Monday, 5 May 2014

Brightness falls from the hair

Andrew Motion nailed Dylan Thomas on Essential Classics (from 90 minutes in). I would add to the influences Motion cited certain 19th century French poets who were more concerned with where words took them than absolute logic. Thomas did once dub himself "the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive". Thomas was also concerned with the construction of poetry and I am sure he was aware of this declaration by Gautier when he wrote In my Craft or Sullen Art.

The musical link to this morning's theme of death in life which Motion chose was Constant Lambert's setting of Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament. This contains a line which has metamorphosed down the centuries through James Joyce and TS Eliot to Nigel Balchin and others. But it appears the printed version is may not be the original which Nashe intended.

The illustrative poems this morning were A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London and The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower. The latter was one of the earliest Thomas poems I remember reading and in the spirit of yesterday's Radio 3 feature by Rachel Trezise I wondered whether it was the earliest. I knew that there were two of his in the additions contained in the 1948 edition of the Golden Treasury, which I had been given as a present when in secondary school. It turned out that they were in fact This Bread I Break, which I remember responding to at the time, and When Once the Twilight, which I couldn't make sense of at all. I still can't, though I do now recognise a hint of auto-eroticism in the first verse.

Scanning once more those 1941 additions to Palgrave, I was struck by how much the themes of death and old age run through them. There were "Webster was much possessed by death" and "Here I am, an old man in a dry month" (Eliot), through "Necrological" (John Crowe Ransom - whatever happened to his reputation?) to Stephen Spender's "New Year" which is not totally optimistic. All in the spirit of one of their inspirations, Thomas Nashe.

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