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"The existentialist void and the divine image" : the poetry of Dylan Thomas Monro, Colin James Outram 1962

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"THE EXISTENTIALIST VOID AND THE DIVINE IMAGE" The Poetry of Dylan Thomas by Colin Monro M.A. Oxon., 1961 A Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of in the Department of We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA April, 1962 In present ing t h i s thes i s i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t o f the requirements f o r an advanced degree at the Un i ve rs i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree tha t the L ib ra r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y ava i l ab l e f o r reference and study. I f u r the r agree that permission f o r extensive copying of t h i s t hes i s f o r s cho l a r l y purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or by h i s representa t i ves . It i s understood tha t copying or pub l i c a t i on of t h i s thes i s f o r f i n a n c i a l ga in s h a l l not be allowed without my wr i t ten permiss ion. Department of The Un i ve r s i t y o f Br i t f ish Columbia, Vancouver 8, Canada., Date  .. ABSTRACT The principal aim of this thesis has been to trace the course of Dylan Thomas's poetic evolution, which falls roughly into three main periods. It would be wrong to consider these water-tight compartments, however, since it is possible to discern from any one stage of his development lineaments of the past or of the future. Thus any generalization is automatically so qualified. The first period is principally concerned with the creative and destructive forces which comprise the pattern of the changing and unchanging universe. Its focal image is procreative and its exploration of the natural dialectic is rendered very largely through the kind of perceptions belonging to the subconscious mind. It would be mis-taken to infer from this that the poetry is chaotic, but its almost continual reliance upon symbolic meaning demands a response in which areas of the mind outside the rational are very often brought into play. The obscurities of style reflect the difficulties inherent in the putting into words of the chaos beyond consciousness. There are places where a nucleus of significance is lacking, and the poet becomes lost in obfuscated imagery, but at best he achieves a superb, solidified resonance. The second period shows a growing concern with the relation of the macrocosm to the microcosm. Correspondingly, the degrees of both affirmation and negation are more extreme. At this time the growing pressure of problems of personal existence and of a greater awareness results in the questions outnumbering the answers. There are poems so dense and so opaque they virtually defy efforts to elucidate them; others, however, reveal a greater measure of clarity and a more plastic command of language. II The third period is, in my opinion, the finest. It explores the many-colored world and possesses the mellowed abundance of artistic maturity. At last the poet appears to have transformed the void at the heart of being into a shining image of faith and redemption, but it should be remembered that in Thomas the negation remains and provides the impetus to his triumphant acclamation of life. Taken on its own terms existence is intolerable; his reconciliation occurs as a re-sult of his rejecting the earth for a vision of immortality. He achieves the poised tranquillity if not the neutral flexibility of the language of,say, Keats or Yeats, which marks the vast and detached power of great poetry. Though there are places where the inspiration seems a trifle flaccid, I should not hesitate to describe the end as a rich and complete poetic harvest. TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Chapter I Introduction 1 Chapter II The First Period : Part 1 4 Part 2 30 Chapter III The Middle Period : Part 1 37 Part 2 67 Chapter IV The Third Period : Part 1 72 Part 2 117 Chapter V An Epilogue 123 Bibliography 130 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION C r i t i c i s m of contemporary l i t e r a t u r e i s o f t e n a b a t t l e -f i e l d of d i s s e n t . A l s o i t i s f r e q u e n t l y most u n r e l i a b l e , s i n c e we may not only p r a i s e the worst f o r pandering t o the v a g a r i e s of f a s h i o n s we mistake f o r t r u e o r i g i n a l i t i e s , but admire what i s l e a s t admirable i n the best. D e s p i t e t h i s f a c t , dogmatism i s the r u l e r a t h e r than the e x c e p t i o n i n the c r i t i q u e s of w r i t e r s , e i t h e r l i v i n g or newly dead. Dylan Thomas has p r o v i d e d f e r t i l e ground f o r c r i t i c a l disagreements, which range from G e o f f r e y Grigson's d e s c r i p t i o n of h i s p o e t r y as a "meaningless hot sprawl of mud"* to Olson's c l a i m "there are great poems i n each of h i s o three p e r i o d s . " There have been many approaches t o h i s work, none of which seems to me f r e e of b i a s . S t a n f o r d has f o r c e d him i n t o a F r e u d i a n s t r a i t - j a c k e t and Merwin i n t o a r e l i g i o u s one. Perhaps h i s l e a s t p a r t i a l c r i t i c i s Olson. My own approach endeavours t o be as l i t e r a l as p o s s i b l e and i t i s my aim to examine what I c o n s i d e r t o be the c e n t r a l course of h i s development i n what Thomas c a l Is . . . the s t r i p p i n g of the i n d i v i d u a l darkness, which must, i n e v i t a b l y , c a s t l i g h t upon what has been hidden f o r too long, and by d o ing so, make c l e a n the naked exposure. B e n e f i t t i n g by the s i g h t of l i g h t , and the knowledge of the hidden nakedness, poetry must drag f u r t h e r i n t o the c l e a n nakedness of l i g h t more even of the hidden causes than Freud c o u l d r e a l i z e . 3 P o e t i c c r e a t i o n e v i d e n t l y meant f o r Thomas a process of 2 s e l f - p u r i f i c a t i o n through the exploration of dark and uncharted regions of the soul. Though such an a c t i v i t y may participate i n psychology and r e l i g i o n , i t cannot be reduced to one or the other, since i t incorporates areas of a c t i v i t y they do not include. Much of h i s poetry suffers from an obscurity which l i e s i n the nature of the material i t s e l f and i n the very strangeness of the s p i r i t u a l lands through which i t cuts a path. To d i s t o r t the poetry i s almost inevitable, because, i n r a t i o n a l i z i n g poems which record a struggle to a r t i c u l a t e t h e i r matter, we can hardly avoid changing i t . The act of elucidation i t s e l f constitutes an a l t e r a t i o n . I s h a l l not enter into biographical discussions of Thomas, nor consider the interplay between h i s writing and d i s -solution among the demi-mondaine, nor how, a Bajazeth i n a gilded cage, i n response to inner compulsions he destroyed himself. The Wimbushes have done the i r worst and the l i o n i s dead. Thomas offered an age avid for sensation a vast Bohemian p o s s i b i l i t y i n a role he o b l i g i n g l y f u l f i l l e d : of the great, wild, drunken, enfant t e r r i b l e , shocking and mocking his audiences, usually to their delight, occasionally to th e i r m o r t i f i c a t i o n , but invariably to h is own discomfiture. As man and poet he has been compared with Rimbaud, but the resemblances seem to me marginal. Rimbaud's r e b e l l i o n was a conscious attempt to e"pater le bourgeois and sprang from the conviction that to f u l f i l himself as a poet required him to act out h i s poetic manifesto. Thomas's "Up-Rimbaud-and-At-Em Approach" was simply an unreflectfrd reaction to l i f e , It i s true t h e i r work 3. shares a p r e d i l e c t i o n f o r t h e . i r r a t i o n a l but, u n l i k e Rimbaud, Thomas was not an i c o n o c l a s t . Most l i k e were t h e i r s p i r i t u a l endings. They were both destroyed by a j u n g l e . The poetry of both i s obscure, but whatever d i f f i -c u l t i e s p a r t i c u l a r d e t a i l s present the general o u t l i n e s are u s u a l l y c l e a r . My i n t e n t i o n i s to d i v i d e Thomas's work i n t o three main p e r i o d s , not because I b e l i e v e i t conforms to a s t r i c t p a t t e r n of c h r o n o l o g i c a l d i v i s i o n s , but because i t i s s u f f i c i e n t l y t r i p a r t i t e i n character to j u s t i f y such a pro= cedure. My c h i e f concern w i l l be to trace the poet's e v o l u t i o n from the e x i s t e n t i a l i s t world of process, a s t e r i l e v o i d r u l e d by death, to a v i s i o n of a universe at the centre of which reposes the Divine Image. A r e l a t e d , though secondary con-s i d e r a t i o n , i s the development of s t y l e , which n a t u r a l l y m i r r o r s the content. Save f o r an attempted f i d e l i t y to the works, I have no f i x e d c r i t i c a l b i a s , unless i t be the d e s i r e to express a broadly humanist standpoint, f o r I do not b e l i e v e that c r i t i c i s m i s f u r n i s h e d with skeleton keys. CHAPTER I I THE FIRST PERIOD Part 1 Great poets, i n whom nothing i s l o s t , but a l l i s changed, evolve continuously; minor ones play a few tunes, embellished w i t h v a r i o u s r o s a l i a s , upon a s i n g l e f l u t e . Though r e a l , Thomas's development i s p a r t i a l ; b r i l l i a n t and e r r a t i c r a t h e r than con-s i s t e n t and sustained; at times dense, at others vaporous; now i r i d e s c e n t and now clouded. In s h o r t , though confusion i s pre-valent i n h i s work, I b e l i e v e we can s t i l l accord him greatness. In the f i r s t p e r i o d , content and s t y l e are mostly homogeneous and the o b s c u r i t i e s of symbol r e f l e c t the r e a l chaos i n the lower depths w i t h which he i s so deeply preoccupied. The second contains i n t e n s e r degrees of l i g h t and darkness; some themes are elaborated, others d i s c a r d e d , w h i l s t f r e q u e n t l y he reaches r e s o l u t i o n s only t o d i s c a r d them again. An increased awareness of the world aronnd accompanies a d e c l i n i n g a bsorption w i t h process, but there are other pieces which seem l i t t l e b e t t e r than concatenations of f i s s i o n a r y symbols, whose meanings refuse to coalesce. In almost a l l r e s p e c t s , the t h i r d p e r i o d i s the most accomplished. I t s imagery steeped i n u n i f i e d experience serves an i n c r e a s i n g l y i n t e g r a t e d v i s i o n . We may take the f i r s t eighteen pieces i n C o l l e c t e d  Poems as r e p r e s e n t a t i v e of the f i r s t p e r i o d . Derek Stanford claims that the c e n t r a l image i n these poems i s t h a t "of the 5 6 womb" and "the ovum, the embryo, the homunculus, the seed." 5. Though p r o c r e a t i v i t y occupies a c e n t r a l place i n many and forms the nucleus of many images, unless we can r e l a t e the l a t t e r to the wider context of the poet's t o t a l development, we s h a l l not capture t h e i r e s s e n t i a l meaning. In f a c t , the f i r s t poem, " I see the boys of summer," does not centre round p r o c r e a t i v i t y , but r a t h e r uses i t as a symbol of more general growth and f u l f i l m e n t . The f i r s t two stanzas describe the s t e r i l i t y of adolescence, a time when the microcosm i s i n v e r t e d , confused and aware of the s e l f ' s incompleteness: There i n the sun the f r i g i d threads Of doubt and dark they feed t h e i r nerves; The s i g n a l moon i s zero i n t h e i r v o i d s . The l i g h t of f u l f i l m e n t c o n t r a s t s w i t h the darkness of i s o l a t i o n and, alone, man stands outside the b r i g h t c i r c l e t of the sun-l i g h t , breeding i n h i s n e r v e - c e l l s "doubt and dark," the v i c t i m of i n t r o v e r s i o n and d i s t r u s t . Nor does the white beacon of the moon, that shines on l o v e r s , touch the barren s e l f - p r o j e c t i o n s of those immured i n t h e i r own darkness. T h i s statement concerns the poet h i m s e l f , h i s generation and humanity at l a r g e . The two stanzas that f o l l o w t urn back to p r e - n a t a l e x i s t e n c e , c o n t r a s t i n g the seed's p o t e n t i a l i t i e s w i t h i t s aborted f u l f i l m e n t . "Night and day" a l t e r n a t e and may s p i r i t u a l l y co-e x i s t i n the womb and the world, but w h i l s t the embryo l i v e s to the f u l l i t s unconscious l i f e , w i t h growth n a t u r a l s e n s i b i l i t y becomes warped, since from the seed " s h a l l men of nothing s p r i n g . " 7 L i f e engenders a y o i d , b e g e t t i n g a race of "hollow men."' In the next s e c t i o n , the d i a l e c t i c presents i t s a n t i -t h e s i s . The f a c t the poet a l t e r s h i s persona t o the c o l l e c t i v e "we" does not, I t h i n k , i n d i c a t e as Olson suggests that the poet i s a "pseudo-drama i n v o l v i n g the 'boys,' t h e i r c r i t i c and the o poet." I p r e f e r to regard the poet as a l l three and, though there may simultaneously be suggestions of d i s t i n c t c h a r a c t e r s , a l l merge i n t o each other, r a t h e r as the su b j e c t s of c e r t a i n s u r r e a l i s t p a i n t i n g s . T h i s s e c t i o n continues t o denounce "the dark d e n i e r s , " who r e s i s t l i f e , and defends the dangerous i r r a t i o n a l i t y expressed i n "In s p r i n g we cro s s our foreheads w i t h the h o l l y , Heigh ho the blood and berry. . . . " where the poet c e l e b r a t e s the r e b i r t h of the f o r c e s of i n s t i n c t . T his extends the n o t i o n , already discussed, that l i f e r e s i d e s i n the mainsprings of nature, whose deadly enemy i s the s e l f -estrangement r e s u l t i n g from s e l f - c o n s c i o u s n e s s . The poet's ambivalence prevents him from a t t a i n i n g a s a t i s f y i n g s y n t h e s i s and throws t h i s s e c t i o n i n t o a c e r t a i n con-f u s i o n . The deniers of l i f e are a l s o i t s r e b e l s and t h e i r con-duct moves widdershins. This betokens t h e i r r e f u s a l t o conform to the n a t u r a l l i m i t a t i o n s , but i s a poor recompense f o r t h e i r f a i l u r e to adjust themselves t o the world. Somewhat as Hardy's r e b e l s , they demand some admiration f o r t h e i r r e f u s a l to accept the c o nfines l i f e imposes, but the p r i c e they pay i s s t e r i l i t y and darkness. There i s a grim i r o n y i n the f a c t that those who have the courage to p r o t e s t against the human predicament reap nothing but n u l l i t y f o r t h e i r p a ins. 7 . The l a s t verse again adopts an ambivalent attitude to-wards the procreative pantheism which at once magnetized and angered Thomas. I am the man your father was. We are the sons of f l i n t and p i t c h . 0 see the poles are k i s s i n g as they cross. Stanford describes the l a s t l i n e as a "damnatory image g of homosexual action," an interpretation which seems to me at odds with the emphasis of the rest of the poem. Nor do I agree with Olson's statement that "the boys refuse to acknowledge any such father. They are 'the sons of f l i n t and p i t c h , ' the age-less universe."I® I think the poet i d e n t i f i e s the c h i l d with the father and both'with the sub-human universe, choosing symbols that suggest darkness, defilement, and barrenness, for the ' f l i n t ' i s as s t e r i l e and the 'pitch' as black as the seed i s f e r t i l e and white. In a word, man's i n s t i n c t s are tarred with the corruptions of a maculated existence. Even the i n s t i n c t u a l elements then, which embody the most v i t a l aspects of mankind, are polluted. The l a s t l i n e provides a resolution, as the p h a l l o i are changed into a cross. The generative organs of father and son become the cross of death. It indeed supposes an i r o n i c resurrection, not divine, but procreative, and ultimately ruled by death. The dark and deathly side of l i f e i s here in the ascendancy. Existence revolves on the doomed wheel of generation, where conformity and resistance to the natural order must both succumb to death. The human trinity are grouped round the generative spark redeeming l i f e from t o t a l destruction, but the c o n f l i c t 8. between c r e a t i o n and d e s t r u c t i o n , so r e c u r r e n t i n Thomas, f i n d s here no s a t i s f a c t o r y s o l u t i o n . "When once the t w i l i g h t l o c k s no longer" focuses almost e x c l u s i v e l y on the poet's own genesis. I t describes h i s ascent from the moment of i n c e p t i o n to autonomous being and t r a c e s , t h e r e f o r e , h i s progression towards a k i n d of ' s e l f - a r t i c u l a t i o n . ' Very l i t e r a l l y , then, i t records "the s t r i p p i n g of the i n d i v i d u a l darkness."** The paradox i m p l i e d i n the l a s t poem, that 'tomb' and 'womb* are v i r t u a l l y interchangeable symbols, i s c l a r i f i e d i n t h i s one. This c e r t a i n l y does not suggest to me, as i t has to some c r i t i c s , that Thomas i s a poet of death i n a manner comparable to R i l k e . In the l a t t e r , death i s l i f e ' s h arvest, but i n Thomas as o f t e n as not i t i s a monstrous executioner. The s t r u g g l e f o r l i g h t i s s t r o n g l y marked as the seed grows u n t i l i t bursts the lock-gates of the womb. I t i s most apparent i n the l a s t verse, which contains a f e e l i n g of l i b e r a -t i o n , where he says: The fences of the l i g h t are down, A l l but the b r i s k e s t r i d e r s thrown, And worlds hang on the t r e e s . But again death's shadow f a l l s on the world, f o r , though the 'fences' are 'down,' l i f e spares only the strongest r i d e r s ; however, the f e r t i l i t y of the t r e e s , which bear t h e i r f lowers and f r u i t s and seeds, presents a hopeful analogy: the e r s t -w h i l e c h i l d - s e e d i t s e l f becomes a tre e of f e c u n d i t y . 9 . As i n the preceding p i e c e , death triumphs, f o r Some dead undid t h e i r bushy jaws And bags of blood l e t out th'eisr f l i e s . . . . The dead sprout nothing but h a i r and t h e i r d e s s i c a t e d c e l l s emit merely minuscule pustules of blood. The i n v e r s i o n i s grotesque. Death provides the source of a r e p e l l e n t parody of b i r t h . Again the f a m i l i a l t r i u n e i s present, three f i g u r e s who incarnate the race and the whole g e n e t i c c y c l e of mankind, but w h i l s t the standpoint of the f i r s t poem i s e s s e n t i a l l y p ersonal, t h i s one s e t s f o r t h i t s theme as an o b j e c t i v e f a c t of e x i s t e n c e . "Before I knocked" explores the notion of r e l a t i v i t y through the p r e - n a t a l prescience of C h r i s t , almost as i f l i f e i n the womb were an anagram of a l l being. Rather than presenting C h r i s t as a supernatural f i g u r e , endowed w i t h s p e c i a l f o r e s i g h t , the poet uses him to a s s e r t an a f f i n i t y between various modes and stages of e x i s t e n c e , each of which co n t a i n s a l l the others. There are c e r t a i n l y p a n t h e i s t i c elements present, but I doubt i f we should be j u s t i f i e d i n a p p l y i n g the term without q u a l i -f i c a t i o n s . Thomas focuses more upon the temporal r e l a t i o n of phenomena than upon the l a t t e r as o b j e c t s of perception. Concerning 'Mnetha's daughter' Olson comments, "he i s merely saying that Jesus, as yet unconceived, was u t t e r l y formless, and had every and no r e l a t i o n t o e v e r y t h i n g and everybody, as a con-i c sequence." I t h i n k t h i s o v e r s i m p l i f i e s the poem's thematic s t r u c t u r e , f o r the concluding q u a t r a i n s t r e s s e s two d i s t i n c t 10. aspects of C h r i s t : as mortal, possessed with divine f a c u l t i e s , as divine and once invested with human a t t r i b u t e s : You who bow down at cross and a l t a r , Remember me and p i t y Him Who took my f l e s h and bone for armour And doublecrossed my mother's womb. The metaphysical complexity of these l i n e s i s astonishing i n one so often dismissed as an u n i n t e l l e c t u a l rhapsodist. As God, Christ asks we may remember him and p i t y h i s former manhood taken from man and t h e r e f o r e from the poet h i m s e l f , i n which guise he betrayed the Madonna's womanhood by the g r i s l y f r u i t i o n of the c r u c i f i x i o n , wherein he c r u c i f i e d them both. Once more the organs of generation have changed into a symbol of death. Resurrection i s implied rather than stated. Insofar as the poem i s pantheistic, i t v i r t u a l l y equates the f o e t a l Christ with the universe, but I assert Thomas i s also suggesting that, since Christ as God and man contains i n himself the entire created order, creator and created attest each other's being. Whether or not t h i s constitutes the l e v e l l i n g of s p i r i t and matter i s a question we must attempt to resolve. My heart knew love, my b e l l y hunger; I smelt the maggot in my s t o o l . . , , defines Christ's mortality i n terms of i n s t i n c t . It therefore emphasizes his common humanity; but though his assumption of f l e s h has enriched our physical being, the converse i s equally true: I who was r i c h was made the r i c h e r By sipping at the vine of days. . . . 11. which complicates the issue by suggesting that the e t e r n a l has something t o l e a r n from the temporal. Throughout a l l h i s poetry, Thomas's C h r i s t remains p e c u l i a r l y anthropomorphic, the a n t i -t h e s i s of Baudelaire's angel, who i s r e v i l e d f o r h i s t o t a l i g -norance of s u f f e r i n g . I t would be f a l s e to c l a i m that the f i r s t p e r i o d i s e x c l u s i v e l y e x i s t e n t i a l i s t , but i t s a x i s i s m o r t a l i t y and i t s p r e s i d i n g d e i t y i s death. True pantheism appears more c e r t a i n l y i n "A Process i n the weather of the he a r t " and "Ehe forc e t h a t through the green fuse d r i v e s the f l o w e r , " where a s i n g l e generative p r i n c i p l e , informing a l l matter, u n i t e s i t i n t o a s i n g l e process. Both pieces are impregnated w i t h a mortal immanence working through a dynamic p r i n c i p l e . In the second work e s p e c i a l l y , a strong d i a l e c t i c s k e l e t o n supports the symbols, forming a cohesive p a t t e r n of u n i t y i n d i v e r s i t y and the re v e r s e , i n s t e a d of as i n various places elsewhere c o n f r o n t i n g the reader w i t h a random assortment of k a l e i d o s c o p i c fragments. The f i r s t poem deserves a b r i e f comment only. I t i s worth n o t i n g , however, that i t s u n d e r l y i n g premise of being b e l i e s phenomenal r e a l i t y when he w r i t e s : . . . the quick and dead Move l i k e two ghosts before the eye. Thus the realm of process i t s e l f has become an i l l u s i o n super-imposed upon a universe of shadows. Unbeing l i e s at the heart of a l l being. L i f e and death are simply two names f o r a dance 12. of shades. A t e r r i b l e n e gation haunts these l i n e s as i f the poet had s t r e t c h e d out h i s hand t o capture the q u i n t e s s e n t i a l heart of e x i s t e n c e and found i t c l o s e d upon nothingness. What depths of d e s o l a t i o n l i e behind h i s utterance I H i s search f o r t r u t h compels him to penetrate ever deeper i n t o the unknown, but a t t h i s p o i n t of h i s s p i r i t u a l e v o l u t i o n , i n s t e a d of the shimmering s p i r e s of the s o u l ' s r e s t o r e d A t l a n t i s , he sees merely a vacuum. "The f o r c e that through the green fuse d r i v e s the f l o w e r " i s more s u b j e c t i v e and more in t e n s e than the preceding l y r i c . The dynamic o p p o s i t i o n of c r e a t i o n and d e s t r u c t i o n , f o r c e s at once s u c c e s s i v e and c o - e x i s t e n t , are i t s two antipodes, between which l i e s a l l e x i s t e n c e . F i r s t comes the t h e s i s : The f o r c e t h a t through the green fuse d r i v e s the flower D r i v e s my green age. . . . then the a n t i t h e s i s : . . . t h a t b l a s t s the r o o t s of t r e e s Is my d e s t r o y e r . L i f e , l i k e the Hindu god Shiva, at once makes and breaks man and matter. The imagery sugge s t i n g l i f e i s markedly s e x u a l , w h i l s t death appears at h i s most gruesomely mediaeval. In h i s 1 q c r i t i q u e of Thomas i n a chapter e n t i t l e d "The M e d i e v a l i s t , " Treece observes, "The sense of s i n . . . i s i m p l i c i t i n the poet's conception of Death and r e t r i b u t i o n and i s another way of s t a t i n g the hope-fear m o t i f . " 1 4 P o s s i b l y t r u e , i f c r e a t i o n and d e s t r u c t i o n are a l g e b r a i c a l l y equal t o hope and f e a r 13. r e s p e c t i v e l y . But what i s the advantage of t r a n s l a t i n g them i n t o questionably synonymous terms? Furthermore, t h i s c r i t i c i s m overlooks the f a c t that l i f e and death here emerge as inseparable f o r c e s which we cannot enter i n t o moral f i l i n g - c a b i n e t s . For bett e r or f o r worse, they govern us. Despite the f a c t that a l l phenomena share a s i n g l e f a t e , they e x i s t i n i s o l a t i o n . As the poet says: And I am dumb t o t e l l the crooked rose My youth i s bent by the same w i n t r y f e v e r . , , , and again i n : And I am dumb to t e l l the l o v e r ' s tomb How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm. Herein l i e s the u l t i m a t e horror of l i f e ' s tragedy. Each one s u f f e r s i n s o l i t u d e the same f a t e . Common p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the same destiny does not a l l e v i a t e our i n d i v i d u a l i n a r t i c u l a c y nor enable us to l i g h t e n i t w i t h communication. We are each alone i n a countless crowd. This i s a world f o r e s o l d t o death and we are the h e l p l e s s driftwood of i t s d i a l e c t i c . At the co n c l u s i o n , the twin powers un i t e and bind t o -gether the l i v i n g and the dead, but i t i s death who i s triumphant. In "Where once the waters of your f a c e " f a i t h pre-v a i l s over death, though i t must succumb t o i t i n the end. The poet can only v i n d i c a t e l i f e a b s o l u t e l y by converting i t i n t o death and transforming the l a t t e r i n t o a supernatural p a r t u r i t i o n . Thus we cannot overlook the f a c t that death l i e s at the heart of not only h i s negations, but a l s o h i s a f f i r m a t i o n s , since i n e i t h e r event t h i s mortal existence i s death-ridden and 14. t o l e r a b l e only through i t s r e j e c t i o n . This piece t e s t i f i e s to love's Promethean v i c t o r y , which abutsl upon death's f i n a l triumph, yet r e f u s e s to be q u e l l e d by i t : There s h a l l be c o r a l s i n your beds, There s h a l l be serpents i n your t i d e s , T i l l a l l our s e a - f a i t h s d i e . There i s an obvious echo here of A r i e l ' s song, which begins F u l l fathom f i v e they f a t h e r l i e s ; Of h i s bones are c o r a l made. . . .15 In e i t h e r case death changes r a t h e r than a n n i h i l a t e s . In Thomas's poem, the object addressed i s s t r i p p e d of almost every human a t t r i b u t e and becomes a symbol of womanhood, of the feminine p r i n c i p l e i n l i f e . This r e f l e c t s the urge i n the f i r s t p e r i o d to render o b j e c t s not as the conscious mind per-c e i v e s them, but as the subconscious experiences them. They are t h e r e f o r e transformed i n t o p r o j e c t i o n s of the poet's psyche. He confronts us with a c u r i o u s l y systematic e f f o r t t o dredge the depths of h i s soul and t o portray i t s contents as they a c t u a l l y e x i s t there. In "The Waste Land" E l i o t uses a t e l e -graphic* technique e x t e n s i v e l y , r e c a l l i n g the processes of the stream of consciousness, but concentrates more upon e x t e r n a l phenomena than upon the inner workings of the mind. Though Thomas was not 'committed' i n the fashionable sense to exposing the s p e c i f i c e v i l s of our age, i n "Our Eunuch dreams" he approaches a more recognizably modern landscape. Here he juxtaposes three c e n t r a l concepts: s l e e p , the f a l s e r e f l e x i o n of l i f e cast by the screen and a waking s t a t e . 