” (7) is the most obvious example to signify that the speaker is not even an adolescencent. The child is not yet capable of using language correctly and obviously fails to say “once upon a time”. Even though the infant´s gender is not referred to directly, the reader can assume that the poet portrays a boy, for the way in which he plays mirrors the image of a typical young boy as in “And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman the calves / sang to my horn” (15-16). It is even possible to look “through” the narrator´s eye. The comparison “the hay fields high as the house” (19-20) is typical of a child, who is still smaller than the crop in a cornfield. Throughout the poem, the reader obtains the impression that we are partaking “in” a child´s indulgence or reverie. The sentence “Now as I was young and easy” (1) shows that the narrator uses past tense to recount the poem.

These last quotations lead to unconcern as a further feature typical of the character presented here. The narrator directly refers to playing and sentences such as “And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns” (6) reveal typical images of joy and ease. The words “young”, “easy”, “happy”, and “lordly” (1-7) explicitly capture this image of invulnerability.

The second part of the poem does not convey the idea of an impregnable character. Through the utterance “My wishes raced the house high hay” (41), the reader perceives the image of a terrified, hunted, or anxious child. The condition of his mind has changed as he cannot cope with the air raids that he has to endure. Although he utters the words “Nothing I cared” twice (42/46), a casual tone or nonchalance are not implied here. In contrast, the repetition and sentences such as “I ran my heedless ways” (40) drive home the notion of a child hunted by terror. Thus, the poem first portrays an airy, jaunty child who undergoes a night of terror and is moulded into an obsessed being.

Analysis of The Stylistic Devices / Time As A Second Character

Throughout the poem, the author makes frequent use of metaphor and simile, so that the reader can follow the young boy´s feelings and imagine his thoughts. As John Ackermann has stated, typical “characteristics are a richness of metaphor, often not as precise or consistent as it might be; a delight in fantasy and the irrational; and a deep, pervading pathos” (11). Nevertheless, only the most obvious uses of stylistic devices can be described, because it would require the length of a whole book to analyse each example.

Colours play an important role from the beginning to the end of the poem. “Green” is always associated with youth, happiness, and freedom as in “and happy as the grass was green” (2) or “as I was green and carefree” (10). The colour also stands for immaturity. This fact is rather obvious as the poem deals with a child. On the other hand, it reflects decay at the end of the poem. “Time held me green and dying” (53) mirrors progessive decline by using the word “green” and is an authentic metaphor to express the human circle of life. Ackermann recognizes that “Green, throughout the poem, symbolizes growth and life as well as innocence [. . . ] .” (126). “The meaning of “green” [. . .] slides from natural growth to decay and naiveté” as James A. Davies observes in his detailed analysis of Thomas´s poem (202). Another colour whose function is to make the poem more vivid is “gold”. “Golden in the heydays of his eyes” (5) or “Golden in the mercy of his means” (14) both glorify and praise God and Providence. The narrator unites the two colours to reach a higher level of joy and imagination, as well: The lines “And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman” (15) or “Before the children green and golden / Follow him out of grace” (44-45) both convey the notion of quintessential children.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Dylan Thomas´s "Fern Hill" as an Autobiographical Anglo-Welsh Poem
University of Leipzig  (Institut für Anglistik)
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ISBN (eBook)
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357 KB
Seminararbeit als Modulabschlussprüfung
Dylan, Thomas´s, Fern, Hill, Autobiographical, Anglo-Welsh, Poem
Quote paper
Carol Petri (Author), 2006, Dylan Thomas´s "Fern Hill" as an Autobiographical Anglo-Welsh Poem, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/81745


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