‘Fern Hill’ is one of Dylan Thomas’s most read poems. Dylan Thomas happens to be a favourite poet of The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles that is, and how appropriate). Prince Charles visited the poet’s birthplace in Swansea in September 2013. The following is a YouTube video of his reading of ‘Fern Hill’ …
Here are the words of the poem, my commentary appears after each stanza …
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
(lilting house – a touch of music and song in the house, dingle = a small wooded valley or dell … this reflects to the green apple days of his youth – nice that when young ‘time let him climb golden in the heydays of his eyes’ – wonderful expression of how time lets the young stretch to the sky … and the young are always honoured by those older as he rode on the wagons and he himself lord of his rural environment invoked by easy movement as he went his merry way – another great line ‘down the rivers of the windfall light’- again linking with apples and movement)
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
(Invokes a very joyous outside childhood … I too can remember time spent as a child playing with friends on a farm … wonderful environment so many things to explore … so I can identify strongly with this stanza … here we have time again … time gives such a lot to the young – very merciful … the Sabbath rang slowly … the holy day distant, and defined in terms of the outside and nature – his holy place … the sound of water on pebbles his Sabbath bell)
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
(the haystacks as high as a house – the sound of wind in the chimney and the fireplace empty for this is summer his mind is fired by rich green grass … and as he falls asleep the farm is still much within his soul … the sound of owls fall away – what a great line ‘as I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away’ … the movement of the night farm sleeps within him as he rides to sleep)
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
(the farm is personified in white dew … a religious reference to the first garden … and it was as though everything was reborn for him as the simple light defined the environment anew … the fields in praise for the gift of light and sun)
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
(I can imagine the trophies of pheasants and foxes and he equally honoured … and the endless days of happy sun-rich care free wanderings – that is before time starts to diminish and ‘follow him out of grace’)
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
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.
(in the days of childhood there were no cares on how time would swallow and leave forever the days of innocent joy – he was ‘young and easy in the mercy of his means’ – we are all chained if you like, like the sea is chained by land – but it’s great to sing in our chains whether in childhood or a little older – nice that in childhood the chains are well hidden)