Monday, October 13, 2014

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.


What do I think of Dylan Thomas?
No – I do not think he was a truly great poet, up there with other 20th century figures like Eliot or Yeats or Marianne Moore or even Auden. All of those other luminaries had a maturity and a depth and a breadth of vision that Dylan never attained. I do not think Thomas was a subtle poet. His themes of childhood and the country soon run out on him and become forced. A big part of him remained the little boy – or at least the adult who kept replaying what it was to be a little boy and who saw the world in playful Toy Town terms (look no further than Under Milk Wood). No wonder adolescent males remain a core part of his audience. And I do believe Thomas, with his rich and resonant and rolling voice performing his own work, was at least partly responsible for the baleful modern habit of judging poetry as performance only rather than as meaningful words.
But you know my creed by now. If a poet, in a lifetime of work, produces even a handful of poems that continue to be read and re-read and enjoyed and appreciated decades after his death, then he is worthy of applause and appreciation. And Thomas produced more than a handful of such poems. “Do not go gentle”, “The force that through the green fuse”, “The hunchback in the park”, “Fern Hill”, “Over Sir John’s Hill”, “A refusal to mourn”, “Poem in October”. You can probably add quite a few more to this list. Thomas also worked very hard at sounds. He was a craftsman. What a pleasure to swim in that sea of assonance and alliteration and internal rhyme and sprung rhythms – especially in an age when poetry was tending towards prosaic formlessness. You might sometimes weary of what he is saying (“Rehashing his adolescence”, as his wife and brawling partner Caitlin once said). But you can’t help enjoying the brio with which he says it.
This month is the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s birth – so he would now be one hundred if the booze hadn’t got him in a New York bar, at the age of 39, in 1953.
I am more than happy to introduce a presentation of his work by a company of great readers including actors, poets, academics, librarians and general admirers of Dylan Thomas.
I look forward to seeing you there if you are in Auckland on 23 October.


  1. Thomas makes up for intellectual heft with sheer power - the musicality and originality of his poetry is like no other. Short-lived stars burn with greater intensity.

    1. Possibly - but this does submit to something of a romantic myth. Remember, Yeats was still writing really passionate stuff in his seventies.