1 5 . The dream, composed of s t e r i l e fantasy, i s 'seedless;' the c e l l u l o i d gives 'love the l i e ' by simply aping i t , w h i l s t the t h i r d s e c t i o n introduces a c o m p l i c a t i o n over and above the f o r e -going ones, as he demands: Which i s the world? Of our two s l e e p i n g s , which S h a l l f a l l awake when cures and t h e i r i t c h Raise up t h i s red-eyed earth? thereby posing the question r a i s e d by a f a b l e Chuang Chou r e -l a t e s of h i m s e l f : "Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a b u t t e r f l y , f l u t t e r -in g here and there j u s t as i f he was a b u t t e r f l y , conscious of f o l l o w i n g i t s i n c l i n a t i o n s . I t d i d not know that i t was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he awoke; and then demonstrably he was Chuang Chou. But he does not know now whether he i s Chuang Chou who dreamt he was a b u t t e r f l y or a b u t t e r f l y dreaming he i s Chuang Chou." 1 6 Both w r i t e r s are que s t i o n i n g the nature of r e a l i t y and both, i n these passages at l e a s t , suggest i t i s only the subject's standpoint which d i s t i n g u i s h e s i t from i l l u s i o n . The f o u r t h s e c t i o n describes a world composed of c e l l u l o i d and the ' t r a s h ' of dreams. Having reached an i n t e l -l e c t u a l impasse, the poet seeks to r e s o l v e i t w i t h an appeal to f a i t h and l o v e . The dilemma present here runs p a r a l l e l to Keats' s t r u g g l e t o r e c o n c i l e l i f e w i t h a r t . In Thomas the c o n f l i c t l i e s between reason and the s u p e r - r a t i o n a l . I t would be f a l s e to accuse him of t a k i n g an easy escape. He i s simply using a t h i r d f o r c e to i l l u m i n a t e a chaos of u n r e a l i t i e s that 16. obscurely and d i s t o r t e d l y m i r r o r each other's i l l u s o r y nature. I t expresses the search t o f i n d love i n a world where i t i s en-compassed by E r s a t z c o u n t e r f e i t s that mock i t . 'IWhen l i k e a running grave" presents greater d i f f i -c u l t i e s than any piece so f a r considered, p a r t l y on account of i t s syntax and audited punctuation, but a l s o because of a con-s c i o u s l y c r y p t i c method of r e l a t i n g the symbols. The poet asks f o r , and i s refu s e d , deliverance from Death, r u l e r of t h i s country of l i f e . Love's t w i l i t : n a t i on and the s k u l l of s t a t e , S i r , i s your doom. . . . i s the masters* r e p l y . At the c o n c l u s i o n , the poet r e a l i z e s the f u t i l i t y of h i s p l e a and r e s i g n s himself to m o r t a l i t y . Though the piece as a whole i s u n s a t i s f a c t o r y , 'Cadaver* i s important to our t h e s i s . The d e s t r u c t i v e element i n the twin f o r c e that 'through the green fuse d r i v e s the f l o w e r ' i s divorced here from i t s counterpart and i s now ' s t a l k i n g ' l i f e . This change i n the poet's perspective i n d i c a t e s that he i s emerging from the ambivalent world of the subconscious and becoming aware o f , as d i s t i n c t e n t i t i e s , the f o r c e s governing e x i s t e n c e . . In strong c o n t r a s t to the foregoing work, "In the beginning" i s a f f i r m a t i v e , Genesis and death compose yet another p a t t e r n , f r e e from ambivalence and from h o s t i l i t y , i n the poet's d e s c r i p t i o n of the primal u n i t y of the uni v e r s e , when he w r i t e s : And, burning cyphers on the round of space, Heaven and h e l l mixed as they spun. Perhaps f o r the f i r s t time c l e a r l y there emerges one of the main 17. concepts i n h i s p o s i t i v e v i s i o n : that the o r i g i n a l source of l i f e and i t s u l t i m a t e r e s o l u t i o n c o n s i s t of a u n i t y i n d i v e r s i t y and the converse, between which l i e s a sea of chaos, or a f a l l e n order composing l i f e as we ourselves experience i t . The act of c r e a t i o n unlocked a Pandora's box: Blood shot and s c a t t e r e d t o the winds of l i g h t The r i b b e d o r i g i n a l of lov e . I t a l s o suggests that the process of c r e a t i o n c o n s i s t e d of r e -d u p l i c a t i n g a s i n g l e o r i g i n a l image of l o v e . An expansion of the opening of St. John's Gospel, the poem possesses a d e l i c a c y r a r e among the s t r i d e n t h e c t i c v i o l e n c e of much of the e a r l i e r poetry. The imp r i n t of l i g h t and form upon chaos and darkness i s b e a u t i f u l l y rendered: In the beginning was the word, the word That from the s o l i d bases of the l i g h t A b stracted a l l the l e t t e r s of the v o i d . . . . In these l i n e s the word i s the act of c r e a t i o n , the d i v i n e logos, p r i n t i n g i t s l i g h t upon primeval chaos. A f l a s h of l i g h t n i n g r i p s through the encompassing darkness and the unending c y c l e of generation has begun. In h i s e x p l o r a t i o n of the whole theme of genesis, the poet has now moved back to the f i r s t cause and, i n doing so, passed beyond the r e v o l u t i o n s of the f a l l e n order. H i s disoovery of an act of p r o c r e a t i o n , transcending the c y c l e of our own e x i s t e n c e , temporarily a l l e v i a t e s the sense of doom from which he i s never t o escape e n t i r e l y . Here the s p i r i t has turned t o contemplate a l i g h t and darkness outside i t s e l f and i t s awareness of the logos i s touched w i t h a s h i n i n g wonder. 18 In "Light breaks where no sun s h i n e s , " the same theme i s developed i n sexual r a t h e r than m y s t i c a l utterance. A change i n the poet's a t t i t u d e towards process has become apparent. In the e a r l i e s t poems every contrary d i s s o l v e s i n t o death, but as he grows more conscious of the numerous p e r s p e c t i v e s of l i f e , more and more he questions the r i g h t of matter t o monopolize r e a l i t y . In t h i s piece he holds i n h i s gaze unchanging nature and the seasons, but the l a s t stanza complicates the p r e v a i l i n g mood: When l o g i c s d i e , The secret of the s o i l grows through the eye, And blood jumps i n the sun; Above the waste allotments the dawn h a l t s . Reason must die that we may t r u l y l i v e i n harmony w i t h nature. The r u i n e d v e s t i g e s of c u l t i v a t i o n i n d i c a t e the f a i l u r e of reason to p r e v a i l and the dawn l i g h t s up t h e i r drabness. In t h i s b i -s e c t i o n of blood from b r a i n , we can detect the f i r s t s i g n s of the poet's r e a l i z a t i o n of the c o n f l i c t i n g elements i n human nature. Though l i g h t and i n s t i n c t triumph, t h e i r v i c t o r y seems to e x p i r e w i t h the c l o s e of the poem. Why does the dawn ' h a l t , ' unless he means that reason paralyzes i n s t i n c t ? Perhaps t h i s i l l u s t r a t e s h i s contention that Out of the i n e v i t a b l e c o n f l i c t of images -i n e v i t a b l e because of the c r e a t i v e , r e c r e a t i v e , d e s t r u c t i v e and c o n t r a d i c t o r y nature of the moti v a t i n g c e n t r e , the womb of war - I t r y to make that momentary peace which i s a poem." 1 7 19 At t h i s p o i n t then, maybe peace i s co-extensive only w i t h the poem i t s e l f , l e a v i n g us t h e r e f o r e , i n s t e a d of the f e e l i n g of r e s t -f u l f i n a l i t y , a sense of a b r i e f r e s p i t e from c o n f l i c t . In " I dreamed my genesis" and "My world i s pyramid," a ghost r e l a t e s i t s b i r t h and death, but w h i l s t i n the f i r s t a r e s u r r e c t i o n occurs, the second ends on a more p a n t h e i s t i c note. Stanford remarks that i n the f i r s t piece "the poet looks back dreaming h i s act of b i r t h over again. . . . pre-experiences death i n w a r . " 1 8 T h i s i s t r u e , but I t h i n k i t i s important t o emphasize that he presents himself as a v o i c e , l o c a t e d i n n e i t h e r time nor space, r e c o r d i n g h i s b i r t h and death. The r e c o l l e c t i v e dream u n i t e s the two f u n c t i o n s . One . . . f i l e d Through a l l the i r o n s i n the grass. . . . the other f o r c e d My second s t r u g g l i n g from the grass. Both are an exodus from e a r t h , a s t r u g g l e t o f r e e the s e l f from the womb of darkness. U n t i l the s p i r i t has grown weary of matter, however, i t cannot achieve the f i n a l l i b e r a t i o n , when . . . v i s i o n Of new man st r e n g t h , I seek the sun. The dead s o l d i e r ' s ghost has become 'Stale of Adam's b r i n e ' and at l a s t seeks the heart of l i g h t . I t i s a complex p a t t e r n and at l e a s t f i v e d i f f e r e n t kinds of r e b i r t h are apparent: an a c t u a l b i r t h , a dreamed-of b i r t h , an a c t u a l death, a dreamed-of death and a p a n t h e i s t i c r e s u r r e c t i o n . This i s a theme b r i l l i a n t l y developed i n the magnificent e l e g i e s . 20. I t i s impossible t o confine the e a r l y poetry w i t h i n a s i n g l e philosophy. A p r e v a i l i n g ambiguity surrounds the poet's a t t i t u d e towards the nature of process. Using the three great fundamentals of e x i s t e n c e , b i r t h , p r o c r e a t i o n and death, as h i s thematic n u c l e i i , he presents them i n various r e -l a t i o n s t o each other and seeks d i v e r s e s o l u t i o n s of the problems they r a i s e . In the preceding p i e c e , f o r i n s t a n c e , i t i s f r u i t -l e s s t o speculate as to the s p e c i f i c form the r e s u r r e c t i o n assumes. He suggests that the ghost becomes slo w l y weaned from i t s adherence t o matter, but i n what sense i t outgrows i t can-not be s e t t l e d . L i k e many poets, Thomas subsumes metaphysical concepts under a v i s i o n . Poetry, being a ' s u p e r - r a t i o n a l * a c t i v i t y , we cannot demand of i t the l o g i c of reason. None-t h e l e s s , we may object that the poet's preoccupation w i t h so few themes tends t o become monotonous. "My world i s pyramid" moves from the seas of the womb to the seas of death. In " I see the boys of summer," he describes s p i r i t u a l deformity; he now explores the con-c e p t i o n of a c r i p p l e , of whom he says . . . h a l f of love was planted i n the l o s t And the unplanted ghost. H a l f of the p r o c r e a t i v e f o r c e i n e i t h e r parent was l o s t i n the ghost l y complement that i s the measure of man's incompleteness. The c r i p p l e i s not simply an unlucky a c c i d e n t ; he i s the poet h i m s e l f , he i s man and the d e f i c i e n c i e s of man's warped s t a t e . A sense of l i f e ' s f a i l u r e to f u l f i l i t s e l f and of i t s d e s t r u c t i v e -ness i s not new t o the poetry, but i t i s a theme which gathers 21. momentum throughout h i s development. The f i r s t s e c t i o n suggests the ho r r o r s that l u r k i n the subconscious, which i s surrounded by . . . tide-tongued heads and bladders i n the deep. . . . and ' b r a i d i n g adders' of Medusas; i n a word, a l l the monstrous paraphenalia of the images which haunt the lower depths of the s p i r i t . The f i r s t s e c t i o n concludes w i t h the ghost's dumb bewilderment, as, plunged i n t o death, i t gropes f o r some clu e to the meaning and nature of e x i s t e n c e . The ghost i s dumb that stammered i n the straw. . . . emphasizes i t s i n a r t i c u l a c y . The next s e c t i o n takes us i n t o a land of death, where the voice of the dead man describes h i s dissemination amongst the world: Who seek me landward, marking i n my mouth The straws of A s i a , l o s e me as I t u r n Through the A t l a n t i c corn. These l i n e s r a i s e a problem, namely, what i s the r e l a t i o n be-tween the voice and i t s s c a t t e r e d p a r t i c l e s ? Does the poet pose a s p i r i t u a l e n t i t y d i s t i n c t from i t s p h y s i c a l elements, or i s he endowing the d i s c r e t e remnants of p h y s i c a l l i f e w i t h awareness? The answer would seem t o be t h a t , though i t s f l e s h -l y elements are dis p e r s e d through the world, despite t h e i r t r a g i c d i s i n t e g r a t i o n , the s p i r i t c l o t h e d i n an 'angel's hood,' r e t a i n s a sense of p h y s i c a l u n i t y . The c o n c l u s i o n suggests that the ghost i s about to 22. enter a further cycle of existence: My clay unsuckled and my s a l t unborn, The secret c h i l d , I s h i f t about the sea Dry i n the half-tracked thigh. It also unites the c r i p p l i n g of the narrator with the bisection of the creative force. This f i n a l gesture to reconcile the disparate elements of the work and to reintegrate body and soul does not succeed completely. But, despite a perceptible degree of metaphysical confusion, the g i s t of the utterance i s c l e a r . Man, says the poet, i s incomplete and stunted; his develop-ment i s abortive; at his death yet a further decreation occurs; yet r e b i r t h i s a coalescence and, indeed, u n t i l he has achieved completeness, he must re-enter the physical wheel of being. Though the form which such notions take here i s disconcertingly strange, th e i r seminal content i s recognizable i n Platonism and Buddhism. The central position i n Thomas's poetry of a deadly void suggests the unconscious intrusion of c e r t a i n ideas f a m i l i a r to the student of Eastern r e l i g i o n and some of i t s philosophical t r i b u t a r i e s . Venal man a l i v e and dead f u l f i l s the dictates of fate and remains the passive victim of his karma. Like Jude, t h i s ghost i s the dwarf of giant circumstance. " A l l a l l and a l l the dry worlds l e v e r , " the l a s t of Eighteen Poems, i s a diffuse rhapsody on the omnipresence among a l l creation of the generative p r i n c i p l e . It i s l i t e r a l l y an address to process, but i t s f a i l u r e to create a nodal point r e -s u l t s i n chaos. Unity i n d i v e r s i t y i s a theme that p e r s i s t s through the poet's work and becomes successful only when he a l l i e s 23. i t t o some p a r t i c u l a r s i t u a t i o n . Some c r i t i c s regard Flower, flower the people's f u s i o n . . . . as a p l e a f o r p o l i t i c a l u n i t y , but I doubt i f the d e s i r e to e s t a b l i s h a u n i f i e d world shows here anything more s p e c i f i c than a b a s i c sense of human r e s p o n s i b i l i t y t o an obvious need: cosmic harmony. Among the e a r l y poems there i s a group that stands apart from the r e s t . In order t o present the poet's t o t a l e v o l u t i o n as f a i t h f u l l y as p o s s i b l e , I have decided to i n c o r -porate L i . t . : i n t o my a n a l y s i s . " I f I were t i c k l e d by the rub of l o v e " i s the f i r s t . U nlike the pieces we have examined so f a r , which are c h i e f l y concerned w i t h v a r i o u s aspects of man i n r e l a t i o n t o a dynamic p r i n c i p l e , i n t h i s the poet confronts us as a l i t e r a r y a r t i s t attempting to define h i s r e l a t i o n s w i t h the world. The f i r s t f i v e stanzas show the inadequacy of love to provide a s a t i s f a c t o r y p a l l i a t i v e f o r h i s i n s e c u r i t y . I t i s mortal i t s e l f and l e f t , no l e s s than he, at time's mercy and to death which w i l l devour them both. Having f a i l e d t o f i n d a refuge, the poet can only . . . s i t and watch the worm beneath my n a i l Wearing the quick away. And t h a t ' s the rub, the only rub that t i c k l e s . By death alone he a f f i r m s h i s e x i s t e n c e . T h i s i s a hideous irony I The shock of i t s discovery renders him h e l p l e s s and 2 4 . p a s s i v e , contemplating the process of d e s t r u c t i o n that i s a l -ready at work i n him. The c o n c l u s i o n , however, r e s o l v e s the enmity estab-l i s h e d between love and death, as he asks: And what's the rub? Death's feather on the nerve? Your mouth, my l o v e , the t h i s t l e i n the k i s s ? My Jack of C h r i s t born thorny on the tre e ? Question f o l l o w s question as he seeks to f i n d some s o l u t i o n t o the f a c t that death l i e s at the heart of a l l h i s devices t o evade i t s f e a r . He r e s o l v e s t h i s c o n f l i c t by d e d i c a t i n g him-s e l f to man, who contains the f r u i t s of l i f e and death and embraces i n h i s being a l l thoughts and f e e l i n g s . The poet r e -j e c t s nothing; he makes no attempt to cancel death, but he says, s i n c e man i s a l l h i s c o n t r a r i e s , i t i s of him that he should s i n g . The l a s t l i n e r i n g s l i k e a d e c l a r a t i o n , as i f Thomas, having explored l i f e ' s two boundaries and attempted to u n i t e them through the d r i v i n g image of p r o c r e a t i o n , has begun t o become more ac u t e l y aware of a l l that l i e s between: the human predicament as a man experiences i t . He has a l s o begun to accept c e r t a i n fundamentals, above a l l the i n d i v i s i b l e c o - e x i s t -ence i n humanity of love and death. A r t i s the supremely u n i -f y i n g f o r c e . Keats faced a d i f f e r e n t problem: the d i f f i c u l t y of interweaving l i f e and a r t . But i n Thomas there i s no such dichotomy: a r t i n i t s e l f i s a harmony that seeks t o i n t e g r a t e the d i s p a r a t e matter of experience. Throughout h i s whole de-velopment, the act of w r i t i n g remained f o r him an unquestioned 25. need and I doubt i f he ever reached * • p o i n t of a r t i s t i c self-detachment where he became aware of h i s a r t as a pheno-menon i t s e l f posing no fewer questions than other aspects of l i f e . We f i n d i n h i s work nothing, I t h i n k , that seems t o f i l l u t t e r l y the world i t c r e a t e s , i n the f a s h i o n of Keats's Odes. Perhaps the f i n e s t of the e a r l y poems i s " E s p e c i a l l y when the October wind." In c o n t r a s t to the foregoing l y r i c , i t presents a r t and l i f e as v i r t u a l l y interchangeable. The f i r s t stanza describes a landscape that i s at once both a c t u a l and symbolic, both microcosmic and macrocosmic. He describes h i s p o e t i c i n t e n t i n terms of the s e t t i n g where f i r e and i c e mingle, and wishes to i n t e r p e n e t r a t e h i s a r t and the scene. My busy heart who shudders as she t a l k s Sheds the s y l l a b i c blood and d r a i n s her words. . . . a t t e s t s the merging of h i s whole being w i t h poetry. He i s the c r u c i b l e i n which the a c t u a l and the p o e t i c fuse. Poetry i s a power that embraces the whole man and r i s e s from the t r a d i t i o n -a l centre of being, the heart. But words too have a heart and as the heart d r a i n s the words, so do the words bleed i t . 'Shudders' suggests the o r g i a s t i c ecstaey and pain of composi-t i o n . Thus, i n t h i s stanza the poet de s c r i b e s the r e l a t i o n between a r t and l i f e and of both to himself and defines h i s c r e a t i v e aims i n images. 2 6 . The second stanza e s t a b l i s h e s t h a t f o r him the world of a r t e n f o l d s a l l e x i s t e n c e : Shut, too, i n a tower of words, I mark On the horizon walking l i k e the t r e e s The wordy shapes of women. The word i s o l a t e s him, but i t i s a l s o a tower of potency. I t perceives the underlying a s s o c i a t i o n s between a l l kinds of l i f e and r e a l i z e s i t s l a t e n t powers of a r t i c u l a t i o n . I t r e v e a l s the mysteries of ex i s t e n c e that the a r t i s t i s empowered to express. The haunting f i g u r e of time enters now i n the t h i r d stanza, dogging the poet l i k e h i s own shadow: Behind a pot; of f e r n s , the wagging c l o c k T e l l s me the hour's word, the ne u r a l meaning F l i e s on the shafted d i s k , declaims the morning And t e l l s the windy weather i n the cock. Man measures time upon h i s nerves; he experiences i t as something i n himse l f . He i s , t h e r e f o r e , as much a part of i t as i t i s of him. The preceding stanza focused upon space; t h i s one i s c h i e f l y occupied w i t h time i n a l l i t s manifesta-t i o n s , which the c l o c k gives tongue t o . T h i s i s the voice of doom, reminding man of h i s end. But i t i s the poet who can record time's words and the converse i s not t r u e , i n s o f a r as time i s the s i l e n t s e r v i t o r of a r t . I f h i s work i s enduring, time w i l l bear witness to i t , but i t r e q u i r e s him to i n t e r p r e t time t o i t s e l f . The f i n a l stanza throws the themes he has developed i n t o a new p e r s p e c t i v e . The c o n c l u s i o n i s a twofold r e s o l u t i o n : t h i s p a r t i c u l a r act of c r e a t i o n has 'drained* the poet and 27. thereby i t s e l f embodies the process of composition i t d e s c r i b e s . I t i s what i t speaks of; i t l i v e s i t s own su b j e c t . The end bespeaks u t t e r d e s o l a t i o n : The heart i s drained t h a t , s p e l l i n g i n the scu r r y Of chemic blood, warned of the coming f u r y . By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled b i r d s . He i s now mere mortal man and death c o n f r o n t s him. Yet, i n h i s r o l e of the a r t i s t , he has given meaning t o the human pre-dicament, by imposing on i t an a l l - c o n t a i n i n g form. Every end i s a k i n d of death, even the end of a poem. Thus the form of the poem may be taken as a miniature of the whole p a t t e r n of e x i s t e n c e . So Thomas describes h i s a r t , and, i n t h i s p i e c e , the a r t a c t s out a p a t t e r n of b i r t h and death i n the form of the poem. The poet i s speaking here not of a r t as something t i m e l e s s , but of the process and substance of c r e a t i o n . I t i s not only a very b e a u t i f u l poem i n i t s own r i g h t , i t i s a l s o u s e f u l i n h e l p i n g us t o understand the p e c u l i a r cast of Thomas's v i s i o n . For a l l h i s a r t i s t r y i t seems c l e a r that he had i n the best sense a p r i m i t i v e mind, inasmuch as he was able t o perceive the q u a l i t i e s common to the most wide-l y d i v e r s i f i e d f a c e t s of l i f e . To complete my a n a l y s i s of the f i r s t p e r i o d , I s h a l l touch b r i e f l y on a few l i n e s of "From love's f i r s t fever t o her plague": And from the f i r s t d eclension of the f l e s h I l e a r n t man's tongue, t o t w i s t the shapes of thoughts Into the stony idiom of the b r a i n , To shade and k n i t anew the patch of words L e f t by the dead who, i n t h e i r moonless acre, Need no word's warmth. 28. The root of tongues ends i n a spent out. cancer, That but a name, where maggots have t h e i r X. The sustained metaphorical i n t e r p l a y between a l i t e r a l and symbolic use of l i n g u i s t i c terminology again i l l u s t r a t e s the poet's c a p a c i t y to describe l i f e i n terms of a r t and the l a t t e r i n terms of the former, u n i t i n g them by t r a n s l a t i n g both i n t o o b j e c t s of h i s a r t . For, they are both elements that form part of a poem. Once more the s t r u g g l e to i l l u m i n a t e the darkness appears as h i s c e n t r a l concern. In t h i s i n s t a n c e , he expresses h i s devotion to renewing f o r himself the a s s a u l t of h i s dead predecessors upon the dark of uncreation. For each poet the task i s the same: to create a s h i n i n g image i n a v o i d , l e f t by the deaths of the great dead. Since every a r t i s t i s doomed, a r t must p e r p e t u a l l y r e c r e a t e i t s world. We can hardly doubt t h a t , though i n these e a r l i e r pieces the poet i s c o n t i n u a l l y seeking to e x t i r p a t e v a r i o u s kinds of darkness, he sees the world and the s o u l as e s s e n t i a l -l y v o i d and u n l i g h t e d . Obviously, otherwise he would f e e l no cause to attempt time and again to f i l l and i r r a d i a t e them. For t h i s reason I have described h i s v i s i o n as e x i s t e n t i a l , but I c e r t a i n l y should not wish t o suggest that he i s to be considered a p o e t i c exponent of that philosophy. I have a p p l i e d the term f o r convenience and am w e l l aware that at no p o i n t of h i s development does the v i s i o n conform to any s i n g l e school of thought. There are very few poets who seem to me p h i l o s o p h i c a l l y c o n s i s t e n t . One of the a r t i s t ' s p r i v i l e g e s i s to be able to change h i s mind as o f t e n as he can j u s t i f y h i s i n c o n s i s t e n c i e s a r t i s t i c a l l y . 