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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The verses are like spells that bind you., September 26, 1998
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This review is from: Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas 1934-1952 (New Directions Book) (Paperback)
Dylan Thomas wrote his verse in extremely strict forms that he himself devised, employing rhyme (though mostly slant rhyme) and the more subtle effects of assonance in the formalist tradition, exercising the rigorous control and discipline also inherent in that tradition, although his skilled use of repetition (e.g., "And Death Shall Have No Dominion", "Fern Hill", and, of course, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night") and his lines of varying, though strictly determined, length (as in "Fern Hill" and "Poem in October") achieve the musical qualities to which free verse aspires. In this way, Dylan Thomas represents the pinnacle of the formalists' craft and art, respecting, but not becoming bound by, the rules and metrics of tradition. Instead, he created his own rules and forms, to which he adhered with incredible strictness: his syllabic poems like "Fern Hill" are even more rigorous than the iambic line, which allows some freedom in the placement or substitution of other metrical feet. But DT's syllabic verse, though strict, does not govern the stresses in each line, allowing the natural rhythms of the language and phrases to flow, and the stresses to fall where they will, resulting in an incredible lyricism. Yet, DT also employed a regular meter when the building emphasis was needed, as in the anapestic final line of "Fern Hill": "Oh, as I was young and easy, in the mercy of his means,/Time held me green and dying,/Though I sang in my chains like the sea." That means/sea assonance demonstrates the subtle resonance that permeates his work, analogous to the final couplet in a sonnet. "Fern Hill" is music itself, but also meaning: the Welsh name "Dylan" means "the sea", and that final line is Dylan Thomas's signature on his own painterly-musical portrait of a place from his childhood. His best work ("Fern Hill", "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", "And Death Shall Have No Dominion", "In My Craft, or Sullen Art", and "Poem in October") more than makes up for his less accessible, less lyrical verse (e.g., "A Grief Ago"). The inspiration that the New Apocalypse group and the Beats drew from him--from his poems and his stage presence--probably annoyed him, and certainly the poets in the Movement, which formed in reaction against the New Apocalypse, were even more annoyed, but Robert Conquest, who, along with Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Jennings, and Kingsley Amis, established the principles of the Movement poets in the New Lines anthology, has stated that he has always admired Thomas's finest works. In fact, the Movement's manifesto, published in New Lines, was thought of as too harsh by Larkin, leaving Kingsley Amis as one of Dylan Thomas's only absolute detractors. But many other poets, such as Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, and John Berryman, regarded Thomas as a master. The Collected Poems are uneven and at times erratic and obscure, but the brilliance of his words, their music and their magic, cannot be denied. His verse, as disciplined as that of Richard Wilbur, yet in a different way, is verse that rages, unlike Wilbur's elegant and elegaic poems: Richard Wilbur is the bright air, Dylan Thomas the brilliant fire. And yet he is not always in a bardic transport: the blinding whirlwind of his poem "Author's Prologue" is the opposite of the subdued, mixed feelings of hope and grief in "Poem in October", a work of restraint. Thomas himself lamented the fact that his verse would most likely be read, not by real people who live and struggle and die, but by pedantic academics, like the old men in Yeats's "The Scholars". As said in his poem, "In My Craft or Sullen Art", his poems are his letters to you:
"...Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages,
Nor for the towering dead,
With their nightingales and psalms,
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages,
Nor heed my craft or art."
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B. Yan
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Location: Chicago, IL

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