Union Jack

     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

John Donne
Dylan Thomas
by Alfred Janes
Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
by Augustus John



1914 - 1953

by Bob Pierson

Under Construction

Please listen to each section by clicking on the microphones.


Listen to
Bob's 1st

Dylan Thomas's writing was an obsession of mine in the sixth form and I was attracted to his poetry by the way in which he painted a kaleidoscope of colours... but in words. Like many a dreamy kind, I tried to write in his style but shall spare you the results.

In those early days, it was difficult to understand all what he was saying in his poetry it was both obscure and it was wonderful. One of my teachers held that Dylan's work was "All truth and beauty"...while another retorted, "Ner...It's all about booze and sex."

Later I read his poem, Fern Hill, to a class of students at the Sorbonne. And at the end of the reading, the tutor remarked, "that was great; we understood nothing but it was magnificent". "C'etait magnifique...on n'a rien compris, mais quand meme..magnifique. Since which time, after constant reading on the one hand and listening to Dylan's own recordings, the meanings have become clearer.

Laugharne by Edward
Morland Lewis

For me, Dylan Thomas, is part writer and part composer ; communicating ideas and thoughts both directly, via language and indirectly by (pause) word-music....and so he speaks to that part of the mind that computes and calculates and to the other part that deals in imagination.

And yet there remains a difficulty. I love his work but find his own recordings quite hard. He sounds very English and I sometimes wonder to whom he is speaking. It occurs to me, in my whimsy that he's speaking to his own muse. And yet Dylan knew about radio and knew that radio is pillow-talk - no better expressed than in the Introduction to Under Milk Wood... which I'd like to read:

To begin at the beginning:		
Listen to
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now. Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers,
Dylan Thomas
Dylan's house
the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed
Dylan's boathouse
yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs. You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep. And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-before-dawn minutely dew-grazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.
Dylan's Writing Shed
Writing Shed
Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood. Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman's lofts like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread's bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night
Laugharne castle
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. Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.


Listen to
Bob's 2nd

Before I continue, let me be clear and honest...I'm no literary scholar as any scholar would be swift to notice; just an enthusiast. However, I was fumbling through one of those Penguin Tomes that scholars might appreciate, and found a reference entitled, "untranslatable" which was, apparently, a word first coined by Coleridge and only by him. Coleridge used "untranslatable" in the following sentence: "In poetry, in which every line, every phrase, may pass the ordeal of deliberation and deliberate choice, it is possible, and barely possible, to attain that ultimatum which I have ventured to propose as the infallible test of a blameless style; namely its untranslatableness in words of the same language without injury to the meaning".

And for me, "untranslatable" applies well to all Dylan's works...the lad who left school at the age of 16 with insufficient education. It would be appalling ... and appallingly difficult to to alter the words of a Dylan Thomas poem without inflicting that injury. A blameless style? Well I leave that for you to judge.

His poems are, generally, a challenge to read and to read aloud...so let me start with one that avoids obscurity ...where the meaning is clear... the message is straightforward.

is borrowed from the Bilkent University website.

        The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Listen to
The force
that drives
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees Is my destroyer. And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose My youth is bent by the same wintry fever. The force that drives the water through the rocks Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams Turns mine to wax. And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
Laugharne castle
with wife Caitlin
and daughter Aeronwy
The hand that whirls the water in the pool Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind Hauls my shroud sail. And I am dumb to tell the hanging man How of my clay is made the hangman's lime. The lips of time leech to the fountain head; Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood Shall calm her sores. And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind How time has ticked a heaven round the stars. And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Listen to
Bob's 3rd

Right the way through Dylan's work run references to Creation and to the Creator.

And that last poem and perhaps the majority of Dylan Thomas's poems draws from a pallet of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Hardly does his pen or brush touch the paper before a bird, a flower, a bone, the sea, the sun, a rock or the wind are flung, hurled-hard into the pot. He launches all the tones against each other: hard tones, soft tones, rough tones and smooth tones. Here he presents a logical idea or a comment: life.. death... and then there, he delves into the whirlpool of his sub-conscious to snatch out whatever he can find.

In his poem "And death shall have no dominion" he goes straight to the Bible and makes a single edit to St Pauls (Romans 6:9) assertion: "and death shall have no more dominion"...he simply excises the word, "more."

Dylan's own recording of this poem is a defiant shout at his listeners; he's almost like some Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea into giant cliffs of water with the wind blowing his grey hair across a craggy countenance.

AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION is borrowed from the Poem Hunter website.

        And death shall have no dominion.
        Dead mean naked they shall be one
        With the man in the wind and the west moon;
        When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
        They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
        Though they go mad they shall be sane,
        Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
        Though lovers be lost love shall not;
        And death shall have no dominion.

        And death shall have no dominion.
Listen to
And Death
shall have ...
Under the windings of the sea They lying long shall not die windily; Twisting on racks when sinews give way, Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break; Faith in their hands shall snap in two, And the unicorn evils run them through; Split all ends up they shan't crack; And death shall have no dominion.
Dylan Thomas
Dylan's statue
And death shall have no dominion. No more may gulls cry at their ears Or waves break loud on the seashores; Where blew a flower may a flower no more Lift its head to the blows of the rain; Though they be mad and dead as nails, Heads of the characters hammer through daisies; Break in the sun till the sun breaks down, And death shall have no dominion.


Listen to
Bob's 4th

There are commentators who would judge that "And death shall have no dominion" represents an emphatic affirmation that death isn't really the end. Penned in September 1936 it's one of his most notable comments on the eternal nature of the human spirit. But to my mind, it contrasts strongly, with that angry cry, many years later, addressed to his father called, "Do not go gentle into that good night"; a father that was in his 80s, in afflicted health and with failing eyesight. For if death really shall have no dominion then its acceptance, to which Dylan Thomas paradoxically refers in the second verse, seems acknowledged as a consummation devoutly to be wished. You know, I think that Dylan was expressing his own rage at the dying of his father's light...anger, they tell me, is a natural response to bereavement...

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Listen to
Do not
go gentle
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Dylan Thomas
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Poetry and Prose

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