Ziggy Olivier wrote this article. He met Dylan Thomas and spent some of his youth drinking whisky with him. He said me: “Everything you may have read about him was true.”
Reflections on some well loved Poets
Approaching my own demise, I was delighted this Christmas to receive from a teenage granddaughter a gift that I will cherish – Richard Burton’s famous reading of Under Milk Wood. More so that she should be aware of the poem and have a liking for it’s hypnotic, entrancing language.
Sensual, beautiful, musical prose with indelible images of people and their behaviour.
Here was rich irony – an ageing man once again enjoying a work in which inevitable death is one of the recurring themes!
I do not have the talent to fully describe my sense of well being as I sipped an ancient Macallan and revisited fond memories from my youth as I listened, with my granddaughter, to the cadence of those words describing our human condition.
Only those who have heard Dylan Thomas reading it himself have known better, for he had a wonderful, rich, appealing voice which enveloped you into his magical world.
‘It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies.
Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.’
This reminded me of Eliot in the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock
‘The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.’
Eliot did remark, somewhere, words to the effect that young poets imitate and mature poets ‘borrow’ ? I can forgive Dylan for pinching an idea for his poetry transports us into a wonderful world of rich imagery.
In the after glow, once the reading had finished,the moment was almost spoilt when she asked if I could help her with an essay she had to write on the poem and I realised she would be researching reviews by critics who would destroy her blossoming love of such song language as they reduced it to comment such as Edith Sitwell writing of his ‘distorted syntax and religious symbolism.’
Critical essays too often review art entirely in terms of life reminding me of Eliot’s
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
Why must we bow to academic interpretations of our emotions?
Robert Frost commented that poetry is what gets lost in translation and Eliot firmly believed that poetry communicates before it is understood.
University almost destroyed my love of literature as we sweated over critical essays trying to explain some masterpiece or another.
Like Joyce, Thomas can be almost incomprehensible but any great writer uses language that is different to the way we speak and because of its intense imagery causes our emotions to provide us with a deeper view of life.
Dry intellect is no match for emotion in driving our soul for it is emotion that stirs us to action.
So I discussed with her ways and means for her to say what the poem meant to her. How she understood it was more important than some critic’s view, for I did not want to destroy that magic that had impacted deep into her young soul.
Ultimately, in a small fictional Welsh town called Llareggub, as the long night approaches, you realise that such critic’s voices do indeed mean ‘buggerall’.