29. Time, death, p r o c r e a t i o n and p a r t u r i t i o n r e c u r con-t i n u a l l y i n these l y r i c s , which are l e s s concerned w i t h s u b j e c t and o b j e c t than w i t h cause and e f f e c t . One mark of t h e i r modernity i s t h e i r c o n c e n t r a t i o n upon dynamic d i a l e c t i c r a t h e r than upon an order of being and upon energy r a t h e r than sub-stance. The i n f l u e n c e of psychology, b i o l o g y and p h y s i c s i s d e t e c t a b l e , but does not i n h i b i t the work. In order t o s t r e s s the p a r t i c u l a r f ocus of Thomas*s v i s i o n , we c o u l d h a r d l y do b e t t e r than to c o n t r a s t him w i t h E l i o t who i s i n so many ways h i s a n t i t h e s i s . Time f o r the l a t t e r i s above a l l an o b s t r u c t i o n , s t a n d i n g between the s o u l and the b e a t i f i c v i s i o n , a n d l i f e i s a p r e p a r a t i o n f o r purgatory; f o r the former, the one i s a murderer and the l a t t e r only t o l e r a b l e i f denied. At f i r s t sight,, we might conclude from t h i s statement t h a t t h e i r a t t i t u d e s are not, a f t e r a l l , so opposed. But, though both appear t o have found l i f e on i t s m a t e r i a l terms i m p o s s i b l e , E l i o t came t o view i t sub s p e c i e  a e t e r n i t a t i s , whereas f o r Thomas i t remained a b i t t e r j o y , and, t o the end, he remained unable to accept i t as a l i n k i n man's e t e r n i t y . For the former, compromise was probably e a s i e r , s i n c e h i s c a p a c i t y f o r v i t a l response appears never to have been s t r o n g ; but f o r the l a t t e r human e x i s t e n c e be-came i n t o l e r a b l e because he c o u l d not bear t h a t i t s e c s t a s i e s should be so t r a n s i e n t . CHAPTER II PART 2 It i s impossible to exclude from t h i s analysis a b r i e f conspectus of the poet's s t y l i s t i c development. For the confusion and chaos of the darkness he explores are r e f l e c t e d i n the s t y l e , j u st as the b r i l l i a n c e and l u c i d i t y he la t e r acquired mirror the radiance of the i r content. His own observations on his mode of composition deserve pride of place: . . . the l i f e i n any poem of mine cannot move conce n t r i c a l l y round a ce n t r a l image; the l i f e must come from the centre; an image must be born and die i n another and any sequence of my images must be a sequence of creations, recreations, destructions, contradictions. I cannot . . . make a poem out of a single motivating experience . . . Out of the inevi t a b l e c o n f l i c t of images - in e v i t a b l e , because of the creative, recreative, destructive and contradictory nature of the motivating centre, the womb of war - I try to make that momentary peace which i s a poem. I do not want a poem of mine, nor can i t be, a c i r c u l a r piece of experience placed nearly outside the l i v i n g stream of time from which i t came; a poem of mine i s , or should be, a water tight section of the stream that i s flowing a l l ways, a l l warring images within i t should be reconciled for that small stop of time. I agree that each of ray e a r l i e r poems might appear to constitute a section from one long poem; that i s because I was not successful i n making a momentary peace with my images at the correct moment . . . *9 Report from a poetic b a t t l e f i e l d ? Is the conclusion of a poem an armistice no sooner signed than broken? What exactly does the poet mean? That h i s poems are born of c o n f l i c t and are themselves turbulent and that a b r i e f suspension of the chain reaction among the images i s the miracle which he aims at achieving. He t e l l s us himself that the structure of his work i s paculiar and i t s harmonies precarious. We could hardly ask for a more expository comment. Then what of the *water ti g h t s ection 1? He r e f e r s to the quality of self-containment e s s e n t i a l to any successful work of a r t , though i t s dykes may be no more than t h e i r p a r t i t i o n erected against the stream of l i f e and of i t s associations. The form of his poetry, he t e l l s us, i s c e n t r i f u g a l and not c e n t r i p e t a l . The continuous d i s i n t e g r a t i o n and reintegration of which he speaks compose the d i a l e c t i c of which we have spoken. In a sense every new metaphor i s an act of destruction i n that i t breaks down a b a r r i e r that withheld us from r e l a t i n g two or more aspects of the universe. The d i f f i c u l t y with Thomas's poetry i s that i t packs so many and such varied images into so small a compass that at times he appears to be writing r i d d l e s . Unlike that of Yeats, but l i k e Shakespeare's, most of his symbolism i s e c l e c t i c . Thus an esoteric i n t e r p r e t a t i o n i s r a r e l y appropriate and i n dealing with the majority of his pieces, we have nothing but our native wit to guide us. No other modern poet w r i t i n g i n English has made nearly such an extensive use of the ambiguities and puns in which the tongue i s so es p e c i a l l y r i c h . Paradoxically, the use of f i s s i o n a r y symbolism accom-panies an approach to experience s which almost conforms to an algebraic formula. Taking small stock of persons and p e r s o n a l i t i e s 32. be concentrates c h i e f l y upon the forces that govern existence. For instance, i f we compare "To his coy mistress" with "Where once the waters &£ your face," we f i n d that, whilst i n the former an i n d i v i d u a l woman i s addressed, i n the l a t t e r the a r t i s t explores the kind of meaning she holds for the sub-conscious depths of h i s being. David Aivaz's comments on Thomas's intere s t i n process are worth quoting, where he says, "Process, the subject of v i s i o n , needs man to 'happen' to i t to give i t life,'® and l a t e r , "Process, the c y c l i c a l return . , . requires only that 21 the mind and heart evolve an ever f u l l e r r e l a t i o n s h i p " with the struggle from darkness to l i g h t . I should myself prefer to reverse the statement, since as Thomas developed he succeeded more and more i n breaking free from the c y c l i c a l wheel. There i s , i n fact,no r e a l opposition between process and s p i r i t u a l enlightenment. Eternity i t s e l f , a f t e r a l l , i s easiest to represent as a c i r c l e or sphere. Indeed, i t i s quite possible to maintain that he did not r e j e c t the notion of process, but simply amplified i t to the point of i t s i n c l u s i o n i n a super-natural c y c l e . This i s a p o s s i b i l i t y to which we s h a l l l a t e r return. Olson says that Thomas's symbolism f a l l s under three general headings: "(1) natural, (2) conventional and (3) p r i v a t e " He continues, "Metaphor and simile are based upon resemblance only; symbols are based upon many other r e l a t i o n s " , ^ i ^0 no^ 3 3 . accept his view that symbolism i s innately superior to other kinds of imagery, fo r i t seems to me that a poet who uses simile profoundly i s preferable to one who employs symbols badly. According to Olson, "A metaphor . • • involves verbal sub-PL. s t i t u t i o n merely," whereas a symbol occurs as a consequence 25' "of a conceptual s u b s t i t u t i o n . " ' The f i r s t h a l f of the state-ment Is demonstrably inadequate. To replace 'amare' with 'to love' represents a form of verbal substitution. Next, I am not at a l l sure that the term 'substitution' i s appropriate to any kind of imagery. In, say: • . . v i o l e t s dim, But sweeter than the l i d s of.Juno's eyes Or C y t h e r e a ^ breath . . . ^ b since i t Is impossible to i n f e r exactly what Shakespeare has substituted, I do not see. that we are i n a p o s i t i o n to claim such a process has occurred. I f a new image i s an instantaneous perception of hitherto unrealized r e l a t i o n s , the notion of r e -placement does not intrude on the discovery. The most single s t r i k i n g factor i n symbolism, which I take to include not simply i t s verbal forms, but also c e r t a i n properties, l i k e the m i l l - r a c e i n Rosmeraholm, i s the presence of an i r r a t i o n a l content, which precludes us from t r a n s l a t i n g the symbol into the r a t i o n a l . In f a c t I should go so f a r as to claim that any image which r e -s i s t s paraphrase i s symbolic. It may be said that i n i n t r o -ducing the p o s s i b i l i t y that we can paraphrase some kinds of imagery I am allowing a kind of replacement. This i s true, but what I am speaking of does not a f f e c t the issue at stake, 3 4 . namely, whether or not simile and metaphor are the consequence of substitution, since I have confined my own use of the term to the reader's response. F i n a l l y , there i s the fact that i n l i t e r a t u r e the only exactly equivalent statements are those which are i d e n t i c a l i n every respect. Since Thomas was deeply concerned with the subconscious and i r r a t i o n a l areas of l i f e , i t i s not su r p r i s i n g that the symbolic image preponderates i n much of his work. It also accounts i n part, for the d i s p a r i t y between the immediate impact and resistance to r a t i o n a l comprehension of many of his poems. He i s most successful when a co-ordinating theme i controls the symbols, as i n t h e s e l i n e s f r o m " I n ' t h e b e g i n n i n g " : In the beginning was the pale signature, Three-syllabled and starry as the smile; And after came the imprints on the water, Stamp of the minted face upon the moon; The blood that touched the crosstree and the g r a i l Touched the f i r s t cloud and l e f t a sign. The superb delicacy a l l i e d to the simple power of these l i n e s i s astonishing. Their beauty i s miraculous. The sense of mystery and otherworldliness they create r e c a l l s passages i n Rilke's superb elegy Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes: But there were rocks and shadowy forest s . Bridges over nothing, and that immense, grey, unreflecting pond that hung above i t s so far distant bed l i k e a grey rainy sky above a landscape^ and between meadows, soft and f u l l of patience, appeared the pale s t r i p of the single pathway l i k e a long line, of linen l a i d to bleach.27 P i c t o r i a l l y and musically Rilke i s profounder and subtler than Thomas; even so, when the l a t t e r writes with such 3 5 . l i q u i d intimacy he i s superb. At times he r a n t s and at others resembles a f r i g h t e n e d man shouting desperately to be re l e a s e d from an o u b l i e t t e . Perhaps worst o f . a l l are places where he i s simply m e r e t r i c i o u s , as i n ; t h e f o l l o w i n g l i n e s f r o m "tyly h e r o b a r e s h i s n e r v e s " : He holds the wire from t h i s box of nerves P r a i s i n g the mortal e r r o r Of b i r t h and death, the two sad knaves of t h i e v e s , And the hunger's emperor; He p u l l s the cha i n , the c i s t e r n moves. This obfuscated d e s c r i p t i o n of masturbation seems t o me v i r t u a l l y p o i n t l e s s . Here the symbols simply do not coalesce. The f i r s t stanza of "When l i k e a running grave" i s an unwieldy concatenation of images that move to a deadened rhythm, poorly masked by t h e i r grotesque b i z a r M r i e . The language simply r e v o l v e s upon i t s e l f and possesses no antennae that touch our f e e l i n g s or i n t e l l e c t . Thomas's bad imagery i s always imprisoned i n a v i c i o u s c i r c l e of verbiage and u s u a l l y a l l i e d to rhythmical lameness. I disagree w i t h those who maintain that the poet's p r e d i l e c t i o n i n h i s e a r l y poetry f o r the iambic l i n e i s a weakness. I t was one that c e r t a i n l y Shakespeare made no attempt to conquer. But i t i s true that Thomas tends to overwork h i g h l y emphatic iambic rhythms t o the point of tiresome i n s i s t e n c e . However, as he developed he overcame h i s h a b i t of somewhat overweighting h i s l i n e s . I s t r o n g l y disagree w i t h Treece's conten t i o n : " h i s moods of l i t e r a r y mlschievousness a l t e r n a t e d w i t h phases of p o e t i c grandeur, as i n "The hand that signed the paper," so that one became.temporarily reassured, and h o p e f u l l y waited f o r f u r t h e r m a n i f e s t a t i o n s of t h i s magnificent c l a r i t y . And t h a t , i n any s a t i s f y i n g and f i n a l degree, we are s t i l l w a i t i n g f o r . " 2 8 3 6 . Since only a few poems appeared a f t e r Tteecels book was publ i s h e d , i t i s u n l i k e l y they would have caused him t o r e v i s e t h i s o p i n i o n . As I hope to show, I t h i n k Thomas evolved t o the end. I t i s customary t o say that he developed and died young, but when Shakespeare d i e d he was;only t h i r t e e n years o l d e r . Keats, S h e l l e y and Byron die d younger s t i l l and Wordsworth had w r i t t e n h i s best work before the age of t h i r t y - n i n e . CHAPTER I I I THE MIDDLE PERIOD Part 1 The second period i s the most d i f f i c u l t and contains the l a r g e s t number of poems In which there i s no s a t i s f y i n g r e -integration. I t includes the pieces published i n 25 Poems, and The Map of Love. Let i t be cl e a r , however, that I do not con-sider that with each new volume the poet attained a completely new stage of development. His evolution remained continuous and uncertain. In a sense, every new poem represents a new stage i n a poet's expansion, either more or l e s s accroding to i t s r e l a t i o n to h i s previous works. Derek Stanford v i r t u a l l y throws up h i s hands i n des-pair at 25 Poems, remarking that, "save f o r one specimen piece, I s h a l l not t r y to interpret them." 2^ He continues, "It i s the powerful entry of C h r i s t i a n currents of thought that create ^0 new and warring elements i n these poems."^ But there are signs In the e a r l i e r poems of C h r i s t i a n influence; also, the confusion i n the middle period seems to me the re s u l t of the i n t e n s i f i e d pressure of many forces, besides r e l i g i o n . As the poet's response to l i f e grew deeper, he found i t d i f f i c u l t to maintain the precar ious harmony that he had achieved i n many of the e a r l i e s t poems. It would appear he had reached that time when a man, i n search of some a r t i s t i c f a i t h i n which to c r y s t a l l i z e h i s v i s i o n , f e e l s the winds of contraries beating on heart and b r a i n as he stumbles among wastes of chaos, f o r the most part l o s t i n darkness but occasionally l i t up. 38. Though as a whole I agree with W.S. Merwin's approach, I think, i n presenting his work as a more or l e s s continuous movement towards fu l f i l m e n t i n a r e l i g i o u s v i s i o n , he under-estimates i t s negative aspects and i t s sheer e l e c t r i c blackness. Moreover, though much of the poetry i s deeply r e l i g i o u s , i t s s p i r i t i s secular. In short, Thomas never threw over the world. Unlike Donne, who t r i e d and f a i l e d , I doubt i f he ever wished to. Some of the pieces i n t h i s middle period are very d i f f i c u l t and I do nop. understand them c l e a r l y . My attempts to elucidate them, therefore, are i n many instances extremely te n t a t i v e . Of the f i r s t three stanzas of " I , i n my i n t r i c a t e Image" Stanford observes, "heaven may understand him, I do not." But I refuse to dismiss the work of so careful a craftsman as Thomas as a puzzle i n algebraic symbolism. The opening l i n e embodies the main theme: the numerous and complex: perspectives which the poet's own image suggests to him. The poem explores not only the complexities of human nature but of man regarding himself. My h a l f ghost i n armour holds hard i n death's corridor, To my man-Iron s i d l e . • . r e c a l l s And cast a shadow crab upon the land. The greater involvement of the f i r s t two l i n e s indicates the growth of the poet*s sense of man's i n t r i c a t e nature. In his glossary of Thomas's more cr y p t i c terms, Olson says that 39. 'man-iron s i d l e ' r e f e r s t o "the s i d l i n g walk of one, hand-c u f f e d or otherwise bound to another i n man-irons. Here 32 used of the hero as so bound to h i s 'ghost'." Body and s o u l are two halves e x i s t i n g i n d o u b t f u l a l l i a n c e . 'Metal phantom' i s an image of images. The poet, using a l c h e m i c a l terms, suggests that he i s an image r e f l e c t i n g and u n i t i n g other images. Again he a t t e s t s the complexity of human nature, so l a r g e l y composed of opposites. Out of them r a d i a t e the 'twin m i r a c l e ' , which r e f e r s to the miraculous conjunction of man's two halves; 'the dead nuisance', h e r e d i t a r y g u i l t ; 'manhood of ending', h i s p h y s i c a l t r a nsience and 'sea-blown a r r i v a l ' , h i s passage across the waters of qq death. Here i s 'the womb of war", where a f u r i o u s foment of symbols takes place. In the second s e c t i o n he describes how h i s images rang over e x i s t e n c e u n t i l they reach a check-mate i n "The c i r c u l a r world stands s t i l l . " P h y s i c a l l i f e i s a r e c o r d , whose needle has now reached the inmost groove. I t might almost be s a i d to c o - i n c i d e w i t h i t s having a t t a i n e d the inmost heart of t r u t h , as i f at death man came home to h i m s e l f . The t h i r d part takes us i n t o the land of death, And, as f o r o i l s and oMiraents on the f l y i n g g r a i l , A l l - h o l l o w e d man wept f o r h i s white apparel. ' F l y i n g g r a i l ' r e f e r s t o the s p i r i t ' s r e l e a s e from the laws of g r a v i t y , but i t s t i l l mourns f o r the f l e s h , as i f time were re q u i r e d to wean i t from t h i s world. 40. The f i r s t s e c t i o n described the c o m p l e x i t i e s of man's d i v i d e d image; the second addressed i t s e l f t o the p h y s i c a l aspects of h i s nature; the t h i r d t o h i s g h o s t l y h a l f and now at i t s c o n c l u s i o n i t u n i t e s them. And my images roared and rose on heaven's h i l l . . . i s a p r o j e c t i o n through which the poet assumes a r e t r o s p e c t i v e standpoint from which he contemplates h i s human and p o e t i c images ascending towards God. The poet has here undertaken a d i v e r s e e x p l o r a t i o n of h i s human image i n the imagery of h i s a r t . In a sense a l l are one, f o r together they compose h i s t o t a l e x i s t e n c e as man, seen from w i t h i n and outside time and space. He has chosen h i s theme i n Man be my metaphor. Thus, i n a sense, he i s engaged i n a n a l y s i n g the c o n s t i t u e n t s of h i s v i s i o n . He does not e n t i r e l y succeed, f o r the concentrated d i v e r s i t y of the symbols renders coalescence v i r t u a l l y i mpossible. However, though the v a r i e t y of per s p e c t i v e s r e s u l t s i n confusion, i t does not amount simply to nonsense. We may take t h i s piece as a prologue to the co m p l e x i t i e s which adhere to the ' i n t r i c a t e image' of the middle p e r i o d . Though i t i s hard to estimate to what extent Thomas's symbology i m p l i e s p h i l o s o p h i c a l commitment and perhaps wiser t o regard the q u a s i - p h i l o s o p h i c a l patterns t h a t merge from h i s works r a t h e r as the products of h i s symbolism than i t s p r o g e n i t o r s , "This bread I break" seems t o me as a whole e x p l i c i t l y C h r i s t i a n . 4 1 . I t i s a superb l i t t l e l y r i c , i t s l a s t l i n e m a g n i f i -c i e n t l y timed t o introduce a new dimension, w i t h : My wine you d r i n k , my bread you snap. The wine and corn speak w i t h C h r i s t ' s v o i c e . Here there i s present i n germinal form the poet's i n c r e a s i n g awareness of the s a n c t i t y of nature, as he describes how, when we eat and dr i n k the body and blood of e a r t h , we are e a t i n g and d r i n k i n g of God. I t i s the f i r s t p i e c e , I b e l i e v e , where he records o b j e c t i v e l y , t r e a t i n g himself as an object among many others. I t i s important to recognise that the d i f f e r e n c e between o b j e c t i v e and s u b j e c t i v e poetry does not depend on whether or not the author enters i n t o the work, but simply on h i s a t t i t u d e towards h i s composition. Those which seem to draw t h e i r l i f e from a p e r s o n a l i t y may be accounted s u b j e c t i v e ; but when we f e e l the poet i s simply a medium they may then be considered o b j e c t i v e . "Incarnate d e v i l " o f f e r s us a sequel to "In the beginning", c o n t i n u i n g the s t o r y of Genesis from the i d y l l of Eden u n t i l the F a l l . To Thomas the age of p e r f e c t i o n predated both good and e v i l , which came i n t o being as a r e s u l t of the a n g e l i c d e f e c t i o n . They are both a consequence and r e s u l t of choice and preclude the u n i t y which transcends them. We i n our Eden knew the secret guardian . . . suggests t h a t , though our genesis stems from Adam, we ourselves p a r t i c i p a t e i n the F a l l . Thus each man r e l i v e s the o r i g i n a l doom l a i d upon the race. In the l a t e r poetry the n o t i o n that c r e a t i o n repeats or c o n t i n u a l l y r e c r e a t e s i t s p r i m a l p a t t e r n 42. r e c e i v e s f u l l e r treatment. At t h i s time the poet's a t t i t u d e towards God, who now enters more f r e q u e n t l y i n t o h i s works, was ambivalent. Here he i s q u i t e d e f i n i t e l y d i s p l a y e d i n an u n f l a t t e r i n g l i g h t : And God walked there who was a f i d d l i n g warden. And played down pardon from the heavens' h i l l . 'Warden' suggests a p r i s o n - g a o l o r , but ' f i d d l i n g ' i s ambiguous. I t i s an a l l u s i o n t o Nero, who f i d d l e d w h i l e Rome burned, but i t a l s o d escribes the Almighty as a meddlesome busy-body, who o f f e r e d man pardon f o r the F a l l that he himself had connived a t , through h i s negligent p r o t e c t i o n of the human p a i r . I f man i s h i s brother's keeper, then how much greater d i v i n e r e s p o n s i b i l i t y ! But the poet goes even f u r t h e r , f o r he i m p l i e s t h a t , since man i n Eden d i d not enjoy absolute l i b e r t y , he was a p r i s o n e r . Is t h i s Job's question? I f not, then one much l i k e i t . Man does not seem much more here than a pawn i n a supernatural chess-match. With the F a l l a l l the c o n t r a r i e s came i n t o being: And when the moon rose w i n d i l y i t was Black as the beast and pa l e r than the c r o s s . A l l nature s u f f e r e d the consequent dichotomy, and the moon took on an i n f e r n a l and b e s t i a l dark, but a l s o the whiteness of the agonized face of the c r u c i f i e d C h r i s t . Black and white indeed are not c o l o r s ; they are the c o n d i t i o n of the f a l l e n world. The poet i s s t r u g g l i n g w i t h the problems of p a i n , s i n and death and i s beginning t o acquire the Promethean s p i r i t which l a t e r he was t o express w i t h an agonized magnificence, above a l l i n "Do not go gentle i n t o that good n i g h t . " He i s moving 43. away from the world of vegetable and animal process towards s p e c i f i c a l l y human i s s u e s . " S h a l l gods be s a i d to thump the c l o u d s " r a i s e s and answers the question of God's e x i s t e n c e . He says t h a t , i f we can reduce supernatural phenomena to the ikons through which man worships them, then Let the stones speak With tongues that t a l k a l l tongues. Thus, however much we seek to l e v e l the gods, they s h a l l s t i l l p r o claim t h e i r being. Though we w h i t t l e them down to mere stone, these stones s h a l l a t t e s t d i v i n e e x i s t e n c e . M e t a p h y s i c a l l y the s t r u c t u r e of t h i s l y r i c i s p a r t i c u l a r l y neat. The poet appears t o g i v e way t o the argue-ments of negation u n t i l the end, when suddenly he uses them to d i s c r e d i t the d e n i a l . Of course, i t i s l i k e l y that he i s him-s e l f on both sides of the question and that the s o l u t i o n r e s o l v e s an i n t e r n a l dilemma. He i s engaged at t h i s p o i n t i n f a c i n g some of the great questions w i t h which Hardy went on w r e s t l i n g u n t i l h i s end. Thomas u s u a l l y s e t t l e s them w i t h a b l i n d leap of f a i t h i n t o the dark. In "Why east wind c h i l l s " he poses and accepts an i n s o l u b l e paradox: that however much knowledge and experience we may a c q u i r e , the profoundest questions of a l l w i l l continue to b a f f l e us. The f i r s t stanza d e p i c t s the i n s c r u t a b i l i t y of l i f e . For the ignorance of the c h i l d w i l l r e c e i v e no enlightenment through age. Fundamentally, we remain c h i l d r e n . The next describes the p r o v e r b i a l i n s i s t e n c e of 44 c h i l d r e n upon always asking 'Why?* But i t proceeds: Not t i l l , from high and l o w , t h e i r dust S p r i n k l e s i n c h i l d r e n ' s eyes a l o n g - l a s t sleep And dusk i s crowded w i t h the c h i l d r e n ' s ghosts, S h a l l a white answer: eeho; from the r o o f t o p s . We continue t o ask the same questions, though we make no advance i n answering them. Only death can r e s o l v e them, when the question we ask s h a l l i t s e l f provide the response we have sought. I t s echo s h a l l e n l i g h t e n us. I t i s necessary, the poet t e l l s us, t o enter the night of death that we may see that the question contains i t s own r e p l y . In the next stanza he appears t o reverse h i s p o s i t i o n , when he says ' A l l t h i n g s are known.' In a sense t h i s i s t r u e , f o r we do know everything and nothing - something of ev e r y t h i n g , but no t r u t h e n t i r e l y . Just as grown-up people hush c h i l d r e n who ask i n s o l u b l e questions l i f e t e l l s us, 'Be content' (to be ignorant) and the poet ends by i d e n t i f y i n g himself w i t h the c h i l d r e n ' s bewilderment, which i s no greater than h i s own. Three p e r c e p t i b l e p e r s p e c t i v e s i l l u m i n a t e a s i n g l e concept; f i r s t he presents man as c h i l d ; then c o n t r a s t s men w i t h c h i l d r e n and then reaches the co n c l u s i o n t h a t there i s no fundamental d i f f e r e n c e between them. That i s i n i t s e l f , the answer. H i s technique resembles symphonic music and p a i n t i n g ; the former i n h i s e l a b o r a t i o n of a theme, which he u n i t e s w i t h the i n t e r v e n i n g movements i n t o a concluding harmony which transforms and r e s o l v e s i t s antecedent d i s c o r d s and v a r i a t i o n s ; the l a t t e r i n the e f f e c t he achieves of a chiaroscuro, o f t e n h i g h l i g h t i n g h i s su b j e c t s w i t h much s k i l l . 45 I disagree with Stanford, who describes the poem as an "agnostic's confession . . . r e a l l y a"homage to the profundity 34 of existence," for t h i s l y r i c i s not concerned with the existence of God, but the problem of man's incapacity whilst he i s yet a l i v e , to enter into super-human speculations. From the end i t seems clear that death w i l l allow him to answer his questions. The degree of philosophical speculation i n Thomas's poetry seems to me underrated. He i s not only the poet of ode and elegy; he i s also at perplexed and enquiring i n t e l l e c t , r e s t l e s s l y probing the metaphysical universe. Some c r i t i c s have even charged him with moral i n s e n s i t i v i t y , but i n doing so a l l they have revealed i s the gnarled black hand of Puritanism momentarily withdrawn from the a n t i s e p t i c i glove of ' i n -c r i t i c i s m ' , a detestable description of close elucidation, since i t appears to equate i t s p r a c t i t i o n e r with the most un s k i l l e d sort of boxer, presumably using his author as a punch-bag. In charity, i t might be urged that i t s opponents, i n deploring those of t h i s school who demand of modern art a formless and mindless b r u t a l i t y , have short-sightedly rejected the best with i t s worst exponents. The more h y s t e r i c a l quarters have hailed Thomas as the great Dionysiac bard, as i f he were a Laurentian apocalyptic goat. But there i s too much tenderness and bawdry i n him to turn him into a champion of the dark gods. "Ears i n the turrets hear" explores the dilemma i n which the poet's r e l a t i o n to the world involves him. It deals with the problem of the individual's p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n existence. 