Began this day reading and rereading Dylan Thomas’s “Author’s Prologue” to his Collected Poems. (link to poem)
I have read this poem many times. Each time phrases and images leap out at me off the page with beauty and strength. Dylan Thomas is really the poet who has led me through life. I have been reading him since my teens.
This time I was struck by the biblical metaphor of the poet as Noah who is building an ark of his work :
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear rage red, manalive,
“Fountainhead of fear” is a good description of the United States right now. People are afraid. My work (music, poetry) is my ark in the face of the fear nowhere near as artful as Thomas’s but still very precious to me.
Thomas continues later:
Hears, there, this fox light, my flood ship’
Clangour as I hew and smite
(A clash of anvils for me
Hubbub and fiddle, this tune
On a tongued puffball)
But animals thick as thieves
For me, Thomas is the Bach of words. This poem (apparently his last) in all its loveliness like a Bach fugue or canon exhibits this beauty in the midst of very strict structure. The first line of 102 rhymes with the last, the second with next to last and so on. One can only perceive this audibly as one approaches the center couplet.
Over the wound asleep
Sheep white hollow farms
To Wales in my arms.
Hoo, there, in castle keep,
As a younger man, the structure dazzled me. At this point in my life, I see it as a liberating self-imposed discipline.
Last week in my lesson with my 80+ year old student, we agreed what a privilege it is to spend time in the presence of the master composers as we rehearse and perform their work. The same obtains with poets like Dylan Thomas.
I can’t help but hear Paul Simon singing:
I knew a man, his brain’s so small,
He couldn’t think of nothing at all,
Not the same as you and me.
He doesn’t dig poetry.
He’s so unhip that when you say Dylan,
He thinks you mean Dylan Thomas,
Whoever he was….
The man aint got no culture
From “A Simple Desultory Phillippic” by Paul Simon