Wednesday, May 2, 2018

From Darkness to Light: Quite Early One Morning


by Dylan Thomas

This is a collection of essays, stories, and transcripts of pieces Dylan Thomas created for the BBC. They range from memories of his childhood to an overview of Welsh poetry and poets. I'm not sure how it ended up on my list of books to read (it was added in 2013), but I was delighted to see A Child's Christmas in Wales in the table of contents, and a little surprised that it was slightly different than the one I read earlier this year. Apparently he edited it in different ways over the years.

Most of the essays contained lyrical prose, as to be expected from a poet. I often wondered what Thomas himself must have sounded like when reading these words for documentaries or radio shows, as many of them were. There are quite a few recordings available online.

Thomas was born just at the end of World War I, which placed him in the generation of young men who fought and died on the battlefields of World War II. These kinds of experiences appear throughout the book, but the most powerful was Return Journey. He seeks all over his hometown for his own self as a youth and finds everyone remembering young men as boys and all the lessons and playing and music-making and climbing and swimming and yelling that young boys do.
Park-keeper [the last of many to respond to his questions]: Oh yes, I knew him well. I think he was happy all the time. I've known him by the thousands.
Narrator: We had reached the last gate. Dusk drew around us and the town. I said: What has become of him now?
And the park-keeper answers, as the bell rings:
 Dead...Dead...Dead...Dead...Dead...Dead
Much of the book concerns poetry and I found it enlightening to read Thomas's thoughts on poetry. I often enjoy reading poetry, but I appreciate learning from people who have thought about and struggled with and written poetry. When asked if he intended poetry to be useful to himself or others, Thomas responded both:
My poetry is, or should be, useful to me for one reason: it is the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light, and what of the individual struggle is still to come benefits by the sight and knowledge of the faults and fewer merits in that concrete record. My poetry is, or should be, useful to others for its individual recording of that same struggle with which they are necessarily acquainted.
An essay On Poetry is a series of excerpts from a discussion on poetry with James Stephens. Thomas said:
Poetry, to a poet, is the most rewarding work in the world. A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him...
The essay is only two pages, but it's marvelous. Thomas also says, at the end of it:
What's more, a poet is a poet for such a very tiny bit of his life; for the rest, he is a human being, one of whose responsibilities is to know and feel, as much as he can, all that is moving around and within him, so that his poetry, when he comes to write it, can be his attempt at an expression of the summit of man's experience on this very peculiar and, in 1946, this apparently hell-bent earth.
 I'd read very little of Dylan Thomas's prose before this book, so I'm glad I read it. I enjoyed it, though I did find it most enjoyable when I read it slowly. Otherwise it was too easy to read the words without really paying attention to the meaning.

I checked this book out of the library to read it. All opinions in this post are my own. Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.

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