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Dylan Thomas' "Fern Hill"

Updated on February 25, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dylan Thomas

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Fern Hill"

In the first line, the speaker declares that he was "young and easy under the apple boughs." The next line reports the youth's location and the subject of his musings that continue through the first verse paragraph (versagraph).

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas reading his "Fern Hill"

Commentary

First Versagraph: "Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs"

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

The poem plays out in six versagraphs, each with nine lines. The first versagraph frames the speaker's musing memory: how he felt and behaved back during the days of his youth. The speaker asserts that he was "young and easy" and seemed to be able to control all about him as a monarch might do.

In addition to being young and easy, the speaker seemed to have a control over his environment: he felt he was a "prince of the apple towns" and was "honoured among wagons." He was so powerful that causes the "trees and leaves" to "[t]rail with daisies and barley." As he possessed all his saw, he seemed to glide through the rustic countryside.

Second Versagraph: "And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns"

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

In the next versagraph, the speaker begins a dissertation on the notion of time. He personifies time, asserting that it was "time" that permitted all his enjoyment of his kingly activities, though he was a mere farm lad, who was also engaged in the activities of hunters and herdsman.

The speaker colorfully holds forth: "Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means." In this versagraph, he invokes the presence of the Divine as he reports that the "sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams."

Third Versagraph: "All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay"

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

This versagraph yields further description of the idyllic farm country in which the speaker as boy romped so regally. He says, "the hay / Fields high as the house, and the horses / Flashing into the dark."

The speaker likens going to sleep to riding a horse, while listening to the owls that were "bearing the farm away." As sleep overtook him, he could listen to the owls whose distinctive calls seemed to carry him off from the farm or carry the farm off from him, as he was lulled into dreamland.

Fourth and Fifth Versagraphs: "And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white"

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

The fourth and fifth versagraph press on, summoning the memories of the charms that the environment afforded the speaker along with wonderful times he experienced each and every day.

Upon awakening every morning, the farm seemed to return him to the "Garden of Eden," the original paradise of humankind. Everything was always new again; he calls it "Shining, it was Adam and maiden."

The speaker confidently asserts that his experience parallels the act of God creating His Creation in the beginning. He paints the portrait of his thoughts by offering: " the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise."

The speaker's happiness extended as far "as the heart was long, / In the sun born over and over, / I ran my heedless ways." The speaker once again mentions his carefree attitude, calling it "my heedless ways."

Sixth Versagraph: "All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay"

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

The final versagraph finds the speaker ruminating about the efficacy of being "green," "easy," and "heedless." He realizes the delusion that this fellow "Time" has perpetrated upon him. His enjoyment of carefree play made him unaware that time was flying and childhood mirth would be short.

That adult behavior would require grave measures did not occur to the speaker in his days of idealized romp. Still, the speaker's memory along with the ability to recreate that idyllic period of life constitute a balm that makes the speaker able to say he "sang in [his] chains like the sea."

The Skill of Dylan Thomas

Often more noted for his drinking and partying than for his great skill, Dylan Thomas was, in fact, a skilled poet and a perfectionist. In "Fern Hill," Thomas has proven his ability to communicate genuine emotion without sentimental exaggeration.

Thomas has painted an everlasting, detailed, colorful portrait of his life as young boy on a marvelous farm where he grew to be the fascinating poet he became.

Please note: The word processing system used on this site will not allow the style of spacing that Dylan Thomas employed in this poem. To experience the poem the way Thomas' spaced it, please visit, "Fern Hill," on the Academy of American Poets site.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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