Yesterday in an Enfield poetry group event at the Forty Hall Estate,  I read the poem - The Colour of Saying - by Dylan Thomas, the most famous Welsh bard of the 20th century who drank himself to death in 1953. 

I was talking about how I grew up in Swansea not a quarter of a mile from where Dylan grew up and how my father used to read us extracts from Under Milk Wood. He had Milk Wood read by the rich sonorous voice of the actor Richard Burton on LP, ie. for anyone under 45 - a long-playing vinyl record and would often play it on the weekends, to relax after a stressful week of work as a criminal case barrister.

In our Enfield group, a discussion ensued about Dylan and it seemed everyone had a connection to his wonderful poetry.  Of course, everyone knows some of his most famous poems, for example, Fernhill and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and Death Shall Have No Dominion. As we discussed, when you read Dylan's poetry, first listen to the sound of the words, then focus on meaning which is nebulous and open and often just out of reach ... 

Here's another of his well-known poems:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

 - 1914-1953

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
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.

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.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971, 2003 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.

And if you listen to any of his broadcasting recordings on YouTube you'll be surprised maybe to find that he had no Welsh accent.  This is because his father - a school teacher, paid for him to have elocution lessons to eliminate the Welsh accent. In those days, the BBC required all its spoken word contributors to speak in RP ie Received Pronunciation.   Of course, the Welsh of his father's generation were definitely made to feel that their accent and culture and language were inferior to that of the English invaders.... 

Here's another quote from Dylan, talking about his first falling in love with nursery rhymes - 

'I had come to love just the words of them, the words alone.  What the words stood for, symbolised or meant, was of very secondary importance; what mattered was the sound of them as I heard for the first time on the lips of the remote and incomprehensible grown-ups who seemed, for some reason, to be living in my world.'


'Poetry, to a poet,' he has said, 'is the most rewarding work in the world.  A good poem is a contribution to reality.  The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.'

[Both extracts from The Prologue in The Colour of Saying, edited by DT]

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