When I was young my father thought I had gone crazy. Let me explain. I always loved the sounds of words. Hence, when I came home from school I used go to my bedroom and read aloud all the poems, both in Irish and in English that we had learned that day. An old brother, nicknamed "Nipper" taught us all those great elocution poems like Lepanto and Horatio on The Bridge and boy did we read them aloud and in unison with great passion and verve. That was when I was a 12 year old first year. No wonder my father thought me cracked when he'd hear the battle sounds of Lepanto or an account of brave Horatio's exploits emanating from my upstairs bedroom.
When I got to college I studied English Literature for four years, and I especially enjoyed our poetry tutorials where we were introduced to the poems of Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot and Randal Jarrell among many others. I mention these three as our tutor, the late John Devitt, R.I.P., brought in tapes of the three of these poets reading their own work. Needless to say I was blown away by the spoken word. Anyone who has never heard any of the three reading has missed a real treat. Jarrell read his poems with an intensity of feeling that is hard to forget. The emotion of his voice literally strained across the very words like an animal skin across the face of a drum. Then Eliot who read his poems with great stentorian aplomb and with the immaculate diction of an Oxford don and he an American. Lastly Dylan Thomas stole the show for me. Dylan not alone read his poems, he proclaimed and declaimed them. In fact he became his poems. His marvellously deep Welsh voice had the clarity of diction that any elocution teacher might desire and the magic of words equal only to Shakespeare. I begged John to lend me his tapes and I copied them. I have those copies in my possession to this day somewhere in my attic.
Here I want to introduce the reader to one of my favourite Dylan Thomas poems. It's called The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower. Don't ask what this poem means. Just read it aloud. Poetry has to be read with ear more than the eye. Most times the meaning is caught somewhere between the words and even in its sound. Here's the poem. Read it aloud. Let your husband, wife or children think you have gone mad. Why not? Do it now!
THE FORCE THAT THROUGH THE GREEN FUSE DRIVES THE FLOWERThe 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.
It would be nothing short of crazy to attempt to paraphrase what is nothing short of a beautiful cocktail of life and death, of life in death and death in life, of green fused life, of pumping pulsating life, of that green fuse, of the very pump that drives the blood about the body, of the coming, the growing and the dying of life, of that life going full circle again and again and again. All of teeming life is in this poem found somewhere riding on the back of the untamed beast of whatever energy life essentially is. Lines that appeal especially to me are:
"The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood"
"How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks."
"And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime."
"And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars."
Ah do not ask, as our own poet Patrick Kavanagh put it, "for reason's payment." Just read and re-read and re-read this wonderful poem aloud, and the meaning will drop aurally into your heart. It will not fail to move you. Let the words trip off your tongue with relish and the meaning will leap into your mind in sure repayment for your enthusiastic efforts.
Above a picture of a young Dylan Thomas