46. In the f i r s t verse he presents himself as a house, i n the second and t h i r d as an i s l a n d , w h i l s t i n the t h i r d and f o u r t h he u n i t e s them. The outside world comes to him, wishing t o e s t a b l i s h c o n tact. He debates as t o whether or not he s h a l l permit i t to t r a f f i c w i t h h i s • i s l a n d ' . Before he decides, however, he wishes to know: Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships, Hold you poison or grapes? W i l l l i f e destroy or e n r i c h h i s being? Obviously and i r o n i c a l l y the event alone can decide the i s s u e , f o r only by e n t e r i n g i n t o l i f e can we determine what i t w i l l b r i n g us. Aware of i t s r i s k s the poet i s l e f t unable to make up h i s mind to accept or r e j e c t them. To refuse communication w i t h the world and ceny the commerce of l i v i n g provides a k i n d of refuge. At every moment of our being the question i s always before us. L i f e i s c o n s t a n t l y imposing choices upon us. Donne, as we know w e l l , declared against s e l f - i n c a r c e r a t i o n . R i l k e advocated i t f o r h i m s e l f , i n order t o generate the utmost i n t e n s i t y of p o e t i c i n s p i r a t i o n . Here Thomas o f f e r s no c o n c l u s i o n , save that the f e a r of l i f e , tugging him between withdrawal and exposure, i s l e f t at the end and t h e r e f o r e permanently. In d i s c u s s i n g the whole question of an a r t i s t ' s s e l f -a b s orption Treece c i t e s E l i o t : The progress of an a r t i s t i s a c o n t i n u a l s e l f -s a c r i f i c e , a c o n t i n u a l e x t i n c t i o n of p e r s o n a l i t y . . . Poetry i s not a t u r n i n g loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; i t i s not the expression of p e r s o n a l i t y , but an escape from p e r s o n a l i t y . ^ He goes on himself t o say of Thomas: The writer seems to have grown into h i s poems, or the poems to have grown round the writer, so that he i s unable Or unwilling f o r the most part, to abnegate h i s personality, to divorce himself from his work, and, stepping back, to explain as impersonally as possible, and having regard to the opinions and experiences of his readers, what he i s writing about. Treece c i t e s E l i o t with the a i r of a B i b l i c a l l i t e r a l i s t j u s t i f y i n g his pedantries from the text, but the statements of either seem to me questionable. Like so many of E l i o t ' s c r i t i c a l remarks t h i s one i s c l e a r l y based on his personal experience. He makes the mistake of presenting i t as a papal B u l l . Besides, i t contains a contradiction: to extinguish and escape from the personality are incompatible. In escaping we leave something behind; there must be something from which and to which we pass. I f the former happens to be our personality we may be sure i t w i l l pursue and overtake us. S e l f - e x t i n c t i o n , the aim above a l l , of the Oriental ascetics consists of transcending oneself, and i s based upon the a b i l i t y to a t t a i n an absolutely objective s e l f -evaluation i n r e l a t i o n to a universe at the heart of which l i e s God. Furthermore, whereas good a r t must transform actual into a r t i s t i c emotion, i t cannot be said to escape i t , f o r , were t h i s so, i t would be u t t e r l y passionless. Rilke provides a good example of an a r t i s t who attempted continually to transcend him-s e l f by using h i s being as a pressure chamber from which i n s p i r a -t i o n erupted spontaneously into a r t . We might say that he used himself to explore his poetic energies. Self-escape i s i n e v i t a b l y mirrored by a r t which, i f i t be i n the l e a s t o r i g i n a l , must express the 48. c r e a t o r ' s p e r s o n a l i t y . Hemingway seems t o me the case par e x c e l l e n c e of a w r i t e r who i n attempting t o hide h i m s e l f from h i s weaknesses simply draws our a t t e n t i o n t o them. The f u r t h e r a work transcends the p e r s o n a l i t y the g r e a t e r the degree of o b j e c t i v i t y p o s s i b l e to i t ; s e l f - d i s p l a y and s e l f - e s c a p e r e f l e c t the a r t i s t ' s p e r s o n a l d e f e c t s and r e p r e s s i o n s . The most s u c c e s s f u l poets as they develop probably become more and more the instruments of t h e i r c r e a t i o n s . Treece's charge, which invokes E l i o t ' s support, oddly enough does not seem t o focus upon Thomas's poetry, but upon h i s f a i l u r e t o j u s t i f y h i m s e l f to h i s audience. There i s a simple answer t o t h i s : u n l e s s the poetry be i t s own j u s t i f i c a t i o n , there i s no o t h e r . I suppose he may r e f e r t o the c r y p t i c d e n s i t y of many of the poems and imply t h a t t h i s c h a r a c t e r i s t i c r e s u l t s from a preponderance i n them of p r i v a t e meanings. I f so he i s p l a c e d i n the somewhat uncomfortable p o s i t i o n of c l a i m i n g t h a t h i s f a i l u r e t o understand Thomas i s e n t i r e l y the l a t t e r * s f a u l t , thereby i m p l y i n g t h a t were h i s works i n t e l l i g i b l e he, Treece, would a s s u r e d l y comprehend them. P e r s o n a l l y , I deplore those c r i t i c s who d e c l a r e t h a t what they cannot fathom i s mud. "Should l a n t e r n s s h i n e " d e a l s w i t h exposure and c h o i c e . I t d e p i c t s the p e n a l t i e s of human awareness. The f i r s t s t anza unmasks the mummified image of beauty t h a t e x i s t s i n the heart of youth. I t i s mummified, f i r s t because i t i s based upon an O e d i p a l d i s t o r t i o n of the f a c t s of nature, second because i t has no r e a l e x i s t e n c e and 49. t h i r d because an increased awareness exposes i t as an embalmed corpse. The l i g h t of t r u t h i s t e r r i b l e indeed i n i t s r u t h l e s s d i s c l o s u r e of the frauds that darkness may p r a c t i s e on the mind, f o r c i n g us t o r e j e c t the a f f a b l e d e l u s i o n s we have cherished there. The r e c o g n i t i o n of t r u t h imposes a choice. I t precludes us from prolonging the i n d e c i s i o n s of unawareness and s e t s the head, heart and pul s e , or i n t e l l e c t , emotion and i n s t i n c t at odds. We are f o r c e d to t r y feQi r e c o n c i l e them. Time re-appears, now as a s i l e n t and ever-present male sacophagus. The speed of the poet's progress seems to defy time, but t h i s an i l l u s i o n , , s ince movement i t s e l f i s temporal. The concluding l i n e s : The b a l l I threw while p l a y i n g i n the park Has not yet reach the ground . . . introduces the concept of r e l a t i v i t y , through which he seeks to r e c o n c i l e the various c o n f l i c t s he has posed. Any moment may e x i s t e t e r n a l l y , thus time i s i t s e l f the a r c h - d e l u s i o n . The r e l a t i o n of subject t o object alone determines t h e i r r e l a t i o n t o each other and the e x i s t i n g order. Thus, j u s t as the tenses r e s o l v e themselves i n t o a mathematical i l l u s i o n , so the p o s s i b i l i t i e s of choice are a r b i t r a r y . However, t h i s r e s u l t s , not i n chaos, but i n a v i s i o n of e t e r n i t y consuming the temporal world. Undoubtedly the poet c o n s c i o u s l y drew upon Hopkins' l i m p i d l y r i c f o r " I have longed t o move away", but whereas the e a r l i e r poem surrenders t o e t e r n i t y , the l a t e r expresses 50 a d e s i r e to outgrow c e r t a i n f o s s i l i s e d personal a t t r i b u t e s and b e l i e f s and to break f r e e from the chains of darkness: I have longed to move away From the h i s s i n g of the spent l i e And the o l d t e r r o r s ' c o n t i n u a l c r y Growing more t e r r i b l e as the day Goes over the h i l l i n t o the deep sea . . . " h i s s i n g " suggests the d e v i l i s h snake of C h r i s t i a n myth, or the c r o c o d i l e god, but a l s o perhaps the rancorous malice of the r e l i g i o s e , concerned w i t h the empty husk of r e l i g i o n . The o l d t e r r o r s are the a t a v i s t i c monsters that prowl the subconscious and which s p i r i t u a l e v o l u t i o n attempts to cast o f f . " S a l u t e s " embodies a l l the pomp of parades: p u b l i c e x h i b i t i o n s or a s s e r t i o n s of b l i n d power. But the poet recognizes that a l l these are elements of himself and that l i b e r a t i o n i s s e l f - c o n q u e s t . I t i s not enough to r e j e c t i r r a t i o n a l f e a r s on the conscious l e v e l alone; f o r mere re p r e s s i o n exacts a t e r r i b l e revenge. The s o l u t i o n i s o b l i q u e . Thomas accepts the c o n t i n u -in g power i n himself of b l i n d f e a r s , but t e l l s us he need not succumb to them. In f a c t , by accepting t h e i r presence, he i s able to f r e e himself from them at l e a s t p a r t i a l l y , s ince what we incorporate i n t o our being f a l l s under our government. By these I would not care to d i e , H a l f convention and h a l f l i e . . . i s d i r e c t e d against the s h e l l of r e l i g i o n and a l l the inbred l o y a l t i e s t o which we adhere through u n r e f l e x i o n . I am reminded of a remark make during the l a s t world war by St. Exupery, to the e f f e c t that we were f i g h t i n g a quarter 51 t r u t h i n the name of a h a l f l i e . Obviously he does not mean that the Nazi d o c t r i n e s were i n any sense admirable, but simply that a very l a r g e number who fought had a s m a l l , or a misguided, notion of what they stood f o r . "And death s h a l l have no dominion" i s a triumphant t r i b u t e t o the a f t e r - l i f e ' s v i c t o r y over t h i s one. I t r e c a l l s 37s Donne's sonnet, "At the round earth's imagin'd corners blow", which a l s o m a g n i f i c e n t l y r e j e c t s the f a l l e n world's defeats. Thomas's poem i s l i k e a great fugue, strong and r i c h i n i t s e l a b o r a t i o n s . Death s h a l l r e s t o r e what l i f e has robbed i t s v i c t i m s of: When t h e i r bones are picked clean and the cleanbones gone, They s h a l l have s t a r s at elbow and f o o t ; Though they go mad they s h a l l be sane, Though l o v e r s be l o s t love s h a l l not; And death s h a l l have no dominion. Nothing i s l o s t i n t h i s v i s i o n , though e v e r y t h i n g i s changed as l i f e s h a l l continue t o a s s e r t i t s supremacy over i t s own d e s t r u c t i v e components u n t i l 'the sun breaks down', u n t i l , that i s , time ends. In both senses t h i s i s an o b j e c t i v e p i e c e , where the poet becomes a mediator between h i s i n s p i r a t i o n and the w r i t t e n word. I t proclaims a c e r t i t u d e which he d i d not s u s t a i n , but which he t r i e d again and again to achieve. Furthermore, i t possesses the l u c i d i t y which denotes a f i n a l q u a l i t y i n the v i s i o n i t s e l f . In c o n t r a s t " a l t a r w i s e by o w l - l i g h t " i s one of the obscurest sonnet sequences i n the language. E l d e r Olson has 52. given a b r i l l i a n t i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of i t i n which he p o s i t s at l e a s t s i x d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e l e v e l s , which the poet i n t r i c a t e l y i n t e r - r e l a t e s : (1) a l e v e l based on the analogy of human l i f e t o the span of a year . . . . (2) a l e v e l based on an analogy between the sun and man . . . . (3) a l e v e l of Thomas's ' p r i v a t e * symbolism; (4) a l e v e l based on ancient myth . . . . (5) a l e v e l based on the r e l a t i o n s of the c o n s t e 1 l a t i o n Hercules t o other c o n s t e l l a t i o n s and astronomical phenomena; and (6) a l e v e l derived,from the C h r i s t i a n i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of l e v e l s 4 and 5. s He continues, In Sonnet I . . . the true f a i t h , b i t t e r as i t i s , i s i n death; nothing e l s e i s r e a l . . .Everything i s a metaphor f o r death. . . .The very ladder of ascent i s made of the bones of death, and leads down to death i n the end. In Sonnet I I I . . . a year i s s h o r t ; when i t i s n e a r l y spent there i s s m a l l comfort i n r e f l e c t i n g that our autumn i s another s p r i n g . . . a l l must d i e . In Sonnet IV. . . once he had plagued h i s f a i t h w i t h questions, played the sop h i s t w i t h i t , f o r at that time he had f e l t secure i n h i s f a i t h . . • . Now he sees. • . .^ 9-the motion and aspect of the s t a r s as something s i n i s t e r . In Sonnet V he imagines the sun-Hercules n a r r a t i v e as c o n t i n u i n g from the autumnal equinox; i t i s a nightmare . . . . L i f e i s no more than a nightmare dream of death. In Sonnet VI man and sun are discovered to be l i k e burning candles. Man i s wounded w i t h the birth-wound; time w i l l see that he bleeds to death of that wound. In Sonnet V I I the hero of the poem spurns time . . .he pins h i s f a i t h i n the heavens. . . . In Sonnet V I I I the Cross s e t s ; t h i s i s the C r u c i f i x i o n , then, both of C h r i s t and of man; he must d i e , l i k e C h r i s t , to n o u r i s h those who come a f t e r . . . . In Sonnet IX he t h i n k s of the most notable human e f f o r t t o withstand death: Egyptian embalmment . . . he spurns i t ; l e t him be entombed w i t h the dead i n a world of death. In Sonnet X the reappearance of the Cross s i g n a l i z e s the R e s u r r e c t i o n t o come. . . . Let time have i t s way, then . . . u n t i l the Day that w i l l never end, when a l l w i l l be restored.'* 0 Thus he goes on, we have two 'voyages', r e a l or f a n c i e d : the C h r i s t l e s s 53. one. . . and the C h r i s t i a n one. . . the sonnets are the apocalypse of the heavens."-* Olson r e v e a l s how Thomas tra c e s the growth of three c y c l e s - one n a t u r a l , one pagan, one C h r i s t i a n , f u s i n g them i n the c r u c i f i x i o n w i t h the s e t t i n g of the c o n s t e l l a t i o n of the c r o s s . The poet himself p a r t i c i p a t e s i n the a c t i o n ; thus, i t s development r e f l e c t s a personal e v o l u t i o n , which i s f i n a l l y subsumed i n t o an image of u n i v e r s a l redemption. Of course, a l l poetry i s a mental event and has no meaningful existence outside the mind; t h e r e f o r e , any p o e t i c voyage i s i n t e r n a l , but i t i s important t o recognize that here the poet represents the a c t i o n as a manifold process i n which v a r i o u s aspects of e x i s t e n c e coalesce. Here death seems almost to swallow up the whole world and even to have overcome C h r i s t , but at the uttermost p o i n t of sheer negation the comic movement begins and s w e l l s t o a triumphant denouement. But though redemption as an event occurs i n time, i t can only be r e a l i z e d outside i t . S a l v a t i o n l i e s beyond r a t h e r than i n l i f e which i s r u l e d by death. I t i s there-f o r e p o s s i b l e t o l i v e towards s a l v a t i o n , but only w i t h death does i t become a t t a i n a b l e . The dramatic s t r u c t u r e of t h i s e x t ensive sequence and an accompanying growth i n the poet's awareness of a h i e r a r c h y of values mark considerable development. For he has now d e f i n e d c e r t a i n contours, p l a c i n g C h r i s t at the centre of h i s map and r e l a t i n g him t o a l l other forms of e x i s t e n c e . By presenting the c r u c i f i x i o n as the decisive raoment i n h i s t o r y he has broken the unopposed supremacy of death i n time. He merges himself i n the astronomical, a s t r o l o g i c a l , h i s t o r i c a l , r e l i g i o u s aspects of C h r i s t ' s death by adopting a double standpoint, where r e l a -t i v i t y and chronological time fuse. Not only did the whole movement of h i s t o r y converge on t h i s act, but a l l being p a r t i c i -pated i n i t . Thus^ I f the poet himself shared i n the act of redemption, the l a t t e r spans the entire past and future, from the beginning u n t i l the end of time. It i s , therefore, possible to view the universe as a temporal confluence around C h r i s t . Though the sequence Interweaves a large number of perspectives and succeeds i n unifying them, nonetheless I do not share Olson's enthusiasm f o r i t , not, as I hope, from a d i s -l i k e for extreme subtlety, but a conviction that i t i s here contrived and passionless. Since he has elucidated each piece most perceptively, I s h a l l not embark upon a detailed examination, but s h a l l conclude my discussion of the sonnets by observing that the e x i s t e n t i a l world of death and the higher v i s i o n come face to face here and that the l a t t e r triumphs over the former. "A saint about to f a l l " i s ominous with impending d i s a s t e r . It was written very shortly before the second world war broke out and seems impregnated with prophetic forebod-ings. The f a l l i t describes i s multiple: the smashing of 5 5 peace, the r u i n of L u c i f e r , the f a l l of man, as species and i n d i v i d u a l , and the P l a t o n i c notion of the f a l l to e a r t h of a s p i r i t . At the centre stands the s a i n t on whom the c l o s e -packed images a l l converge, demanding a l i t e r a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , that the mind may f o l l o w where the poet leads i t . At one p o i n t i n h i s career he complained S£ a very favourable a p p r e c i a t i o n by E d i t h S i t w e l l , because, as he s a i d , "She doesn't take the meaning l i t e r a l l y " . * 2 I f we take him at face value, we f i n d that he i n v i t e s the imagination to move c e n t r i f u g a l l y ; i f we do not, then we are f o r c e d to search f o r e q u i v a l e n t s . No doubt h i s strangeness has tempted c r i t i c s to approach h i s poetry i n d i r e c t l y ; but, though he may o c c a s i o n a l l y f a i l us, u s u a l l y he does not. His p e c u l i a r cast of v i s i o n r e c a l l s Blake and t o a l e s s e r degree Hopkins; the former i n substance, the l a t t e r c h i e f l y i n language. The poem d e p i c t s a f a l l from Grace i n p h y s i c a l terms, the f a l l of the s p i r i t and p h y s i c a l degeneration being i n s p e r a b l e . 'Kite hems' suggests the smell of c a r r i o n i s already on the f a l l e n s a i n t , who has ncwsold himself to death and wakes i n a s t a t e resembling h e l l , where one by one heaven, v i r t u e and C h r i s t foresake him, u n t i l Heaven f e l l w i t h h i s f a l l and one crocked b e l l beat the a x r . . . . which suggests that any s i n g l e event i n c r e a t i o n a f f e c t s the r e s t . This i s a p e r f e c t l y l o g i c a l standpoint. For so long as there be one flaw i n the universe i t w i l l t a i n t the e n t i r e 56. order; just as one death mirrors i t s u n i v e r s a l i t y . In the second stanza the poet i d e n t i f i e s himself with the saint, for each sees heaven from below: The scudding base of the fa m i l i a r skv The l o f t y roots of the clouds. Then the earth becomes a h e l l : The s k u l l of the earth i s barbed with a war of burning brains and hai r . . . . where he again emphasises the interchangeable nature of the microcosm and the macrocosm. The saint contains a l l heaven, just as the earth i s a single head. The t h i r d stanza unkennels a whirlwind of horror and destruction, which follow the f a l l , a manifest return to "The old mud hutch again" and to the squamous g r i e f and c o n f l i c t with which s i n and death reward us. So long as man's s p i r i t i s forced to return to or remain i n the wheel of physical existence there i s no peace for him, for the e x i s t e n t i a l order i s at best a void and at worse cursed. This piece has no precedent i n the poet's works. It i s important to observe how the saint, having been i d e n t i f i e d with the poet, becomes him. It suggests not simply the a f f i n i t i e s e x i s t i n g between two people on the same l e v e l of being, but a kind of transmigration. A d i s s o c i a t i o n between body and soul also occurs, since one consequence of the f a l l i s the fragmentation of the s p i r i t u a l personality. Never before has the poet's sense of man's divided selves expressed 57. i t s e l f so a c u t e l y . New too, i s i t s p a r t i c u l a r dual movement which i n v o l v e s the f a l l from heaven t o e a r t h and the d i s s o l u t i o n of one i d e n t i t y i n t o another. He conceives the i n f e r n a l predicament q u a s i - d r a r a a t i c a l l y , expanding one moment i n t o a c o n d i t i o n of e x i s t e n c e . A growth i n s p i r i t u a l s e n s i b i l i t y i s c e r t a i n l y v i s i b l e . Thomas i s no longer merely concerned w i t h death as a forc e i n c y c l i c a l process, nor even as the womb of f u t u r e t r a n q u i l i t y ; here i t invades the known world and becomes i t s s p i r i t u a l r u l e r . L i f e has become the kingdom of death. We have watched a growth i n the poet's sense of personal p a i n , the d e c l i n e of h i s pantheism and greater awareness of s p i r i t u a l i t y , accompanied by a sharper r e a l i s a -t i o n of s i n and s p i r i t u a l m o r t a l i t y . He now possesses an i d e a l of being which, being i n j u r e d , imposes the penalty of g u i l t and sodden misery. Most of the s e c u l a r poems of the c e n t r a l p e r i o d r e f l e c t these tendencies. Since space i s l i m i t e d we s h a l l have to omit those which seem l e a s t valuable and concentrate on the most important. Unfortunately, Thomas does not lend h i m s e l f t o r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s e l e c t i o n s , p r e c i s e l y because, though v a r i a t i o n s and modulations abound landmarks are r a r e . Moreover, i f there are few, i f any, v i r t u a l l y p e r f e c t p i e c e s , almost none i s t o t a l l y w o r t hless. The next group comprises the two e l e g i e s of the per i o d " A f t e r the f u n e r a l " and "The tombstone t o l d when 58. she d i e d . " In r e l a t i o n t o h i s t o t a l canon both look forward r a t h e r than back. The f i r s t has j u s t l y been much p r a i s e d . I t i s perhaps a t r i f l e coarse-grained, but I t h i n k none w i l l deny i t s remarkable p l a s t i c power. The f i r s t s i x l i n e s describe the f o l l y of the f u n e r a l and an unnamed decaying body and The s p i t t l e d eyes, the s a l t ponds i n the sleeves. . . . but as he continues, the poet i s o l a t e s h i m s e l f and i d e n t i f i e s the dead person: she i s h i s theme and he her e l e g i s t , or s c u l p t o r c a r v i n g her image i n stone. Thus: . . . t h i s skyward statue With the w i l d breast and blessed and g i a n t s k u l l Is carved from her i n a room w i t h a wet window In a f i e r c e l y mourning house i n a crooked year. . . . and . . .sculptured Ann i s seventy years of stone. . . . which suggest the s i l e n c e , immobility and p e r s i s t e n c e of stone. He turns her i n t o a statue and thereby endows her w i t h a new lease of l i f e through h i s a r t , but at the end a k i n d of r e s t o r a t i o n takes p l a c e , f o r Ann's image storms the poet . . . u n t i l The s t u f f e d lung of the fox t w i t c h and c r y Love And the s t r u t t i n g f e r n l a y seeds on the black s i l l . I t i s as i f the s p i r i t of love emanating from Ann and her s t a t u e , which have become i d e n t i f i e d , i n f u s e s new l i f e i n t o the o b j e c t s that once surrounded her, r e s u l t i n g i n a miraculous regeneration. There are three main stages i n the p i e c e : p h y s i c a l 59. d i s s o l u t i o n , the c a r v i n g of Ann's image (a k i n d of transforma-t i o n ) and a r e s u r r e c t i o n . Thus the poem moves through death and l i f e i n a r t to a l i f e i n which both are subsumed. "The tombstone t o l d when she d i e d " d e p i c t s the wedding of a v i r g i n t o death, the demon l o v e r . Here c e r t a i n r e c u r r e n t modes of thought i n h i s work are c l a r i f i e d : sexual consummation and death are v i r t u a l l y synonymous. The death-wish sublimates a sexual Sehnsucht no f l e s h can appease, j u s t as the orgasm i s i t s e l f a ki n d of death. Even t h e i r symptoms are a l i k e : the shallow bre a t h i n g , the shudder, the r e l e a s e , f o l l o w e d by repose. The pain of the g i r l ' s death resembles the anguished ecstacy of deflorescence as She c r i e d her white-dressed limbs were bare And her red l i p s were k i s s e d b l a c k , She wept i n her pain and made mouths, Talked and tore though her eyes smiled. Dressed i n the white of a bri d e or a corpse, she surrenders her l i f e t o death as i f she were y i e l d i n g up her v i r g i n i t y t o a l o v e r . The passion and tenderness of these l i n e s i s deeply moving. I p a r t i c u l a r l y admire 'and made mouths,' which i s not only a f i n e pun, but suggests too the h e l p l e s s i n a r t i c u l a c y of womanhood i n the g r i p of unutterable emotion. In the second part the poet describes h i s v i s i o n i n the form of a f i l m or p r o j e c t i o n of the mind as the woman speaks through the s t o n e - b i r d and t e l l s how death deflowered her. Death, the l o v e r , has had a long h i s t o r y i n l i t e r a t u r e , 60. but Thomas presents him with a b i o l o g i c a l p r e c i s i o n which i s highly o r i g i n a l . He has undergone a remarkable change from a Grand Guignol figure of horror to a lusty bridegroom who s a t i s f i e s the g i r l and makes up to her for her barren l i f e of mortified v i r g i n i t y . Perhaps for the f i r s t time i n his work a complete transvaluation has occured: l i f e i s t o t a l l y barren and death f e r t i l e . The suggestion that he experienced the v i r g i n ' s coBSumiation before even her conception harks back to the great world of p o t e n t i a l i t y , which we f i n d i n works as removed from each other as The F a i r i e Queene and The Tibetan  Book of the Dead. Human existence f r u s t r a t e s rather than f u l f i l s being and i n the time-space continuum the past, present and the future merge. From t h i s point onwards i n Thomas, death becomes increasingly less the destroyer of sex and ever more the ultimate sexual symbol, resolving the e x i s t e n t i a l problem. "Find meat on bones", however, i s a viol e n t revulsion against the laws of l i f e , where love and death are deadly enemies and against a universe ruled by . . .the binding moon And the parliament of sky, The kingcrafts of the wicked sea, Autocracy of night and day, Dictatorship of sun. . . . which are a l l time's satraps, though a l l are themselves doomed. The s p i r i t of the piece i s grimly Promethean and i s charged with disgust at the monstrous ravages death i n f l i c t s on love, to which the poet responds by suggesting a symbol of sexual love ; 61. be hung over the grave i n mocking epitaph. The t h i r d and fourth stanzas dramatise the poet's feelings as he speaks inside a personal frame. Their perspective i n r e l a t i o n to thec*ha?s somewhat reminds me of a global mirror i n a Dutch i n t e r i o r painting, which r e f l e c t s the r e s t . S t i l l l i v i n g he f e e l s he i s already r o t t i n g . Then i n War on the spider and the wren! War on the destiny of man! Doom on the sun! which r e c a l l s Webster, h i s rage reaches a B i b l i c a l furore. He embraces the whole universe i n his invocation to destruction. He cannot r e j e c t l i f e , but i t s transience makes i t s pleasures unbearably b i t t e r . At the l a s t moment he r e t r a c t s and seems to accept l i f e and death i n Before death takes you, O take back t h i s . It i s a somewhat problematical rescdnsion, more e a s i l y explained i n psychological than l o g i c a l terms. Perhaps i t i s that i n cursing creation he finds he has cursed himself and that i n denying l i f e he i s denying himself. He recognizes that, however t e r r i b l e , the laws of l i f e must be accepted, though the anguish of self-adjustment tear the human f a b r i c . His f r e n e t i c rage against the e x i s t e n t i a l order here reaches i t s extreme. It s i g n i f i e s h is release from the e a r l i e r world and entry into a world of i n d i v i d u a l i d e n t i t i e s . The recognition does not illuminate the darkness, but forces i t to betray i t s e l f , as he perceives the darkness he discovered 62 i n himself r e f l e c t e d i n the entir e universe. It shocks and maddens him. Personally I do not think one f i n a l counter-manding gesture can efface the overwhelmingly strong impression the rest of the poem creates: frenzy, anguish and despair. The pastoral note, so b e a u t i f u l l y struck i n the l a s t period, emerges c l e a r l y i n "Hold hard, these ancient minutes i n the cuckoo's month;" but, unlike the l a t e r pieces, i t has almost no inner weather. It presents a fla t t e n e d perspective. Though the figure of time hints at h i s immanence i n the l a t e r poetry, here he i s a spring time: Time, i n a f o l l y ' s r i d e r , l i k e a county man Over the vaults of rid i n g s with h i s hounds at heel, Drives f o r t h my men, my children from the hanging south. He i s the huntsman i n hunting pink and his quarry i s man. Even so the atmosphere of the poem i s green, charged with the sap and vibrancy of the season. Though the piece i s d i f f u s e , i t occupies an important place i n the poet's development. He i s moving here through a world of l i g h t , and i t s contours are sensuous. In "We l y i n g by seasand" a consciously controlled r e l a t i o n with the world supersedes the chaotic danse macabre of the mind submerged i n a polluted sea of genesis. As the preceding poem i t s inter e s t l i e s i n i t s promise rather than i t s f u l f i l m e n t : We l y i n g by seasand, watching yellow And the grave sea, mock who deride Who follow the red r i v e r s , hollow Alcove of words out of cicada shade, For i n t h i s yellow grave of sand and sea A c a l l i n g for colour c a l l s with the wind. . . . 63. These l i n e s show, I think, an untimely transference of a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c appropriate to the e a r l i e r poetry: a c i r c u l a r pattern, which here merely seems r e p e t i t i o u s . "The hand that signed the paper" indicates a d i r e c t i o n the poet did not take. It i s almost epigramatically terse and i t s flavor i s s a t i r i c . Stanford observes "Film-like . . . .the a c t i v a t i n g hand i s shown impersonally without a head attached, so that the inhuman aspect of the action becomes the more evident". 4^ This i s a fine insight, but we should add that Thomas adapts cinematographic technique to the needs of the l y r i c form. We can speak of the p i c t o r i a l q u a l i t i e s of h i s language, but hardly of the l i n g u i s t i c character of hi s picture. The f i r s t stanza depicts an act of c o l l e c t i v e and i n d i v i d u a l murder, compressing i n l i t t l e compass a whole sheaf of circumstances, "Sovereign" subtly suggests, not only the power of the absolute r u l e r s , but also the g l i t t e r of gold upon fingers, we learn later, to be cramped. The second stanza contrasts the might of the invested power with the human r e a l i t y behind i t : a creature who resembles nothing so much as an aged pedagogue* There i s a hideous irony i n the f a c t that one personally so puny should hold at his disposal the l i v e s of countless others. In the t h i r d stanza the poet b i t t e r l y protests against the subjection of the race to the signature of a s c r i b b l e r : 64. Great i s the hand that holds dominion over Man by a scribbled name. What above a l l comes through i s the sheer i r r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of the tyrantI There i s no c o r r e l a t i v e between the act of signing the declaration of war or a treaty and the r e s u l t s of either, which are h o r r i b l e , since the aftermath of slaughter i s hardly better than the bloodshed. The hand, a grotesque image, that runs through the poem, prev a i l s i n the end: A hand rules p i t y as a hand rules heaven; Hands have no tears to flow. The human and divine dictatorships that govern men's fates are f a m i l i a r themes. Shelley ranted, Hardy brooded and Thomas shakes a clenched f i s t . He i s not only denouncing expl o i t a t i o n , the subjugation of the many to the few, but the entire r a c i a l predicament, the fact that one man, or one bad group of men, has time and again sent masses of fellow human beings to the wall - with a s c r i b b l e . The whole piece emphasises the monstrous incongruity between cause and e f f e c t ; one i s t o t a l l y inhuman, an unattached limb, whilst the other i s a numberless legion of victims. The s t r u c t u r a l pattern indicates that an h i s t o r i c a l perspective operates i n the f i r s t and t h i r d verses, whilst the second and fourth r e l a t e the action to the immediate present, that i s also e t e r n a l l y recurrent, as generation on generation goes to i t s death l i k e sheep to the abat t o i r . It's perhaps regrettable Thomas did not develop 65 further i n the d i r e c t i o n t h i s poem follows. It i s c e r t a i n l y one of the most powerful of his short works. No one reason for his unconcern wiifch evolving further s a t i r i c a l l y suggests i t s e l f . We can only speculate, but i t seems to me possible that the pressure of his growing s p i r i t u a l v i s i o n precluded him from maintaining the attitude which the poetry of denunciation requires. "Oh no work of words" records a creative pause or fallow period which troubled the poet. In i t s e l f , i t i s poor s t u f f ; i n places almost unbelievably bad: Puffing the pounds of manna up through the dew to heaven, The lovely g i f t of the gab bangs back on a blind shaft. These l i n e s do not simply present tense inarticulateness, they conform to i t . However, i n defining the r e l a t i o n between a r t i s t and art the piece i s revealing. Death i s 'a bad dark', art i s the 'manna* which he returns for the g i f t of l i f e ; thus, creative s t e r i l i t y i s a double death. Art means love and l i f e ; love because i t repays l i f e f or i t s g i f t and l i f e because i t challenges death, 'the expensive ogre'. He comes very close here to suggesting, as a man a l i v e i n time, the imagination alone enables him to transcend the e x i s t e n t i a l order. S p i r i t u a l v i s i o n may disclose v i s i t s beyond t h i s l i f e , but perhaps art alone renders physical existence to l e r a b l e . My discussion of the poet's evolution through h i s middle period i s now complete. I have attempted to convey 66 something of the impression of confused expansion and clouded struggles for affirmation with which i t has l e f t me. Above a l l , i t i s necessary, I believe, to emphasize that with an enlarged awareness of the horror l i f e may i n f l i c t , there i s also a surer perception of the variety and the l i g h t of the known world. The process of expansion i n any sphere requires hard labor and much sweat and perhaps some tears. Lucky indeed the man or a r t i s t who achieves t h i s p a i n l e s s l y , though I am not sure the r e s u l t would impress us! CHAPTER III Part 2 Sheer technical accomplishment, which has carried many poets through mediocre poems, was not one of Thomas's doubtful accomplishments, even though he was probably one of the greatest masters of versification the language has known, for where the utmost inspiration i s lacking he loses his art in various kinds of excess. The problem of style i s as in f i n i t e as the mind; therefore, any generalization can contain at best no more than a fractional truth. But I think we can say that Thomas did not find a neutral point of departure such as Yeats reached. His finest work i s tessellated, l i k e a mozaic composed of very many b r i l l i a n t l y coloured stones of different shapes and sizes, a l l of which contribute towards the complete harmony of the whole effect. Sometimes he f a i l s to achieve the design; sometimes i t i s d i f f i c u l t to know whether our dis-satisfaction may be his fault or our own. With recent or current works i t i s always a problem. We are very much l i k e children in a great forest, who can only cling tightly to the artist's hand i f we trust him and i f we do not, leave him. When Thomas offers us not a feast of poetic exuberance, but a well-wrought dish cover containing only dust, we are entitled to quit his company, as these lines from "Now" would indicate: 6 8 . Now Say nay, No say s i r Yea the dead s t i r , And t h i s , nor t h i s , i s shade, the landed crow, He l y i n g low with r u i n i n his ear, The cockerel's tid e upcasting from the f i r e . What I object to here i s not obscurity, though i t i s c e r t a i n l y marked, but the palpable, mannered obfuscation which has occurred to the detriment of sensuous immediacy. Others have c i t e d other passages to condemn; however, I have no doubt that i t would be perfectly possible to take a few l i n e s from Shakespeare and hold them up to r i d i c u l e or condemnation. There i s more to Thomas than his worst lapses] though these can be astonishingly crude, as when he writes of 'metal phantoms', 'the dear daft time' or 'the quiet gentleman', where vulgarity and elegant v a r i a t i o n conspire to his down-f a l l . A more serious f a u l t i s the ungainly rhythm that sometimes interposes, as i n t h e s e l i n e s f r o m " G r i e f t h i e f o f t i m e . " Now Jack my fathers l e t the time-faced crook, Death f l a s h i n g from his sleeve, With swag of bubbles i n a seedy sack Sneak down the s t a l l i o n grave, Bulls-eye the outlaw through a eunuch crack And free the twin-boxed g r i e f , No s i l v e r whistles chase him down the weeks Dayed peaks to day to death. . . . where a monotone creaks by. I understand that Robert Graves offered a pound note to anyone who would come forward with a convincing int e r p r e t a t i o n of a passage that coincides more or less with t h i s . incomprehensibility i s a problem I am 6 9 prepared to accept, hoping that subsequent readings w i l l slowly enlighten me, not, because I believe the reader i s always the b l i n d one, but because I trust Thomas's a r t i s t i c i n t e g r i t y for the excellent reason that, where I f e e l at home with his work, though i t may not have been at once perceptible, I f i n d there i s always a meaning. Where rhythm f a i l s , however, no more need.be said. It i s the one element i n poetry which, i n my estimation, cannot be faked. Mere cleverness w i l l never s u f f i c e to hide f a l s e rhythm; and when t h i s intrudes, nothing can redeem the defection. In Thomas, the overloaded imagery that often accompanies rhythmical deadness i s less a cause than a symptom of f a u l t y i n s p i r a t i o n and masks a deeper inadequacy. Like man, who seeks self-assurance to conceal the revelation silence may sponsor, the poet resorts to loud and voluble t a l k and gesture. He gesticulates, rants, contorts himself, throws sparkling sand i n our eyes, or instead of o f f e r i n g us a work as fresh as glowing womanhood, becomes a marriage-broker of sacophagi. His r e a l f a u l t s resemble less Hopkins's than Hardy's. Like the former he can sometimes be rough, unlike the l a t t e r who, though at times rhythmically obvious, r a r e l y s t r i k e s a f a l s e note. His poetry i s also less orotund than Hopkins's; i t possesses a nervous, sometimes staccato energy, that i n places 70. captures the tang and jagged power of Hardy's vigorous l y r i c s . But usually he i s ri c h e r , e a s i l y estranged from h i s theme, i n -c l i n e d to elaborate disguises f o r incoherence, but at his best so magiiific ently, surpassingly f i n e , to labour over his short-comings were c h u r l i s h . At f i r s t sight, he seems to share c e r t a i n baroque c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s with the Metaphysicals. Baroque, I take i t , i s an a r t which c a r r i e s elaboration to the farthest l i m i t s of con-gruous relevance, every d e t a i l manifesting a ce n t r a l design, s t i l l d i s c e r n i b l e i n them. It suggests a culture dedicated l e s s to revolution, than i n f i n i t e modulation. It i s abundant and encourages i t s material to express i t s e l f to the point of exhaustion. E s s e n t i a l l y , i t Is the art of the facade and i s highly conscious of i t s r e l a t i o n to p a r t i c u l a r settings and therefore to i t s society and culture as.a whole. A study of Hindu r e l i g i o u s sculpture would c l a r i f y t h i s point. Thomas's nuclear imagery often possesses associative, rather than conceptual relevance, and his harmonies often depend on a precarious, though s k i l f u l juxtaposition of discords. Frequently his work i s a l i v e with ferment. Unlike the baroque, which seems f u l l y at home i n i t s themes and presents them with assured awareness of public response, Thomas suggests a s p i r i t engaged i n struggling to Impose order on i t s e l f and on the world around. At a time when he was emerging from the confines of his psyche, uncertainty and confused excess r e f l e c t the v a c i l l a t i o n s 71. of an a r t i s t trapped between an e x i s t e n t i a l void and a s p i r i t u a l v i s i o n . The inevitable intrusions of the creative personality which r e s u l t would be unthinkable i n baroque. There are places, however where he achieves a c r i s p , naked power, as i n "The hand that signed the paper" or a grave pungency, as in "After the funeral": Argument of the hewn voice, gesture and psalm, Storm me forever over her grave u n t i l The stuffed lung of the fox twitch and cry Love And the s t r u t t i n g fern lay seeds on the black s i l l , where, despite the merest traces of verbosity, he almost reaches the s t i l l n e s s l y i n g at the heart of the greatest poetry and the silence heard behind the words which echoes oh long after they have ceased. As he breaks the dark c h r y s a l i s of the s e l f and sheds the more c o n s t r i c t i n g elements i n his personality, he moves into the l i g h t and becomes an instrument expressing the commands of i n s p i r a t i o n . He becomes more attuned to catching the inner notes which can be heard only when the mind i t s e l f has been s t i l l e d and can repose i n a calm that i s colourless l i k e spring-water. Then indeed can a poet lay his ear to the secret heart of the world and catch the music of i t s pulse I CHAPTER IV THE THIRD PERIOD Many poets have l i v e d to r e f l e c t the s t e r i l i t y of an in s p i r a t i o n that has forsaken them, but which they refuse to recognize has vanished. Wordsworth and Tennyson were both c a p i t a l offenders against the silence that an a r t i s t should respect, when his daemon has evaporated. Thomas l e f t v i r t u a l l y nothing we can dismiss as the caperings of the performer mimick-ing his own t r i c k s . Geoffrey Moore has written, "He was a poet of affirma-ti o n , T.S. E l i o t was a poet of negation."^ I do not think t h i s i s quite true. E l i o t i s admittedly a depressed poet character-i s t i c a l l y , whereas Thomas i s exuberant and occasionally e c s t a t i c ; but E l i o t ' s l a t e r work i s affirmative and Thomas's possesses ce r t a i n negative a t t r i b u t e s . The most fundamental difference between them, I think, l i e s less i n the i r conceptual and emotional in t e r e s t s , than i n the divergent cast of mind and f e e l i n g l y i n g behind th e i r works. Both share a magnanimous sense of human suffe r i n g , a transcen-dental p i t y and i n f i n i t e understanding of the mortal l o t . Geoffrey Grigson deserves a hearing at t h i s juncture; "Mr. E l i o t poems l i v e t i g h t l y above the waist, rather higher than that, abov the heart; Mr. Thomas's l i v e , sprawl loosely, below the waist. The s e l f i n Mr. Thomas's poems seems inhuman and g l a n d u l a r . " ^ The charge implies i n both the same defect; lack of heart, the r e s u l t i n one case of mortifying cerebral attenuation, i n the other of the c o n t r o l l i n g power of mere i n s t i n c t . 73. Later i n the same essay, he remarks that Thomas's statement, "Whatever i s hidden should be made naked, etc."" "suggests the d i s i n f e c t i o n of psychological ordure," iJ which places the poetry on the l e v e l of substitution for anal sexuality. Very well, g e n i t a l and excretive I A record of anal eroticism] Mr. Grigson has evidently read, or perhaps misread, Freud! Though grossly unjust, h i s essay contains a quarter-truth. E l i o t ' s poetry suffers from repressions and Thomas sometimes abandons the human for mere somatic indulgences. Robert Horan, one of the poet's most perceptive c r i t i c s , has said: "Thomas's subject matter . . . i s an e f f o r t to free memory from the s t r i c t u r e s of paternity, from r e l i g i o n and from death; to e s t a b l i s h the unique i n d i v i d u a l , not merely as the victim, but as the agent, of choice; not alone created HQ* by history, but creative i n h i s t o r y . " v Self-awareness i s a preliminary condition for love. Thomas moves from a somewhat passive analysis of love to an active self-detachment, enabling him to express the quality of love i n his work. I disagree with Shapiro that "the puritanism sets up the tension i n his poetry - a tension based upon love and fear of love - the basic sexual tension, the basic theological tension. The great weakness of Thomas i s that he takes to his heels when he t r i e s to grapple with i t . " ^ I object to the confused approach which seems undecided i f i t i s directed to the art or the a r t i s t himself. Nor do I understand i n the least what "the basic theological tension" means. Certain modes of theology 74 may harbour a depraved h o s t i l i t y to sexual l i b e r a t i o n , but I t h i n k Buddhism and the Hindu r e l i g i o n have f a r e d b e t t e r than most p h i l o s o p h i e s i n e l i m i n a t i n g from human l i f e the problema-t i c a l aspects of sex. Moreover, sane t h e o l o g i e s do not repress sexual i n favour of a more s p i r i t u a l form of l o v e ; they teach us that the former i s necessary and d e s i r a b l e u n t i l i t has l e f t us and that we can only r i s e by having l i v e d d e s i r e to the f u l l . But then I suspect that, i n common w i t h many others , Mr. Shapiro tends to equate the most f o o l i s h m a n i f e s t a t i o n s of the human mind i n a given realm w i t h i t s t o t a l p o s s i b i l i t i e s . C e r t a i n l y i t i s true that Thomas's poetry i s l a r g e l y the a r t born of c o n f l i c t , i n which the a r t i s t seeks to achieve r e s o l u t i o n , r a t h e r than that w r i t t e n from a t r a n q u i l i n s p i r a t i o n already purged of s t r e s s . He i s t h e r e f o r e dramatic r a t h e r than contemplative. In Shakespeare's l a s t plays a strange t r a n s -formation takes p l a c e , through which the dramatic a r t i s t moves onto a contemplative plane. Thomas's t h i r d p e r i o d contains a number of contem-p l a t i v e elements, but i t s most outstanding a t t r i b u t e , I b e l i e v e , i s i t s abundance, i t s f e r t i l e awareness of the many-coloured world and the d i v e r s i t y of l i f e . There are many great themes: childhood, the seasons, the s k i e s , the sea and the b i r d s , the beasts and the f i s h e s , death and sexual and s p i r i t u a l e c s t a s i e s . To approach such work through Freudian a n a l y s i s w i l l not serve. I t may r e v e a l much about the a r t i s t , but w i l l t e l l us extremely l i t t l e about h i s a r t . I t i s e a s i e r to play a sedulous 75 psychological ape with poetry than pottery, but not a whit more j u s t i f i a b l e . Shapiro's comment that i n Thomas "The main m symbol i s masculine love, driven hard as Freud drove i t , r i s ambiguous: i n the f i r s t place, Freud erected on a purely physiological basis a method of investigating the mind, i n which he paid small heed to love, a mental state that may or may not accompany copulation; i n the second place, i f he i s suggesting that the central image of Thomas's poetry i s the phallus, we are e n t i t l e d to ask to what use he puts i t . It i s one of the great symbols of the Hindu r e l i g i o n , but possesses an e n t i r e l y d i f f e r e n t meaning from what i t would have i n a pornographic picture. In f a c t , I think the p h a l l i c symbol means many things i n the poet's works. Sometimes i t enshrines the creative process; sometimes i t i s co-extensive with s e l f -f u l f i l m e n t ; sometimes i t simply e x i s t s i n a chaos of d i f f u s e sexuality, which makes poor poetry; sometimes i t incarnates the obstacles preventing man from s p i r i t u a l f u l f i l m e n t ; some-times i t becomes integrated into a v i s i o n , where the body and the soul t r u l y coalesce. But granted the omnipresence of the phallus, which i s questionable, i t seems a pi t y to confine oneself by a generalization which excludes so much more than i t incorporates. As we s h a l l see, the l a s t period i s too super-abundant to l e t us dispose of i t s fecundity i n one b r i e f phrase. "The conversation of prayer" explores the problem of the r e l a t i o n of divine providence to two l i v e s and of the l i v e s to one another. Stanford asks, "Ace we to read the healing of 76. the man's 'dying love i n a high room* as a m i r a c l e , the terms of which n e c e s s i t a t e an exchange of the man's and the c h i l d ' s f a t e ? " I f so, how do we r e c o n c i l e t h i s notion with the end, where the two prayers become one? The sound about to be s a i d i n the two prayers For the sleep i n a safe land and the love who dies W i l l be the same g r i e f f l y i n g . I t hink the answer i s t h i s : we cannot d i s t i n g u i s h between two so r t s of sorrow. A l l sorrows are one; a l l presuppose that there i s something we would have otherwise. Therefore, t h e i r end i s a l s o one, whether i t be f o r a sleep i n a land of sweet dreams or f o r the recovery from mortal sickness of one we love. So the human predicament c o n s i s t s , among other t h i n g s , of g r i e f d i f f e r i n g only i n i t s s p e c i f i c causes; but to God there i s only one sorrow: man's.^ I t f o l l o w s then that there i s no great comfort i n the d i v i n e response to one p a r t i c u l a r prayer, f o r i t does not solve the problem of g r i e f , which remains. And f o r one prayer that i s s a t i s f i e d there i s always another that i s not. Thus, the poet i s t e l l i n g us, the r e a l problem i s not a s i n g l e sorrow, but i t s i n e v i t a b l e p e r s i s t e n c e through human l i v e s . I do not think he i s v o i c i n g the do c t r i n e of "an eye f o r an eye and a tooth f o r a t o o t h , " that what God grants with one hand he takes away with another, but, by exchanging the c h i l d ' s and the man's r o l e s as s u p p l i c a n t s , showing us that we can only r e a l i z e the nature of the problem on a l e v e l that transcends the p a r t i c u l a r . Indied, the t o t a l l y i r r a t i o n a l transference that occurs i s i t s e l f a comment upon the incomprehensible i n c o n s i s t e n c i e s 7 7 . i n l i f e , which refuses to submit to the order our reason would impose on i t . This does not necessarily imply there i s no mean-ing, but that we s h a l l not f i n d i t on our humble terms. What does the stone know of the human heart or the mind of man of the whole universe? Why sorrow comes to one or forsakes another i s a mystery. It seems to be a r b i t r a r y . It may lead us to i n -d i c t the gods for st u p i d i t y , malevolence or indifference, but the poet i s too subtle to project i n such a way. He poses Job's question and indicates that the answer must e x i s t , i f i t wished to disclose i t s e l f . What variety t h i s poetry possesses! Rage, resignation, metaphysical speculation, insoluble r i d d l e s are a l l present. There i s also a wisdom, which has often been missed, simply because to some minds i t s co-existence with the Dionysiac and o r g i a s t i c utterance seems improbable. "There was a saviour," a r e l i g i o u s ode addressed to C h r i s t , i s b e a u t i f u l , though not quite even. The magnificent oratory of the f i r s t three verses, which describe the glory of incarnation, i s suddenly displaced by one of the most s t a r t l i n g l i n e s i n the poet's whole corpus: Now i n the dark there i s only yourself and myself. The e l e c t r i c leap from a c o l l e c t i v e to an intensely personal utterance d e l i v e r s an astonishing shock. What a gulf l i e s be-tween the impact of Chri s t ' s public l i f e , a galaxy of miracles, and the s i l e n t communion allowed the poet. It i s dark i n several ways; f i r s t , because i t i s i n t e r n a l , second because i t i s intangible 78. and t h i r d because the soul's darkness r e f l e c t s the mystery sur-rounding God. We can know no more of the d i v i n e than our own minds can co n t a i n of i t , yet i n t h i s s t a t e of i s o l a t i o n man has only God's companionship. Having explored C h r i s t ' s two natures the poet now des-c r i b e s man's mortal and immortal halves, though each i n a sense contains the other, f o r C h r i s t was both man and God. He says: Two proud, blacked brothers c r y , Winter-locked side by s i d e . . . . symbolizing the dead and graceless s t a t e where man's two halves e x i s t , and cannot therefore respond to C h r i s t by emulating h i s compassion: 0 we who could not s t i r One lean sigh when we heard Greed on man beating near. . . . Unregenerate man remains a passive c o n s p i r a t o r i n the stratagems of e v i l . He i s s e l f - i m p r i s o n e d and i n e r t . He now i d e n t i f i e s contemporary man with C h r i s t ' s m u l t i -tudes. L i f e , he would t e l l us, imposes a choice: whether we s h a l l t u r n our faces to the w a l l when human s u f f e r i n g and e v i l confront us, or whether we s h a l l show tru e c h a r i t a s . At the c o n c l u s i o n , he dep i c t s the r e s u r r e c t i o n of the C h r i s t l i k e nature of man: Now see, alone i n us, Our own true strangers' dust Ride through the doors of our unentered house. Exiled i n us we arouse the soft, Unclenched, armless, s i l k and rough love that breaks a l l rocks. The'strangers' dust* refers to the physical attributes of man's 79. C h r i s t l i k e nature, h i s inescapable dust, and therefore to the physical form the response must take. The 'house' i s the soul which, since we are made i n Chris t ' s image, he necessarily i n -habits. , There follows the awakening of divine love i n man, estranged from God and l i v i n g i n e x i l e here. It i s a complex piece dealing with man's and Chris t ' s two natures and their r e l a t i o n to each other. An int e r e s t i n g change has occurred. The poetfcy has become both more dramatic and more t r a n q u i l . According to Merwin i n "Vision and Prayer," "he prays 52 that death may die indeed," a comment that r e c a l l s Donne's superb sentence on death. Stanford i s r i g h t , I believe, i n disagreeing the poem's r e l i g i o u s fervor derives from Herbert's "Wings", which i n form i t c e r t a i n l y resembles. Herbert's i n s p i r a t i o n stems from the t r a d i t i o n a l C h r i s t i a n b e l i e f that, without God, man i s nothing, but that he can a t t a i n beatitude through salvation. Thomas sees s p i r i t u a l f u l f i l m e n t as the discovery of the god i n the s e l f . I suspect that Herbert would have found his intensely anthropomorphic r e l i g i o u s s e n s i b i l i t y s l i g h t l y irreverent. Instead, Stanford c i t e s Muriel Spark's explanation of the form, who observes how "the varying forms of the stanzas the extension and contraction of the f i r s t l i n e of each part i n section one may be taken to represent the spasms of the womb attendant on delivery. This i s a b r i l l i a n t l y ingenious suggestion and may well be correct. By analogy the form of the second section, composed of two t r i -angles whose apexes converge at the centre, may be said to r e -present i n the form Ot a uterine anagram, the whole movement of 80. l i f e , dwindling down t o death's bottle-neck and thence expanding, through a r e b i r t h , i n t o l i f e e t e r n a l . This i s a much f i n e r sequence than " A l t a r w i s e by owl-l i g h t . " Whereas the l a t t e r i s c l e v e r and abstruse, t h i s glows w i t h incandescent passion. I t speaks w i t h the i n f i n i t e resonances of the inmost heart and i t i s to the heart that i t appeals. The b i r t h of the redemptive c h i l d , both C h r i s t and the C h r i s t i n man, resembles a b l a z i n g meteor: And the winged w a l l i s t o r n By h i s t o r r i d crown And the dark thrown From h i s l o i n To b r i g h t L i g h t . The b i r t h changes earth's darkness to l i g h t and h i s l o i n S , symboliz-in g l i f e , impregnate the darkness w i t h t h e i r l i g h t , charging the world w i t h a s h i n i n g s p i r i t u a l potency. Once moce the poet p a r t i c i p a t e s i n C h r i s t ' s human l i f e , as he w r i t e s : I s h a l l run l o s t i n sudden Terror and s h i n i n g from The once hooded room Cr y i n g i n v a i n In the cauldron Of h i s K i s s . "The once hooded room" r e f e r s to the v i r g i n womb, hooded w i t h i t s hymen. He suggests we a l l share i n C h r i s t ' s p h y s i c a l l i f e , j u s t as he shared i n ours. The unique h i s t o r i c a l event, t h e r e f o r e , i s s t i l l r e c u r r i n g a l l over the world and i s the means by which the poet r e c o n c i l e s the e x i s t e n t i a l order w i t h a s p i r i t u a l v i s i o n . 81. In the next sonnet he affirms Christ's healing pro-perties more e x p l i c i t l y . Redemption comes to the poet, e r s t -while ' l o s t ' and he i s blinded by the blood of Christ's wound. The image suggests t o t a l immolation, but further, implies, I t h i n k , that a kind of symbolic physical b i r t h occurs, the wounds of Christ being not only a baptismal font, but a womb from which the votary emerges cleansed and reborn. His blood silences the crying mouth, nourishing the soul, parched from desolation, plucking the pursuant of grace from the desert of i s o l a t i o n . Through l o s i n g himself i n C h r i s t , man finds himself. In the next two pieces, the poet describes the poles of human existence! the l a s t judgement and the o r i g i n a l state of perfection before the F a l l . He associates himself with both and presents existence as a movement from l i f e to death and thence to l i f e again. A complex i n t e l l e c t u a l counterpoint i s active here: a l l creation i s engaged i n going hone to God, to recover l o s t perfection, and man, a f t e r death, can regain h i s p r i s t i n e p u r i t y . C h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y , the focus now a l t e r s , from an objective to a subjective v i s i o n , using the terms i n a p h i l o -sophical sense. In t h i s respect, the sequence i s s t r u c t u r a l l y comparable to "There was a saviour." Death now becomes the f o c a l point. A second cycle i s inaugurated and modifies the f i r s t , so that, although the poet has already portrayed an ultimate regeneration, he now r e a l i z e s i t . 82. He speaks for the ' l o s t ' , a l l the l i v i n g e x i l e d from C h r i s t , and, as I have remarked, uses a verse form that embodies r e b i r t h : And the green dust And bearing The ghost From The ground L i k e pollen. Having entered the land of death, he now speaks on be-half of the dead and entreats that Christ may suffer them to sleep In the dark And deep Rock A w a k e No heart bone But l e t i t break On the mountain crown where he asks the dead may escape the sufferings of conscious-ness f o r , u n t i l their f i n a l restoration, better they should sleep than l i e i n waking torment. Not u n t i l the l a s t v i s i o n s h a l l man's s p i r i t escape the consequences of his enslaved con-tinuance i n the wheel of destiny. Memories of his past existence w i l l otherwise haunt him. Mortal awareness i s unbearable to the poet; extinc t i o n i n death, which leads to ob l i v i o n through entering into C h r i s t ' s being, provides a release from the curse of knowledge. Seen from a human standpoint, l i f e and death seemed swathed i n darkness, but Christ enters the 'mazes' of death and i r r a d i a t e s the sleepers' night, as afte r h i s own death he descended into h e l l and released from i t the souls of men who had died before him. Viewing his death, the poet expresses his desire to return to earth. 83. But the loud sun Christens down The^sky. Am found. The v i s u a l pattern reinforces the theme of regeneration. 'Christens down' i s both the sun and C h r i s t , the son, trans-forming man's world through the baptism of death and carrying him under t h i s hemisphere of existence into the dawn of the next. At the moment of inception, the poet finds himself. Complete self-awareness comes to him as he i s gathered into the "One". 'The sun roars at the prayer's end 1 i s an a l l u s i o n to the trans-figured sun and the B i b l i c a l l i o n , which are both symbols of C h r i s t or a Messiah. It i s a beautiful sequence, where the transformation of dark into l i g h t and l i f e into death rings out with magnificent c l a r i t y . It would seem the poet had at l a s t discovered a resolu-t i o n a f t e r the pain and torment of the central period. Such an achievement must always be r e l a t i v e tn time. I doubt i f he had come near the recognition that l i f e and death are the two chambers of one heart and that f u l f i l m e n t need not demand r e j e c t i o n , but simply the sloughing o f f of obsolete a t t r i b u t e s , as the snake renews i t s skin. In other words, he has not succeeded i n d i s -carding the negation that l u r k s i n the tabernacle of his f a i t h . We come next to the triumphant elegies, which rank among his f i n e r poems. Though; i t i s immensely affirmative, "A r e f u s a l to Mourn the Death, by F i r e , of a C h i l d i n London" seems to me the l e a s t good. The apocalyptic utterance, sustained at length, i s tan-gential and r h e t o r i c a l . In the overblown gesture we can sense 84, the poet's e x c r u c i a t i n g compassion, but I do not think t h a t , i n d e f l e c t i n g h i s spontaneous r e a c t i o n , he succeeds i n transcend= ing i t . He welcomes death's f i n a l i t y , f o r the good reason that he b e l i e v e s i t comes only once. His emphasis upon a f t e r - l i f e accompanies a devaluation of t h i s one, but the e s c h a t o l o g i c a l v i s i o n simply f a i l s to incorporate the c h i l d , and the h o r r o r , the sheer, p h y s i c a l h o r r o r , comes through unconsciously i n The majesty and the burning of the c h i l d ' s death. A holocaust? Maybe, but the j u x t a p o s i t i o n of 'majesty' and 'burning' serves only to i n v a l i d a t e the high r h e t o r i c a l note. I do not think he has f a i l e d to v i s u a l i z e h i s o b j e c t , but missed r e c o g n i z i n g that the l e a s t i n t r u s i o n of the p h y s i c a l f a c t s of the c h i l d ' s death must i n e v i t a b l y d i s c r e d i t the r e s t , as occurs when he introduces an ugly metaphor i n 'the long f r i e n d s . ' I t would appear that poetry can only r e c o n c i l e i t s e l f to acute, p h y s i c a l horrors by presenting them with naked t r u t h . Homer and Shakespeare both allow the shocking to have i t s way. A s i m i l a r subject develops i n "Ceremony A f t e r a F i r e Raid." I t s s t r u c t u r e moves i n the opposite d i r e c t i o n ; f o r , whereas i n the previous piece; the a p o c a l y p t i c v i s i o n c o ntracts i n t o a statement of the p a r t i c u l a r i n c i d e n t before both are expanded i n some kind of a u n i f i e d r e l a t i o n s h i p , t h i s converts a p a r t i c u l a r episode i n t o a tremendous a f f i r m a t i o n of e t e r n a l l i f e . I t i s by f a r the f i n e r poem of the two. Instead of r e -s o r t i n g to fulsome, windy hyperbole, here the poet speaks with c o n t r o l l e d and measured cadence. 85 He describes the c h i l d as a type of the phoenix, r i s i n g from i t s ashes and being reborn, transfigured, through i t s death. Yet 'miracles cannot atone 1 f o r his death, for which we are a l l responsible. Therefore he asks Forgive Us forgive Us your death. . . . as i f he were addressing C h r i s t on behalf of erring man. The i d e n t i f i c a t i o n becomes even clearer i n A star was broken Into the centuries of the c h i l d . • . . which contains an a l l u s i o n to the star of Bethlehem, whereby the Magi came to the manger. But t h i s c h i l d of earth has himself been changed into a star, pure fir,e and l i g h t . The poet suggests we are a l l each other's keepers and we are a l l g u i l t y when an innocent dies, e s p e c i a l l y through the d i r e c t r e s u l t of adult wars. Moreover, none save our victims can forgive us and thus, when they r i s e r a d i a n t l y from t h e i r ashes, we must humbly sue to them f o r reprieve. The end of the f i r s t part: Love i s the l a s t l i g h t spoken. Oh Seed of sons i n the l o i n of the black husk l e f t . . . . contrasts the l i g h t r i s i n g from death, the r e c o n c i l i a t i o n of l i f e ' s contraries, with the 'black husk' which the body has be-oome. But i t s black s t e r i l i t y i s nothing to that of the l i v i n g transgressors among whom he numbers himself. The iecond part unites the child's death to our f i r s t parents, p h y s i c a l l y and s p i r i t u a l l y . I t concentrates, as i t were, 86. the whole history of man within the c h i l d ' s s k u l l . Its death repeats the f i r s t death from which i t stems and as a consequence of which Man and woman undone, Beginning crumbled back to darkness Bare as the nurseries Of the garden of wilderness. These l i n e s s i g n i f y the descent of l i f e into the primeval chaos whence i t had emerged. Death meant a return to unbeing, i n a physical and s p i r i t u a l sense, but, paradoxically, death alone can restore us to the l o s t paradise. Thomas i s contrasting here two aspects of man: the principium i n d i v i d u a t i o n i s , which emphasizes the uniqueness of each en t i r y and i t s power to redeem the race by becoming a holocaust, and the notion that each l i f e contains a l l others. Two cycles merge./.. -; then, the cosmic and i n d i v i d u a l , 'myselves' being both. The t h i r d section soars out of the uncreated void -to which our elements revert - up to the 'ultimate kingdom' where a l l l i f e s h a l l conmingle i n vttering . . . for ever Glory, glory glory. . . . in a triumphant paean when God's l i g h t s h a l l f i l l the entire universe. The strongly sexual associations embedded i n the l a s t eight l i n e s are c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of the most intense r e l i g i o u s poetry, as can be seen i n the works of St. John of the Cross, Crashaw and Hopkins. Once more the poet has set on f i r e the void despair a f f l i c t i n g the world of genetic process. The thematic harmony 87 he establishes i s complex, but I s h a l l not dwell upon i t , be-cause though nearly every poem i n the l a s t period i s s t r i k i n g -ly i n d i v i d u a l , the thematic patterns tend to be recurrent. Last i n t h i s group comes the f i n e s t , "Do not go gentle into that good night," perhaps the most f i n a l piece he ever wrote. It seems to have been struck upon a s i l v e r a n v i l ! Every word rings out with inevitable assurance! It i s a superb Promethean plea for the persistence of l i f e and yet more l i f e and i n s p i r i t i t r e c a l l s the words of the dying Goethe: 'mehr L i c h t I ' Though death's night may be good, yet l e t us pay homage to the w i l l to survive against doom, for as i t draws neai^ a l l our u n f u l f i l l e d p o t e n t i a l i t i e s clamour for r e a l i z a -tion and a l l the regrets of what might have been and of the f u t i l i t y of our achievements p i l e on our heads. Here he cap-tures the t e r r i b l e i r r e v o c a b i l i t y of time, the urgency to l i v e the approach of death awakes and the knowledge that i n d i v i d u a l l i f e leaves only a footprint within the sweep of the t i d e . Waste of l i f e and the transience of the f l e s h are t r a g i c . The whole weight of the poem i s thrown i n the struggle to f i g h t the enemy who w i l l convert 'might' into 'never'. Per-haps there i s nothing in t h i s world more t r a g i c a l l y compelling than the superb defiance of unavoidable doom. Thomas's heroic stand d i f f e r s , however, from that of c e r t a i n Anglo-Saxon poets for, whereas they were expressing the convictions of a society who preferred death to ignominy, here i t i s the one human 88 chance t h a t i s at stake. No matter what the odds, he p r o t e s t s , l e t the human s p i r i t be i n v i n c i b l e ! L et man's courage shine through the rags of h i s d e f e a t ! Here then he f i g h t s the e x i s t e n t i a l predicament on i t s own terms, w i t h a rage, sublime as the love t h a t prompts i t . Man triumphs i n h i s d e s t r u c t i o n ! Two o c c a s i o n a l poems belonging together are "Into her l y i n g down head" and "On the Marriage of a V i r g i n " , which, i n somewhat D i o n y s i a c f a s h i o n , c e l e b r a t e two wedding n i g h t s . I suspect these poems must be reckoned among those where the poet's a t t i t u d e t o sex has been censured. For i n s t a n c e , F r a n c i s S c a r f e comments "A l i t t l e p robing r e v e a l s not a l i b e r a t e d body but an obsessed m i n d , " ^ but the charge s u r e l y misses the point. O b s e s s i o n a l w r i t i n g shows the a r t i s t has f a i l e d t o l i b e -r a t e h i s m a t e r i a l from h i s p e r s o n a l i t y ; but w r i t i n g t h a t ex-presses obsessions may be completely o b j e c t i v e . Hamlet, Measure f o r Measure and T r o i l u s and C r e s s i d a are great p l a y s which r e v e a l o b s e s s i o n s , w h i l s t B a u d e l a i r e has w r i t t e n great poetry t h a t uses them as i t s matter. I grant t h a t , however s u c c e s s f u l l y a w r i t e r may transmute h i s problems i n t o a r t , obsessions he f a i l s t o transcend w i l l l i m i t him. Undoubtedly, there i s a morbid imbalance i n B a u d e l a i r e . E l i o t invokes the law of i n v e r s i o n i n "defending:,hlm, but to c a l l a d i a b o l i s t a C h r i s t i a n upside down s t i l l does not stand him on h i s f e e t . The r e a l weakness of both the poems i s the d i f f u s e admixture of a s p e c i f i c a ct of consummation w i t h a hymn upon sexual i n t e r c o u r s e , i n which the man and woman are reduced t o 89 symbols, so that she i s 'everywoman' and he i s everyman, epitomizing the essence of sexual s a t i a t i o n . It expresses a tendency of the times, where the act of 'the always anonymous beast' has become dissociated from in d i v i d u a l personality. The poet presents i t as the universal p r i n c i p l e of organic l i f e , where the mating of man and woman exis t s on the c o l l e c t i v e l e v e l . Consequently, the two lovers may be described as Two sand-grains together i n bed, Head to heaven-circling head. . « . their whole l i f e being poured into t h e i r e s s e n t i a l l y sexual a t t r i b u t e s . Copulation i s not a highly i n d i v i d u a l subject. Like eating, drinking and excreting, i t i s simply a normal human function. In t h i s poetry, i t becomes a complement, a p a r a l l e l to and sometimes an expression of a s p i r i t u a l v i s i o n . Thomas writes i n the language of ecstasy. However, the c e l e -bration of sex i n a vacuum does not succeed here. I f e e l that the poet i s the fascinated slave of his images and, though i n places he writes b e a u t i f u l l y , the lack of s p e c i f i c focus s p e l l s f a i l u r e . Nonetheless, the undertaking i s i n t e r e s t i n g from two standpoints, f i r s t because, so far as I know, i t has no prece-dent i n English poetry and, second, because la t e r he was able to cast a si m i l a r emotion into a more substantial form. I c e r t a i n l y do not admit the charge he was being merely adolescent. A poet i s not obliged to treat sex under the aegis of romantic love; i f he can impose order upon the theme of sexuality, much joy to him! The great advantage of 9 0 . mythology i s i t s provision of figures who incorporate i n s t i n c t u a l a t t r i b u t e s and, in the later pieces, where he succeeds i n unify-ing his v i s i o n of sex, he uses quasi-mythological narrative. "On the Marriage of a V i r g i n " i s better balanced than "On a Wedding Anniversary;" even so, i t tends to sprawl. Stanford remarks, "Her bed i s referred to as the place where she •married alone*, since i n Thomas's work there i s no single existence, A l l things are nubile and enter into contact." This i s so, but does not go far enough. The fusion of the two suns; one the star or the generative p r i n c i p l e of physical l i f e , (also to be i d e n t i -f i e d with Christ as i n "Vision and Prayer"), the other, the dark sun of the phallus, (also to be i d e n t i f i e d with Dionysus), i s important. I think David Aivaz goes too f a r i n the opposite d i r e c t i o n when he writes, " I t i s the mystic who consorts with God, who l i v e s i n the 'moment' 'unending* although 'old* i n time, . . i t i s the a r t i s t who celebrates without p a r t i c i p a t i o n , 'alone i n a multitude of loves*, as Christ with the multitude. . . . The s h i f t , then, i s not only from God to man, but also from the one to the one-of-many, from celebration to choice."'^" I see no evidence i n the poem for suggesting i t contains a contrast between the mystic and the a r t i s t . The references to Ch r i s t are more simply and more faithfuDy explicable: Thomas by now habitually associates a l l human l i f e with the s t o r i e s of Adam and Eve and C h r i s t . He draws a p a r a l l e l between the g i r l ' s v i r g i n i t y and the miracle of the feeding of the f i v e thousand. Their connexion i s admittedly marginal: what they share i s a miraculous p r o l i f e r a -t i o n . Either was marvellous, though i n d i f f e r e n t ways. However, 91. i f i t i s the object of learning to e s t a b l i s h d i s t i n c t i o n s , the purpose of wisdom i s to r e l a t e . The poet expresses the notion £ that supernatural and natural acts of reduplication are marvel-lous. Creation i s one stupendous miracle, pervaded with sanctity. The poet r e l a t e s the sun-god, Apollo, and C h r i s t , to the act of sex. A supernatural male force, symbolizing the masculine aspect of the twin god of p r o c r e a t i v i t y , deflowers the g i r l , who i s thereby mated with the sun and the Son of man. Christ and Cupid are one. It i s always a divine f i r e that burns through v i r g i n i t y and physical f u l f i l m e n t embraces the two great halves of our being: the C h r i s t l i k e and the Dionysiac. Man and woman, therefore, incarnate the divine p r i n c i p l e of generation, fusing the s p i r i t u a l and the sexual i n one sacrament. In fusing the s p i r i t u a l with the animal, a process that i s to go further i n his development, Thomas has v i r t u a l l y succeed-ed i n r e c o n c i l i n g the tensions that exist i n "Altarwise by owl-l i g h t . " Certain, probably unconscious, traces of Oriental r e l i g i o n make themselves f e l t i n his l a t e r work. There are elements i n the preceding poem which suggest the yin and yang of Taoism, even perhaps the K a l i and Siva of the Hindu r e l i g i o n , creative and destructive, s p i r i t u a l and sexual d e i t i e s , who embody every l e v e l of p r o c r e a t i v i t y , from the divine to the purely animal. Though the poetry may not be wholly successful, the poet's integration of his e a r l i e r contradictions into an image of unity i n d i v e r s i t y and the converse marks tremendous progress. His world i s no longer merely a vicious c i r c l e , but has become changed into an image of the continual evolution of l i f e towards an ultimate harmony. 9 2 . Much c r i t i c i s m has been written on the f i r s t and second of the three narrative pieces we anust now consider: "A Winter's Tale", "Ballad of the Long-legged B a i t " and "Lament", where sex i s related to the miraculous, the supernatural and the r e l i g i o u s . Several c r i t i c s have remarked on the recurrent duality of Thomas. D.S. Savage, for instance, comments, " a l l Thomas's poems are erected from the double v i s i o n which i s the source of his understanding. . . . c a b a l l i s t i c perception of the world i t -s e l f as of a metaphorical nature, intimately related to the (59! a r t i c u l a t i o n of language." I agree with t h i s i n the main, for as we have seen, word and world are interchangeable i n the poetry. Moreover, i t i s c e r t a i n l y true that his v i s i o n i s e s s e n t i a l l y metaphorical. Glyn Lewis interprets the duality somewhat d i f f e r e n t l y . He says, Thomas showed " d i f f i c u l t y i n avoiding an amalgamation of two t r a d i t i o n s - his devotional heritage and the non-Christian occult philosophy to which he shows marked i n c l i n a t i o n s . " 0 ^ But why should he wish to avoid doing so, not that I believe the statement represents the r e l a t i o n s between the r e l i g i o u s p h i l o -sophies contained i n his work, very justly.? Moreover, there i s a great deal of ambivalence i m p l i c i t i n the material i t s e l f , as must inevitably happen when a poet makes such extensive use of the subconscious and i t s symbols, which, long after his concern with the former has abated, continue to appear and impart depth to his perceptions of the world outside himself. "A Winter's Tale" i s perhaps the most bea u t i f u l poem he ever wrote. It i s a superbly d e l i c a t e , yet powerful, pastoral 93 narrative, erected upon a pseudo-myth, which W.S. Merwin examines with rigorous f i d e l i t y to Thomas's orphic g i f t s . " I t contains," he says, "most of the e s s e n t i a l elements of a mid-winter ceremony of the r e b i r t h of the year. . . . If the poem was based upon some legend, then we might suppose that i n the o r i g i n a l r i t u a l the r e a l 6-9 spring came, and that the one-night version was l a t e r . " Very true, and I have no doubt that a Jungian c r i t i c might demonstrate in t e r e s t i n g associations with other s i m i l a r works. Stanford per-60 ceptively suggests that the 'he-bird* i n Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" may have inspired Thomas to create his 'she b i r d ' . It also possesses several marked a f f i n i t i e s to the "Eve of St. Agnes," where two lovers f l y the winter cold and fuse i n a great flame of love, i n a tale which the poet i s at pains to stress belongs to remote antiquity. The resemblances to Shakespeare's play increase our en-joyment of Thomas's piece. In either case a man wins his love after a long period of wintry i s o l a t i o n , through a miracle; both moreover depict a regeneration i n which the seasons share. The differences, however, are s t r i k i n g : the c e n t r a l theme of the play i s personal and vicarious expiation; here the man's deprivation i s simply a f a c t of e x i s t e n t i a l existence. Furthermore, whereas in the play the r e c o n c i l i a t i o n occurs i n and through time, i n the poem i t demands the victim's death. The landscape which the opening paints suggests f i r s t the man's s p i r i t u a l moribundity, but also the white, and as yet inaccessible, paradisal image of consummation and peace which un-flowers at the end: 94. In the always de s i r i n g centre of the white Inhuman cradle and the bride bed forever sought By the believer l o s t and the hurled outcast of l i g h t . Deliver him, he c r i e d , By losing him a l l i n love, and cast his need Alone and naked i n the engulfing bride, Never to f l o u r i s h i n the f i e l d s of the white seed Or flower under the time dying f l e s h a s t r i d e . Man i n time l i v e s alone and only when he i s released from the wheel of karma can love blossom. He ex i s t s i n darkness, the •hurled outcast of l i g h t ' , excluded from love and illumination. Thus the snowy landscape serves a double function: i t contains the s t i l l frozen lineaments of id e a l love, but also r e f l e c t s the state of the man's mind. He i s his world and his world i s him. The next part, with i n f i n i t e beauty, cescribes the miracle. A magical spring comes to the land, as the miraculous bride ap-proaches : A she b i r d rose and rayed l i k e a burning bride. A she b i r d dawned, and her breast with snow and s c a r l e t downed. > She wears the colours of passion and purity - s c a r l e t and white. Now the poet bids us use our senses as he begins to paint the awakening of the whole world from a winter ages old, whilst the 'she b i r d ' answers the prayer of the supplicant. He follows in her wake and hastens towards the death the consummation requires: In the far ago land the door of his death glided wide. . . She i s his death and i t s 'door' i s also her 'womb'. So, death and ful f i l m e n t have become synonymous terms. One cannot occur without the other. For every man there i s a 'she b i r d ' , an image of transcendent love, who w i l l come to illuminate the darkness of 95/ the s p i r i t . Such love asks the highest s a c r i f i c e , a l i f e f o r a l i f e , or a l i f e - i n - d e a t h f o r true l i f e . But the miraculous s p e l l withers and The springs wither Back. . . . which i m p l i e s that the seasonal transformation occurred only f o r the ::supplicant. As love drew near, h i s whole xvorld changed with him. But once he has passed beyond existence to a f i n a l s e l f - f u l f i l m e n t , the ordinary world returns to our consciousness. At the end the poet describes the consummation as h i s soul enters the 'she b i r d 1 : . . . i n the f o l d s Of paradise, i n the spun bud of the world. And she rose with him f l o w e r i n g i n her melting snow. She now emerges from her d i s g u i s e , a device common to supernatural v i s i t o r s , and r e v e a l s h e r s e l f as the source of love, as her snow melts and the two s p i r i t s fuse i n m y s t i c a l sexual f u l f i l m e n t . The poet's v i s i o n can hardly be t r a n s l a t e d i n t o conceptual langu-age, nor do I think the attempt to do so p r o f i t a b l e . This i s an obviously b e a u t i f u l poem, a f a u l t l e s s f a i r y -t a l e , which Stanford somewhat oddly evaluates: "As a work of a r t i t i s p e r f e c t , as a human document j u s t a l i t t l e elementary," a statement which i s both suspect and p e r p l e x i n g . A work of a r t i_s a human document! Perhaps he means i t s t e c h n i c a l s k i l l here sur-passes the value of i t s content. I s h a l l not spread myself i n t r y i n g to r e f u t e the charge; s u f f i c e i t to say that one q u a l i t y which we f i n d i n f a i r y - t a l e s i s elementalism. I f you happen to d i s l i k e them, then i t i s b e t t e r to admit a l i m i t a t i o n than to 9 6 . j u s t i f y a personal deficiency by pejorative observation. "Ballad of the Long-legged B a i t " has been roundly con-demned, largely, I suspect, as a r e s u l t of misconceptions. The poet here reveals the other aspect woman may reveal to the sub-conscious: s i n and death. Ideal beauty necessarily e n t a i l s i t s opposite and I believe he i s remarkably successful in r e c o n c i l i n g them in a concluding harmony. O n c e i i m o r e , he creates his own myth. Admittedly i t i s gruesome, but then so are many others. As usual, Olson writes ill u m i n a t i n g l y , when he says, "The Ballad of the Long-legged B a i t " ... has as i t s bare theme the notion that salvation must be won through mo r t i f i c a t i o n of the f l e s h . . . . With the death of the g i r l , the sea gives up i t s dead, as for e t o l d i n Revelations XX:13; Eden r e -turns, 'A garden holding to her hand / With birds and animals'; and the sea disappears accomplishing the prophecy of Revelations XXX:I ('and there was no more sea*) . . . the subduing of sensual desire becomes mysterious and cruel as the immolation of the g i r l , the salvation takes on the beauty and mystery of the resurrection of the dead and the past from the sea." Elsewhere he observes, "We are held i n constant suspense u n t i l the l a s t l i n e of the poem, for u n t i l then we do not know what the action i s , or who the agents, or what the circumstances."^ Henry Treece, who with Stanford condemns the piece, remarks on a "suspected Freudian symbolism, but also the influence of Rimbaud's Bateau I v r e . " 6 ^ 'Suspected' seems to me an unwittingly i r o n i c understatement I 97, Even Olson, I think, misunderstands the work. It does not depict the m o r t i f i c a t i o n of the f l e s h ; on the contrary, i t would seem the only way to overcome weakness, e v i l or enslavement to some vice i s to give i t free scope, so that the soul may r i s e through what i t f a l l s by. Stanford and Treece censure the piece, as contrived and tedious. Though I once shared t h i s view, I have now come to see the poem i n another l i g h t . Having reached the point where I believe I understand at least i t s broad outlines, I f i n d i t strange-ly compelling. Psychologically, i t s a l l e g o r i c a l structure i s simple: the woman i s everyman's subconscious sexual projections which he t r a i l s through the sea of life> ^ subjectii% her image to the o r g i a s t i c deflorescence, indeed wholesale rape, which his desires would perform upon womanhood. The purpose of the voyage i s to overcome the lower mind's b e s t i a l attachments. To be p u r i f i e d , i t s contents need to be exposed, aft e r which the abominable image can perish, and, as the lower nature outgrows i t s fouled rags, mystical release and consummation can begin. This i s a r i t u a l cleansing of the s p i r i t . Unfortunately, some have found i t s ex-pression repellant, though there are passages i n G u l l i v e r ' s Travels and T r o i l u s and Cressida which s t r i k e me as far more deeply shocking. I think i t important to stress that i n writing t h i s poem Thomas was breaking new ground i n English poetry. Siyjnbolic and a l l e g o r i c a l journies have a long enough history, but no English poet had previously undertaken to create a poetic narra-t i v e focused upon the whole corpus of masculine sexuality, which 9 8 . becomes transformed into a force p a r t i c i p a t i n g i n a transcendent consummation. The conclusion, however, d i f f e r s considerably from the ending of "A Winter's Tale," for whereas the l a t t e r depicts the salvation of an i n d i v i d u a l , the former describes the fu l f i l m e n t of the prophecy of Revelations. The whole process of sex has been sublimated into an everlasting v i s i o n i n which the whole of human nature shares. The l a s t spring i s endless. Man succeeds i n sloughing off his animality, and he comes home With his long-legged heart i n h i s hand. The 'bait' was nothing but the desires running counter to the movement of his higher s e l f towards perfection. Here the notion that by what we f a l l we r i s e i s exemplified] It i s also perfectly eiear that Thomas does not advocate repression, but immersion i n the dark waters of the s p i r i t ' s depths. His v i s i o n of man i s com-plex, but i t s inclusiveness, i t s r e f u s a l to r e j e c t inconvenient facets of nature, renders i t profoundly true. "Lament" i s simpler than either of the two preceding pieces and belongs to a d i f f e r e n t narrative genre. It i s neither symbolic nor a l l e g o r i c a l , but straightforward e t h i c a l f able. Stanford accords i t high praise, saying, " I t has that o b j e c t i v i t y , that writing from outside the subject, together with the attention to form and close rhyming, which the French (Parnassian) school prescribed." 6^ In no other respects does i t resemble a school of poetry distinguished, perhaps above a l l , f or i t s fastidiousness. 99. Each stanza depicts a new stage i n the rake's progress, which the poet charts most c a r e f u l l y . Here he presents the ob-verse of salvation through mystical sexual consummation, namely, the destruction of man enslaved to l u s t . The body rots and the s p i r i t darkens* As the body gains increasing ascendancy over the s p i r i t both suffer e c l i p s e . I r o n i c a l l y , reform i s forced upon the roue, who complains: Chastity prays for me, piety sings, Innocence sweetens my l a s t black breath, Modesty hides my thighs i n her wings And a l l the deadly virtues plague ray death! His vices have reduced him to a state of such helpless i n e r t i a that, despite himself, he has returned to the f o l d . The world i s f u l l of unwilling prisoners of goodness and r e s p e c t a b i l i t y . This specimen i s not to be thought of as damned, simply as i r a s c i b l e ; the fulminating of a goat r e l i s h i n g his fo r n i c a t i o n s . But i t would be wrong to underestimate the grim l i n i n g to the humour. The poet describes the dis i n t e g r a t i o n with unmitigated inciMemes^. One of the simplest of his poems, i t i s also among the most powerful. The next group we must consider contains some of the f i n e s t pieces of a l l . It comprises the great elegiac and pastoral odes: "Poem i n October", "This Side of the Truth", "Fern H i l l " , "In country sleep", "Over S i r John's h i l l " , "Poem on his birthday" and "In the white giant's thigh". Many of them exhibit an almost Proustian nostalgia for childhood, evoking i t s iinocence, i t s joys, i t s promise, security and sheltered ignorance, free from the desolate cares of maturity. Looking back, as he f e e l s from his autumn, he returns to his spring, which has become almost 100. unendurably b e a u t i f u l . "Poem i n October" d e s c r i b e s a l i t t l e m i r a c l e , how the weather . . . turned away from the b l i t h e country And down the other a i r and the blue a l t e r e d sky Streamed again a wonder of summer With apples Pears and r e d c u r r a n t s And I saw i n the t u r n i n g so c l e a r l y a c h i l d ' s F o r g o t t e n mornings when he walked w i t h h i s mother Through the p a r a b l e s Of sun l i g h t And the legends of the green chapels These sudden i r r a d i a t i o n s are frequent i n the l a t e r work, but where they occur r e t r o s p e c t i v e l y they are r e n d i n g l y poignant, f o r , u n l i k e summer, save i n memory, c h i l d h o o d does not r e t u r n . In the l a s t t hree l i n e s the poet c a p t u r e s the essence of the c h i l d ' s v i s i o n , which u n i f i e s a l l i t s e x p e r i e n c e s , w h i l s t f o r man they e x i s t as d i s p a r a t e fragments. Thus to grow up means a s p i r i t u a l d i s i n t e g r a t i o n f o r which there are no compensations. Though most of the work possesses a c r y s t a l l i n e c l a r -i t y , the l a s t three l i n e s have p u z z l e d some c r i t i c s : 0 may my h e a r t ' s t r u t h S t i l l be sung On t h i s h i g h h i l l i n a year's t u r n i n g . S t a n f o r d quotes Treece's comment th a t the poet seems t o be "pray-i n g f o r another year of l i f e i n the s t a b i l i t y of the world he knows, " ^ but adds, "There may a l s o be the idea present of a s p i r -i n g t o w r i t e only - i n Keats's phrase - from 'the h o l i n e s s of the h e a r t ' s a f f e c t i o n s and the T r u t h of Imagination'."^ Both o b s e r v a t i o n s seem to me v a l i d , but I do not t h i n k they exhaust the meanings the l i n e s c o n t a i n . I b e l i e v e the poet 101. i s expressing a fundamental paradox of h i s v i s i o n : that the word i s i n the world as the world i s i n the word. A l l existence i s an image and the image i s the whole of creation. He i s also pleading that h i s i n s p i r a t i o n may l i k e the seasons renew i t s e l f and that he may thereby be mingled with them. The 'high h i l l * r efers to both the heart and the h i l l where he i s standing; i t i s the tabernacle of art as well as a summit crowned with memories. There i s the further plea that his song may remain at t h i s height in the coming year and, l a s t , that i t may endure as the h i l l . The conclusion, which i s by no means simple, looks to the power of the imagination to transform the future that his works may p r e v a i l over time. As he contemplates the past and con-siders himself i n r e l a t i o n to a p a r t i c u l a r point i n time and space, he throws the weight of his purely mortal affirmation onto his creations. The central theme of "This Side of the Truth" i s pre-destination. The poet's concern with the tragedy of existence apart from e t h i c a l solutions renders i t s tone c h i e f l y e x i s t e n t i a l . To be aware i s to recognize that l i f e i s a death-sentence, though , . . a l l your deeds and words, Each truth, each l i e , Die i n unjudging love. . . , p a r t i a l l y mitigates the fatalism. I do not think 'unjudging love* suggests the mercy of an indiscriminating a r b i t r a t o r , but a v i s i o n to which a l l human conduct seems a r b i t r a r y . It i s a mistake to envisage death as a judge separating the sheep from the goats. On the contrary, i t reconciles those very problems which seem to cry out for a r b i t r a t i o n . 102 The piece reveals another side of t h i s affirmative period, which moves back and forward to escape an intolerable present. Death i s a deliverance and childhood an escape. The grown man, l i k e Tantalus, "sees the water of l i f e receding be-6a fore the holbw of his outstretched hand,""^ l i v i n g i n a void, between r a d i c a l innocence and f i n a l r e s t o r a t i o n . Intense abhor-rence for his immediate existence redoubles the poet's affirmative utterances. D.S. Savage finds an "unexpected d i f f u s i o n and p r o l i x -i t y " ^ 9 i n "Fern H i l l " , "Poem i n October" and "A Winter's Tale." Treece also comments unfavourably on the first-named piece, when he writes, "This 'botanical urge' i s a reaction towards a veget-able state, one of inaction and earthy complacence, a contrast between the mutability of human pe r s o n a l i t i e s with their l i e s and deceits, and the s t a t i c safety of the botanical world." V : There may be some truth i n what Savage says of i t , though none concerning the two others he c i t e s ; Treece*s st a t e -ment, however, s t r i k e s me as perverse. The whole pathos l i e s i n the poet's stinging r e a l i z a t i o n that he cannot return to c h i l d -hood. Were t h i s lacking then we might well i n d i c t him for s e n t i -mentality, but there i s nothing spineless or lachrymose i n his astonishing recreation of a childhood scene, with such subtle understanding of a ch i l d ' s mind that each of us must surely ex-claim, "Yes, I have been here t o o l " This the time when v i s i o n i s magical and the imagination absolute, when the s p i r i t u a l and natural worlds are one, as expressed i n And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams. 103. But the figure of time Jooms always larger, persistent, increas-ing and quite ineluctable, u n t i l the c h i l d experiences over again the f i r s t F a l l . In the l a s t stanza i t s t r a g i c consequences come home to roost: And wake to the farm forever f l e d from the c h i l d l e s s land. Oh as I was young and easy i n the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang i n my chains l i k e the sea. Does the c h i l d f l e e the farm or the farm the child? Both.' Man's chains are his physical existence, bounded by b i r t h , death and physical f i n i t y . But his song i s eternal. Perhaps i t i s the only consolation the poet knows to salve on i t s own terms his s t e r i l e cognizance of the earthly condition. He could not resign himself to the grave depression of E l i o t , nor the weather-beaten wisdom of Frost, nor l i k e Pound keep h i s f a i t h i n l i f e i ntact by d i r e c t i n g his energy against objects of hatred. His human v u l n e r a b i l i t y i s omnipresent and, as the pressure of the present grows stronger, we f e e l the e f f o r t of the soul to free i t s e l f from i t s chains. "In country sleep" i s a prayer for the continuance of a c h i l d ' s protective f a i t h . The poet t r i e s to exorcise from her mind various terrors and comforts her with the reminder that C h r i s t , here synonymous with the angel of death, w i l l not f a i l her, for " t h i s night he comes and night without end," not as a figure charged with vengeance and winged with t e r r o r , but as the hand outstretched to us from the heart of darkness. Above and beyond a l l C h r i s t ' s mercy breathes. The poem i s less concerned with the innocence and f r e e -dom of childhood than with the other side of i t s imagination; i t s ter r o r s . Its f a i t h i s i t s e l f a defence against chaos, but i t r e -quires divine magic to banish the black magic that a s s a i l s the tender mind* Stanford complains that there is a "slackening of 71 spiritual tension" and a "greater emphasis on descriptive, as opposed to expressive, writing. . . . and the cultivation of 72 exterior surfaces, as distinguished from inner essences." I lack the time to answer this charge i n detail, but I think i t worth observing that i t seems to me he misses the sheer v i t a l proliferation and the relaxed delicacy of the lin e s . It i s possible to maintain that Thomas evolved from writing the poetry of tension to the poetry of relaxation and that i f the f i r s t suffers from coagulation the second i s inconcise; however, to state certain tendencies as i f they were the predominant t r a i t s i s simply misrepresentation. We do not value people as i f we were compiling a l i s t of assets; nor do we derive much illumina-tion from composing catalogues of an author's qualities as i f he were a shopping l i s t . A much finer poem, "Over Sir John's H i l l " i s , accord-ing to Gid Corman, concerned "with the quality of mercy."^^ But I prefer to follow Olson who says "the h i l l Is called 'just 1 and the heron i s called 'holy'. • • . these terms derive from Thomas's comparison of the events taking place to a t r i a l and execution; the h i l l i s just because i t i s a judge, and i t i s a judge because, l i k e a judge pronouncing the death sentence, i t puts on a black cap - in this instance a black cap of jackdaws. The hawk is seen as the hangman. • . . The heron i s the chaplain 7k or priest." 105 The poem might be described as an extended metaphorical analogy between human and natural j u s t i c e , both of which are r e -lated to the divine j u r i s d i c t i o n which presides over them". The poet asks i f i t i s possible to reconcile the world's anomalies with an ultimate t r i b u n a l . He shows that each e n t i t y acts as i t must. So he i s able to cry A l l praise of the hawk on f i r e i n hawk-eyed dusk be sung, When his v i p e r i s h fuse hangs looped with flames under the brand Wing. . . . . lor the hawk i s no less a part of the order trian his victims on whom the poet invokes mercy i n It i s , the heron and I, under judging S i r John's elmed H i l l , t e l l - t a l e the knelled G u i l t Of the led-astray birds, whom God, for the i r breast of whistles^ Have mercy on, God i n his whirlwind silence save, who marks the sparrows haily For t h e i r souls' song. To a cursory glance t h i s may seem sour j u s t i c e , for what i s the 'gu i l t * of **he birds? It i s their hereditary legacy from a f a l l e n order. Since t h i s i s a universal sentence, we cannot t r u l y con-demn the predators, for not only ale./theyi as surely doomed as their victims, but their acts of destruction are a condition necessary to the fulfi l m e n t of the natural law. Nature, the poet says, contains i t s own court. The pattern of nature's destruction i s i n e v i t a b l e ; i t i s not merely an expression, but an inherent part, of her existence. That t h i s i s so constitutes i t s j u s t i c e . In a word, he simply reverses the question to provide the answer. Instead of asking i f the natural order can be j u s t i f i e d , he suggests that j u s t i c e consists of the course existence follows. 106 In "Poem on h i s b i r t h d a y " he explores the very heart of the negation from which h i s a f f i r m a t i o n s p r i n g s . He has now turned h i s back upon the past, seeking no longer a refuge i n childhood whose b r i e f r e s p i t e but redoubled the subsequent pain of r e a l i z a t i o n . Instead he has set h i s face toivards death and e t e r n i t y . His negation of any personal present has become i n t e n s i -f i e d , the a f f i r m a t i o n l i k e w i s e has grown more magnificant. There are places i n the poem where he comes close to achieving the c r u c i f i e d ecstasy of R i l k e ' s Duiniser E l e g i e n , where "thought ceases to be merely thought and poetry i s no longer merely poetry. ' Song, t r y i n g to prove the g l o r y , and thought, determined to dis= 75 p e l the i l l u s i o n , are adventurers i n the same her o i c saga." By a stupendous leap of the imagination, Thomas reaches v i r t u a l l y the same s t a t e of sublime t e n s i o n . The present, he f i n d s , i s i l l u s o r y , but he cannot deny i t with the f a c i l i t y of the Middle Ages, when man, having r e j e c t e d l i f e , was able to enjoy i t . He cannot a t t a i n personal happiness through the act of r e j e c t i o n ; t h i s only allows him to proclaim the marvellous p e r s i s t e n c e of l i f e as a whole. He i s a c u t e l y conscious of h i s own ' r u i n ' and the odour of death l i e s upon the whole pi e c e . I t i s the work of an a r t i s t s t r o n g l y conscious that he i s moving towards h i s end. But, the c l o s e r the body moves towards death, the louder the s p i r i t e x u l t s ; or, the sharper h i s sense of personal d i s a s t e r the more b r i l l i a n t shines the sun of l i f e . In the kingdom of death there i s peace, i n . . . h i s nimbus b e l l c o o l kingdom come And the l o s t moonshine domes. . . . 107 This i s the land of the "Our Father", where the prayer i s f u l -f i l l e d . It i s also a place of recovery, where man regains the l i g h t l o s t through the ever recurring F a l l . At the close he s a i l s out 'out to die', with complete acceptance of his f a t e . He now embraces hi s death as a deliverer from the e x i l e and darkness of l i f e . This i s the utterance of a man who f e e l s that he has nearly reached the end of his own re-sources. Death has become the servant of the Divine, and man though composed of Four elements and f i v e Senses i s also 'a s p i r i t in love', who recognizes his doom, but transcends i t , with a s p i r i t u a l splendour which could not ex i s t without the awareness of his fate. The soul's transcendence of i t s mortal l i m i t a t i o n s charges i t s defeat into a v i c t o r y . Man i s here more than the sum of his circumstances; he i s the t r a g i c protagonist, bestriding the ruins of his own nature. How superbly the poet captures here the i s o l a t i o n and heroism of man no longer immured i n Gothic c e r t a i n t i e s , no longer swaddled i n c o l l e c t i v e unisons, nor sheltered by F i n i t e s and Absolutes; but instead, alone, naked, vulnerable, confused, doomed, yet refusing to be pulverized into n i h i l i s m . The midwife of such an affirmation i s anguish, but i t s being i s radiant. "In the white giant's thigh" i s the l a s t of t h i s group. It completes one aspect of the poet's s p i r i t u a l evolution and i t s v i s i o n unites the past and future within an eternal present. Stanford considers i t "a superb e r o t i c po@m. . . . A 108. fantasy which t e l l s the truth concerning man's perennial sex-hunger and woman's perennial need for children. . . . a resplen-dant and f i t t i n g drop-curtain to the poet's persistent saga of sex." Setting aside the vulgarism 'saga of sex*, l e t us con-sider these statements. The poem i s c e r t a i n l y e r o t i c , i n places almost extravagantly sexual. Moreover, i t undoubtedly does focus upon the persistence a f t e r death of the procreative appetites, which i t changes without destroying, them. The statement omits, however, any appreciation of the strange conjunction the poet e f f e c t s between ghostly and physical love or i n s t i n c t u a l urge. Though dead, the women r e t a i n t h e i r sexual desires, Pleading i n the waded bay for the seed to flow Though the names on the i r weed grown stones are rained away. . . . "Waded bay" r e f e r s both to the lake of death through which the newly dead must pass and to the womb i t s e l f , once impregnated with the seed. The association of 'sefed' with l i f e and 'rain* with death attests t h e i r loss, for whereas the former once f i l l e d t h e i r bodies, now only the r a i n beats down upon stones. Seen from t h i s standpoint, death becomes an i n f i n i t e night of longing and regrets, where the s p i r i t remains acutely conscious of physical needs which are deprived of the s a t i s f a c t i o n they en-joyed i n l i f e . The soul remains, but i t s existence centres round i t s physical losses. It i s therefore s t i l l emotionally bound to i t s f l e s h . The second part of the poem resolves the r i d d l e , mov-ing from the sexuality of l i f e to i t s transformation through death. In describing the f i r s t , the poet gives free r e i n to an unbridled celebration of abundant i n s t i n c t , where he writes : 109. Or with th e i r orchard man i n the core of the sun's bush Rough as cows' tongues and thrashed with brambles th e i r buttermilk Manes, under his quenchless summer barbed gold to the bone.., Body, landscape and season are admirably in t e r l a c e d i n a harmony, glowing with the sheer v i t a l i t y of animal l i f e . But the mood changes abruptly with Now curlew cry me down to kiss the mouths of the i r dust. ... where,Iboking forward to death, the poet asks the curlew to sing his requiem and perhaps nuptial r i t e s i n the multiple consummation he envisages. He also begs the dead women may i n i t i a t e him into the second kind of love i n Teach me the love that i s evergreen after the f a l l leaved Grave. . . . implying a love, unknown to the l i v i n g , which blossoms after death. The close of the poem reinforces t h i s suggestion, with . . . t o these Hale dead and deathless do the women of the h i l l Love for ever meridian through the courters' trees And the daughters of darkness flame l i k e Fawkes f i r e s s t i l l . The r e c o n c i l i a t i o n he e f f e c t s i s by now f a m i l i a r : after the d i s -integration of death a reintegration occurs, by which tie elements of l i f e coalesce into a new pattern of existence. Nonetheless, the piece i s unsatisfactory, because the philosophical synthesis of the ending simply f a i l s to convince the i n t e l l e c t that death can surpass l i f e upon the l a t t e r ' s physical terms. Here death remains a night which does not banish the sweet r e c o l l e c t i o n of l i f e ' s summer, with i t s lusty, f e r t i l e exuberance. Granted that his attempt to discover a timeless f l e s h l y and s p i r i t u a l harmony represents a further stage i n 110 his evolution, I feel the result i s so vastly infer ior to the superb affirmation of the preceding poem as to disappoint the reader. Though written before i t , philosophically this piece represents the ultimate point i n the development of the poet's v i s i o n , which i n a muted close at las t reconciles the body and soul, l i f e and death, time and eternity. Three poems s t i l l remain to be discussed: "The Hunch-back i n the Park," "In my Craft or Sullen Art " and "Author's Prologue". None belongs wholly within the groups examined so far , but each seems to me suff ic ient ly important i n the poet's total evolution to warrant i t s inclusion. In common with many modern writers, Thomas expends much love on the victims of b i r t h and society, but, unlike some of his contemporaries, he avoids the mistake of turning them into symbols on which to drape archetypes. Instead, he paints a very touching contrast between this man's physical deformity and the beauty of his imagination, which creates 'from his crooked bones' an ideal of surpassing loveliness . The essential fact i n his predicament Is his total i so la t ion , a loveless, friendless existence, whose needs can only express themselves through fantasy. At night he goes to bed To his kennel i n the dark. But his s p i r i t r ises above the injuries and infirmit ies chance has i n f l i c t e d upon him. Stanford's assertion, the cripple "does 77 not stand up to things" ' strikes me as fa lse . His physical de-fects do not, I think, symbolize a spi r i tual spinelessness, since the essence of the whole piece l i e s i n the contrast between 111. the body's malformation and the beauty of t h i s poor creature's s p i r i t . His imagination i s as beautiful as i t s projection! Like "The hand that signed the paper", i t indicates a d i r e c t i o n the poet did not take i n his verse. Curiously, both pieces are favourites with anthologists, though the l a t e r at least, despite i t s admirable q u a l i t i e s , does not seem to me one of Thomas's most powerful works. Both are i n a sense more conventional than most of his poems in th e i r r e a d i l y comprehensible outlines and th e i r r e l a t i v e s i m p l i c i t y . Both, moreoever, share not only thematic o b j e c t i v i t y , but a high degree of self-detachment on the part of th e i r creator. The piece considered above, however, shares with c e r t a i n other l a t e r works a s t r i k i n g c h a r a c t e r i s t i c : the affirma-t i v e power of the imagination triumphing over the e x i s t e n t i a l order. As i n Keats, i t seems charged with a divine immanence, a sanctity, a sacramental wonder. "In my Craft or Sullen A r t " manifests the poet's a t t i -tude towards his art and reveals his purpose i n communication. It defines his purpose mostly by exclusion, each verse concluding with a positive statement. In the f i r s t stanza he disclaims commerciality and exhibitionism and t e l l s us he writes on behalf of the lovers, . . . l o r the common wages Of t h e i r most secret heart. . . . namely, for love. He proclaims himself as the lovers' voice, and therefore as the champion of the elemental and the universal: the unchanging human heart. In the second stanza, he disclaims any interest i n 112. addressing himself to the i n t e l l e c t u a l e l i t e , the self-appointed high-priests of art and thus to a l l those who stand apart from t h e i r fellow-men and women, as detached observers i n the wings of destiny. Nor does he write to outshine or emulate the great dead, as an imitator or vain aspirant to immortality, But f o r the lovers, t h e i r arms Round the gr i e f s of the ages, Who pay no praise or wages Hor heed my c r a f t or a r t . He i s the force, then, that a r t i c u l a t e s the secret silences of mankind's heart. He speaks fo r and to those who can never hear him p r e c i s e l y because they are the mass of suffering, t o i l i n g humanity, but though t h e i r l i v e s may be most dumb, they are also the most human. They enshrine the truths that time and fashion do not corrode or ta r n i s h . He emphasizes the paradoxical nature of his a r t ; i t s aim i s u n i v e r s a l i t y , but the more c l o s e l y i t approximates to t h i s condition, the further removed i t becomes from i t s audience, for the good reason that the most universal of a l l audiences i s the l e a s t l i t e r a t e . But he means more: he implies that the object of h i s art i s to rend the v e i l s of the mystery of l i f e , to give tongue to those great dumb depths which l i e below and beyond language and form the eternal truths of existence. The a r t i s t himself i s i s o l a t e d . Though he i s the race's spokesman, his unique function marks him o f f from his fellow men and women. Though immensely revealing a r t i s t i c a l l y , the piece i s not e n t i r e l y s a t i s f y i n g . I t i s a l i t t l e too r h e t o r i c a l ; I ts disclaimers just a t r i f l e grandiose. 113. Our analysis of the poet's development concludes with "Author's Prologue," a hymn to creation, where he asserts h i s communion with a l l other l i f e , defining his r e l a t i o n to i t i n various ways; i n terms of time (season), place (Wales) and nature (body and soul), both as man and a r t i s t . It i s in a sense an apologia, a f i n a l statement: At poor peace I sing To you strangers (though song Is a burning and crested act, The f i r e of birds i n The world's turning wood For my sawn, splay sounds). . . . He here contrasts the state of the a r t i s t with the nature of song. He himself i s poor i n peace, but his art i s a burning b i r d flam-ing out of the darkness of the world's wood i n which he carves his language. The act of poetic creation takes place i n the temporal cycle, but transcends i t . Poetry aspires to et e r n i t y , and stretches up towards the Divine. It sets the poet a l i g h t with the f i r e of deathless being and therefore constitutes a kind of salvation for him. The d r i v i n g force behind the i n s p i r a t i o n i s the tension that e x i s t s between man-as-artist, who stands for love, and the artist-as-man, who represents: . . . the fountainhead Of fear, rage red, manalive, Molten and mountainous to stream Over the wound asleep Sheep white hollow farms To Wales i n my arms. His human fear and rage are changed by art into love, which spreads across the land and extends i t s embrace to include the whole earth. 114. The f i r s t part of the poem describes the poet's world; i n the second part he himself becomes integrated with the objects of his v i s i o n . As a r e s u l t of t h i s metamorphosis, the macrocosm and microcosm blend as he describes the twofold journey which, as man and a r t i s t , he undertakes: My ark sings i n the sun At God speeded summer's end And the flood flowers now. Both the 'ark' and the 'flood' are multiple symbols, whose associative ranges are too self-evident to require comment. The world or human l i f e may be seen as a flood through which the human ark f l o a t s to safety, for after the time of t r i b u l a t i o n and wandering the sign of the rainbow s h a l l be set upon the forehead of the sky. We have seen that time and again the poet stresses that the solution i s not that as opposed to t h i s , but both. One act of transformation dissolves the contraries, r e s u l t i n g i n the b r i e f suspension of c o n f l i c t , when past and present recede for one moment of eternity i n a magical pause when the universe suddenly stands s t i l l i n perfection. Heller quotes Rilke's c r i t i c i s m of modern man: . . . Aber Lebendige machen a l l den Fehler, dass s i e zu stark unterscheiden. ( F i r s t E l e g y ) 7 8 He continues, "But t h i s i s an elegiac understatement of the r e a l denunciation i m p l i c i t i n Rilke's mature work, which i s that our t r a d i t i o n a l way of distinguishing i s f a l s e throughout the whole range of our fundamental d i s t i n c t i o n s between trans-cendence and immanence, God and man, man and things, external 115. r e a l i t y and inwardness, joy and suff e r i n g , communion of love and separation, l i f e andcfeath. Thomas too t r i e d to o b l i t e r -ate the d i s t i n c t i o n s which make chaos of l i f e ' s meaning and much of his obscurity resides in the strangely c o r r e l a t i v e character of his v i s i o n . We, who are so used to tabulations, are sometimes blind at integrating things. We have attempted to record three main stages i n the poet's evolution, i n each of which he t r i e d to a t t a i n that miraculous moment of peace, though he continually changed his world by a l t e r i n g i t s perspectives, moving f i r s t through the dark waters of the lower mind, emerging to l i g h t and to the dark-ness over the face of the earth and finding both t e r r i b l e , and thence into the realm of magical transformation, which reconciles l i f e with death. Each period contains i t s own defects and l i m i t a t i o n s . A number of the poems f a i l s to unify t h e i r matter; there are signs too that c e r t a i n compulsive moods clamoured for r e i t e r a -t ion; his exploration of sexual process i s sometimes indiscriminate; the apocalyptic v i s i o n may become an almost automatic solution to the fear of l i f e ; and at times landscape seems used rather to evoke a mood than to concentrate one. I think i t i s true that i n Thomas the dynamic and expressive elements developed to the detriment of the a r t i s t ' s receptive capacity, r e s u l t i n g i n an imbalance i n the work. It appears he possessed immensely powerful, inner resources, but was somewhat slow to absorb experience p o e t i c a l l y . He exploits the former to the f u l l , but ra r e l y does he seem to have achieved 116. neutral r e c e p t i v i t y . This i s the weakness of the a r t i s t who can give out, but cannot well take i n . It defines a ce r t a i n kind of personality and a r t . It also explains the f a i l u r e of certa i n pieces to integrate, since the r e s u l t of a low degree of i n t e r -action between the dynamic and contemplative elements i n com-position tends to be uncoordinated violence. E l i o t embodies the opposite extreme: too strong a reliance on his receptive capacity at the expense of dynamism, accounting for a lack of v i t a l i t y , growing continually more palpable. Whereas he i n c l i n e s to murmur, Thomas tends to shout. CHAPTER IV PART 2 Though by far the least maculated, the style of the l a s t period i s not e n t i r e l y unblemished. It contains some un-surmounted defects and i n places adds some new ones. In order to conclude my discussion of the poet's s t y l e , I wish to examine a number of c o n f l i c t i n g statements which seem to me c r u c i a l . Marjorie Adix quotes from a conference held by Dylan Thomas with students at the University of Utah, in the course of which he was asked i f i t was ever f a i r d e l i b e r a t e l y to confuse the reader. This i s what he answered: I thought someone would take me up on that. No - i t i s a deliberate avowal of your own i n e f f i c i e n c y . It i s impossible to be too c l e a r . . . . At f i r s t I thought i t enough to leave an impression of sound and f e e l i n g and l e t the meaning seep i n l a t e r , but since I've been giving these broadcasts and reading other men's poetry as well as my own, I f i n d i t better to have more meaning at f i r s t reading.°' Myself, I do not think t h i s adequately explains the changes the l a t e r poetry r e f l e c t s . Public r e c i t a l and broadcasts may have encouraged the poet to aim at c l a r i t y , but unless they had fostered an impulse already present within him, I doubt i f they would have influenced him so strongly. I r e j e c t Olson's claim that his "obscurity . . . i s a device; and one obvious use of i t i s to force the reader to give a poem the close attention i t r e q u i r e s . " 8 ^ To suppose a poet would employ obscurity simply to exact the maximum concentra-ti o n from the reader i s to i s o l a t e the obscurity from the poetry, 118 . as i f , had he wished, the author might w e l l have expressed the whole t h i n g i n r e a d i l y comprehensible language. But the r e s u l t would not have been the same poem i n another form, but an e n t i r e -l y d i f f e r e n t work. The only j u s t i f i c a t i o n of o b s c u r i t y i s t h a t i t i s necessary to the composition. There are two main causes, i n my o p i n i o n , f o r Thomas's o b s c u r i t y ; f i r s t , the r e a l p e c u l i a r i t y of h i s v i s i o n and con-c o m i t a n t l y i t s e x p r e s s i o n , and second, h i s f a i l u r e i n a number of the poems to impose order upon chaos. There are p l a c e s , as i n "Now", where he r e s o r t s t o o b f u s c a t i o n , but t h i s i s not the r e s u l t of attempting t o manipulate the r e a d e r ' s response, simply a woeful absence of an i n s p i r a t i o n a l n u c l e u s . Most c e r t a i n l y , he i s i n e f f i c i e n t when he l a p s e s i n t o a limbo of h a l f - c r e a t i o n . Corman maintains he runs the r i s k of 'a f i x e d r h e t o r i c a l s a y i n g ; " 8 ^ Gibson complains t h a t "the c r a f t s m a n s h i p i s merely concerned to r e v o l v e on i t s own a x i s ; " 8 3 Merwin that "the s t y l e of these e a r l i e r poems i s o f t e n egregious and t u r g i d - a t h i n g i s s a i d w i t h devious n o v e l t y merely to a v o i d s a y i n g i t i n any other way; as though the words came f i r s t and the s u b j e c t as i t c o u l d ; " * Olson, i n c o n t r a s t , c l a i m s "In the l a s t p e r i o d t e r s e n e s s i s supplanted by v e r b o s i t y . . . . D e s p i t e the enchant-i n g imagery, one has the f e e l i n g t h a t eloquence i s something s t r a i n e d . The e a r l y work had presented a m u l t i p l i c i t y of i d e a s and emotions i n a very s m a l l compass; the l a s t poems s t r e t c h a s i n g l e thought or emotion to i t s utmost l i m i t s , and perhaps be-yond. C u r i o u s l y enough, he never achieves l u c i d i t y ; the o b s c u r i t y wrought by h i s e a r l y t e r s e n e s s s l i p s i n t o the o b s c u r i t y wrought by h i s f i n a l v e r b o s i t y . " 8 ^ In one r e s p e c t Horan and 1 1 9 Savage are at one with Olson. The former observes: "His manner has been increasingly, not towards s i m p l i c i t y . . . but towards concentration, which i s the subtler and more meaningful choice ; n S 5 < 3 the l a t t e r that his development "takes the form of an accession of '87 intensity . . . an introversion and not an expansion." ' Shapiro remarks that "Thomas did everything i n his power to obscure the d i a l e c t of the t r i b e . . . . He had a horror of s i m p l i c i t y - or what I consider to be a fear of i t . " Q O He also charges the poet with 89 resorting "to r i d d l e , the opposite of metaphor,* Porteus, however, goes further, saying he "invented an idiom, consisting of a few t r i c k s of verbal and metaphorical violence."9® Here, then, are various views, some of which are i r -reconcilable. Let us attempt to answer them so far as space per-mits. We can dismiss the charge that his craftsmanship revolves on i t s own axis, since we should hardly wish i t to do so on some-one else's. That he did not become verbose i s less e a s i l y shown, but I think we can refute the pejorative element i n the charge that i n the l a t e r poetry he c a r r i e s a single notion to i t s utmost or beyond, by pointing out that t h i s i s precisely wherein i t s strength l i e s ; unlike much of the early work, which teems with chaotic l i f e , most of the later achieves a congruous variety. It c e r t a i n l y did not become introverted, however, for we are never more aware of the manifold abundance of l i f e than i n the poet's l a s t period. That he never became simple i s not, properly speaking, as derogatory a statement as Shapiro intends i t , since there have been many extremely great poets who never shook off complexity, though they may have become increasingly l u c i d : 1 2 0 . Shakespeare i s one and Donne another who never became precisely simple. Herrick and Houseman are both simple poets, but neither i s the equal of the tortuous, complex Donne. I view Thomas's development as a gradual conversion from a Dionysiac rage and frenzy, i n which he gave free r e i n to disordered perception and distorted perspectives, to a more Apolline v i s i o n , of l i g h t and repose and contemplation. Both are to some degree evident at each stage of his development, but the t o t a l pattern reveals a voyage through the i r r a t i o n a l , extra-conscious, uncreated, decreated, half-created, the dis i n t e g r a t i n g forces i n our being clamouring for utterance, towards the reasonable, the supernatural, the re-created, and the miraculous and softening power of love. Thus, i f each period shows ce r t a i n defects, each also possesses cer t a i n especial excellences. If t h i s i s true of the matter, i t i s equally true of the s t y l e . Light and c l a r i t y are strongest perhaps i n the pastoral poems, certa i n elegies and i n "A Winter's Tale," i n some ways the most accomplished and tender piece he ever wrote. Take, for instance, the f i r s t two stanzas: It i s a winter's t a l e That the snow blind t w i l i g h t f e r r i e s over the lakes And f l o a t i n g f i e l d s from the farm i n the cup of the vales Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes The pale breath of c a t t l e at the stealthy s a i l . And the stars f a l l i n g cold, And the smell of hay i n the snow, and the far owl Warning among the fold s , and the frozen hold Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl In the r i v e r wended vales where the tale was t o l d . These l i n e s are almost perfect. Their continuity i s both l e i s u r e l y 1 2 1 . and emphatic, as i f the poet were i n v i t i n g us to s e t t l e down comfortably and simply enjoy ourselves. The rhythm and mood are confident and relaxed, bespeaking the assurance of the 'master-singer'. There i s , moreover, a curious s t i l l n e s s , a resonant silence behind the words, so that we almost seem to hear the silence of snowfall. In richness and repose, the poem r e c a l l s "The Eve of St. Agnes," but I should hesitate to say the former i s quite the l a t t e r ' s equal. By comparison, i t i s a t r i f l e splayed, less b r i l l i a n t l y defined and not as intense. Nonetheless, i t i s a marvellous poem. There are places where v o l a t i l i t y comes to the rescue of a tenuous substance, as i n A l l the sun long i t was running, i t was lovely, the hay F i e l d s high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, i t was a i r And playing, lovely and watery And f i r e green as grass. . . . which i s admittedly fulsome. The r e i t e r a t i o n of 'lovely' I f i n d p a r t i c u l a r l y disturbing, since i t reveals a reliance on vague gesticul a t i o n , instead of attaining the weight and resonance of good poetry. I doubt i f he ever achieved the i n f i n i t e l y f l e x i b l e n e u t r a l i t y , which I take to be the ultimate mastery of s t y l e , and his work remained somewhat e r r a t i c . Furthermore, the eccen-t r i c i t i e s which begin by delighting become tedious, for, i f b i z a r r e r i e never f a i l s to capture the eye or ear, i t can hardly hope to r e t a i n them. But these are f a u l t s which exi s t c h i e f l y as tendencies in the work; they do not predominate i n the bulk of i t . 122. At the other extreme stands a poet such as Graves; who i s f u l l of stone-cold sobriety and sparse deliberation. Auden and Empson can both, es p e c i a l l y the l a t t e r , be at times coldly clever. A l l three represent the very antithesis of the f a u l t s we can discover i n Thomas. He used violence to blast the language out of i t s emotional torpor; i n doing so, he enriched i t immeasurably, but, l i k e Hopkins, he has l e f t no useful precedents, for he i s not simply dangerous, but quite f a t a l as a model. If we wish to study his defects, we can see them best exemplified in the work of his imitators, but for his q u a l i t i e s , which are many and great, we need but look into our hearts, for i t i s to the human heart that above a l l he writes. CHAPTER V AN EPILOGUE A f i n a l evaluation of a poet's l i v i n g works i s perhaps a contradiction i n terms. If the poetry be a l i v e , then nothing we say can be f i n a l , since there w i l l remain more and yet more to be expressed of i t . Nonetheless, though nothing we say erf good poetry should ever attempt to be d e f i n i t i v e , time has a way of forming some kind of a pantheon, leading us to a f f i r m there i s more to be experienced and more therefore to be said of one poet than another. In t h i s way we are able to reach c e r t a i n conclusions, such as the obvious truth Shakespeare i s a greater poet than T.S. E l i o t . There i s no object i n try i n g to arrange poets in order of merit, as i f we were compiling an honours' examination class l i s t , but i t i s sometimes useful to examine why we regard, say, Webster as a greater dramatist than Tourneur. Some of us may not, but, since the general consensus of c r i t i c a l opinion over a long period of time has preferred the former, i f we re j e c t t h i s view, the onus of proof rests upon us. There are s t i l l c r i t i c s and scholars who deplore certain great masterpieces. I have even heard of a C l a s s i c a l scholar refusing to teach the I l i a d on the grounds i t i s merely a butcher's shop. To most, however, i t i s one of the greatest poems i n the world. As for Milton, i t seems l i k e l y he w i l l remain a c r i t i c a l b a t t l e f i e l d for the rest of time - i f he l a s t s . Thomas's reputation i s s t i l l very much i n the melting-pot. C r i t i c s disagree not only about the q u a l i t y of his work as 124 a whole, but d i f f e r sharply in their estimates of the r e l a t i v e value of each stage of his evolution. I have made clear my b e l i e f that the la t e r work i s the most passionate, the most profound and the most moving, and detect only here and there the shadow of s t e r i l i t y . He has been c a l l e d a neo-romantic, a demi-surrealist, a d i s c i p l e of Hopkins and many other things. Francis Scarfe remarks, "The dominant points of contact seem to be James Joyce, 91 the Bible and Freud;" to Shapiro he i s predominantly Freudian, to Merwin, r e l i g i o u s . If the truth be t o l d , he i s surely not simply t h i s or that, but many things. Sometimes s u r r e a l i s t i c , sometimes Freudian, sometimes romantic, sometimes metaphysical, sometimes pantheistic, sometimes B i b l i c a l and sometimes Jacobean, whatever he i s , he remains always himself. In common with many other writers, he l a i d the onus of exploration on his own person-a l i t y . Perhaps he did not consciously choose to do so, but then in t h i s age I doubt i f the powerful recreation of a world of c o l l e c t i v e certainty i s possible. Derek Stanford likens him to Gray, but, I think, quite wrongly. From f i r s t to l a s t Gray remained an occasional poet and very r a r e l y rose above accomplished competence. His innate temperamental bias, furthermore, precluded him from any r e a l development. Thomas evolved enormously and his work reveals a much greater emotional and i n t e l l e c t u a l range than we f i n d in the other's works. Furthermore, as an a r t i s t , the melancholy, sombrely w i s t f u l Gray could hardly be less l i k e the tempestuous, v o l a t i l e Thomas. 1 2 5 . Treece thinks Hart Crane influenced the poet, though personally I doubt i t . Certain resemblances may ex i s t between them, but Crane seems to me as a whole i n f i n i t e l y further removed from the world than Thomas and very rarely does he achieve that active concentration which i n the l a t t e r i s so frequently present. Most would deny him the stature of E l i o t and Frost. It i s commonly said that his work lacks the objective magnitude and i n t e l l e c t u a l depth of t h e i r s . The statement looks correct and yet, i f we examine the works of the f i r s t two, I wonder how much we s h a l l f i n d that i s great: places i n E l i o t , a few pieces of Frost, but surely not a great deal more. At their best ? they do a t t a i n a poised and sagacious maturity which Thomas did not. I am prepared to concede them the l a u r e l , but not by so very much. He remains an iso l a t e d figure in r e l a t i o n to his age, i n which respect he resembles both Blake and Hopkins. As the former's his poetry seems anti-academic; l i k e the l a t t e r , he husbanded his sources to an almost dangerous degree and i n common with both his work reveals a f u r i o u s l y active l i b i d o . There are degrees i n greatness and I should not rank Thomas with the highest, but I believe that he has l e f t no mean number of poems that could j u s t l y be described as great and that i n his development from the darkness of the lower mind's depths to a v i s i o n of consummate repose, he has l e f t a complete and s a t i s f y i n g record of one man's entire s p i r i t u a l evolution. * * * * * 126 FOOTNOTES 1. Geoffrey Grigson, "How Much Me Now Your Acrobatics Amaze, " Dylan Thomas; The Legend and the Poet, A Collection of Biographical  and Critical Essays, ed. E.W. Tedlock. (London, Melbourne, Toronto, Heinemann, 1960), p. 160. 2. Elder Olson, The Poetry of Dylan Thomas. (The University of Chicago Press, 1954), p. 88. 3. Dylan Thomas, "Answers to an Enquiry", as quoted by Henry Treece in Dylan Thomas . (London, Lindsay Drummond Ltd., 1949), p. 31. 4. Derek Stanford, Dylan Thomas, A Literary Study. '".How to be a poet," circus, No. 2, May 1950. (London, Neville Spearman, 1954), p. 10. 5. Stanford, p. 38. 6. Ibid, p. 39. 7. T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems, 1909-1935. Quoted from Title of "The Hollow Men," (London, Faber & Faber Limited, 24 Russe I Square^, p. 85. 8. Olson, p. 91. 9. Stanford, p. 44. 10. Olson, p. 92. 11.. See footnote No. 3. 12. Olson, p. 99. 13. Treece, pp. 72-84. 14. Ibid, p. 77. 15. The Tempest, The Temple Shakespeare (J.M. Dent & C o . , Aldine House, London). MDCCXCV, pp. 396-397. 16. Chinese Philosophy in Classical Times, ed. &trans. E.R.Hughes. (London, J . M . Dent & Sons Ltd., 1942). Reprinted with minor revisions, 1954, p. 184. \ 17. Stanford, p. 147. Quoted from a letter by Dylan Thomas to Treece. 18. Stanford, p. 50. 127 Footnotes 19. Treece, Quoted from a letter by Dylan Thomas to Treece, pp. 47-48. 20. David Aivaz, "The Poetry of Dylan Thomas," ed. Tedlock, p. 207. 21. Ibid, p. 210. 22. Olson, p. 5. 23. Ibid, p. 11. 24. Olson, p. 5. 25. [bid, p. 5. 26. The Winter's Tale, The Temple Shakespeare. 4vols. IV, pp. 120-122. 27. Rainer Maria Rilke, Requiem And Other Poems, trans, from the German with an Introduction and Notes by J.B. Leishman. (London, The Hogarth Press, 1949). Quoted from lines 7-14 of Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, p. 101. 28. Treece, p. 12. 29. Stanford, p. 65. 30. Ibid, p. 69. 31. Ibid, p. 71T72. 32. Olson, p. 99. 33. See footnote No . 19. 34. Stanford, p. 69. 35. Treece, p. 85. 36. jbid, p. 85. 37. John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, ed. John Hayward. (London, The Nonesuch Press; New York, Random House Inc., 1932), p. 282. 38. Olson, p. 64. 39. Ibid, pp. 83-84. 128 Footnotes 40. Olson, pp. 84-85. 41. Ibid, p. 86. 42. Treece, p. 149. 43. Stanford, p. 82. 44. Geoffrey Moore, Dylan Thomas, ed. Tedlock, p. 250. 45. Geoffrey Grigson, ed. Tedlock, p. 160. 46. Ibid, p. 165. Quoted from Dylan Thomas. 47. Ibid, p. 165. 48. Robert Horan, "In Defence of Dylan Thomas," ed. Tedlock, p. 134. 49. Karl Shapiro, "Dylan Thomas, " ed. Tedlock, p. 283. 50. Jbid, p. 274. 51. Stanford, p. 93. 52. W. S. Merwin, "The Religious Poet," ed. Tedlock, p. 245. 53. Stanford, p. 94. 54. Francis Scarfe, "Dylan Thomas: A Pioneer," ed. Tedlock, p. 107. 55. Stanford, p. 120. 56. Aivaz, ed. Tedlock, pp. 205-206. 57. D.S. Savage, "The Poetry of Dylan Thomas," ed. Tedlock, p. 143. 58. Glyn Lewis, "Dylan Thomas, " ed. Tedlock, pp. 172-173. 59. Merwin, ed. Tedlock, p. 244. 60. Walt Whitman, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, " Leaves of Grass . (New York and London, D. Appleton & C o . , 1912), p. 197. 61. Stanford, p. 105. 62. Elder Olson, "The Poetry of Dylan Thomas, " ed. Tedlock, pp. 230-231. 63. Olson, The Poetry of Dylan Thomas, p. 51. 64. Treece, p. 114. 65. Stanford, p. 139. 129 Footnotes 66. Treece, p. 119. 67. Stanford, p. 106. 68. Erich Heller, in The Disinherited Mind, "RiIke and Nietzsche, with a Discourse on Thought, Belief, and Poetry," (Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex; Mitcham, Victoria, Australia, 1961), p. 155. 69. Savage, ed. Tedlock, p. 146. 70. Treece, p. 127. 71. Stanford, p. 130. 72. [bid, p. 131. 73. Cid Corman, "Dylan Thomas: Rhetorician in Mid-Career, " ed. Tedlock, p. 224. 74. Olson, pp. 57-58. 75. Heller, p. 155. 76. Stanford, pp. 142-143. 77. Ibid, p. 114. 78. Heller, op. cit. p. 130. 79. [bid, p. 130. 80. Marjorie Adix, "A Conference by Dylan Thomas with students at the University of Utah, " ed. Tedlock, pp. 61-62. 81. Olson, p. 47. 82. Corman, ed. Tedlock, p. 227. 83. Henry Gibson, "A Comment, " ed. Tedlock, p. 153. 84. Merwin, ed. Tedlock, p. 240. 85. Olson, p. 21. 86. Horan, ed. Tedlock, p. 139. 87. Savage, ed. Tedlock, p. 146. 88. Shapiro, ed. Tedlock, p. 274. 89. Ibid, p. 280. 90. Hugh Gordon Porteus, "Map of Llareggub, " ed. Tedlock, p. 92. 91. Scarfe, ed. Tedlock, p. 96. 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