• A Romantic in Revolt
Collected Poems (19344952). By Dylan Thomas. (Dent. I2s. 6d,) " I HONOUR rhythm and rhyme, which first makes poetry what is ; but its real depth and most profound effect, that which fashions truth and furthers mankind, is what remains of poetry after it It,. been translated into prose," said Goethe. This is a statement whiett separates very sharply the classical from the romantic tendenc):: The classicist expresses thought and experience which are " poetic material long before he has put them into rhyme and rhythm. Whtt! translated into prose, the intrinsically poetic nature of the subject remains. It also might be said to follow that the classicist translate' his subject-matter into poetic forms just because poetry happens tc:, be thz most suitable vehicle for certain ideas which ' fashion trot' and further mankind." When it is put in this way, one sees that a good deal of moder0 poetry has, in the past ten years, developed a classicist tendency: Both Eliot and Auden are more and more preoccupied with ida and experiences which are poetry even when they.are prose. VI aim of such poetry is to use words and forms in such a way thtt they give ieligious experience an even greater definition and vivio' ness. The tendency is for poetry to become a kind of intense imagined portrayal of ideas which exist beyond or outside the poetr),' Words are used with the utmost precision, and the delight of readit' such poetry is the sensitivity with which words and forms exprcs' ideas seen through the poetry, as through a stained-glass windoo,' which transforms a landscape seen through it, but which at tiv same time imitates its contours. Dylan Thomas represents a romantic revolt against this classic05 tendency which has crystallised around the theological views 0,1 Eliot and Auden. It is a revolt against more than this, against 111' Xford, Cambridge and Harvard intellectualism of much modern Detry in the English language ; against the King's English of ondon and the South, which has become a correct idiom capable or refinements of beauty, but incapable of harsh effects, coarse texture and violent colouts. The romantic tendency is to regard Detry as a self-sufficient kingdom of poetic ideas, owing no allegiance ) any other system of thought, in which words become sensations ad sensations words. For Keats his Ode to Psyche was a habit- ble bower in which the poet who had renounced everything except 'Poetic experience could take up his residence. The romantic characteristic of Dylan Thomas is that his poems Ontain the minimum material which can be translated into prose. slie does not use words with the kind of precision to which Mr. Eliot bas accustomed us—just as Keats did not use them with the precision ■ of Pope—because they are not directed to any concept outside the Poetry. They are related to one another within the poem, like the Dlours of a painting, by the exercise of that sensuous word-choosing iculty of his imagination which cares more for the feel of words than for their intellectual meanings. A powerful emotion—we may Suppose—suggests to Dylan Thomas an image or succession of iMages, and it is these which he puts down, without bringing forward into consciousness the ideas which are associated with such images. Re suppresses the intellectual links between a chain of images, ecause they are non-sensuous. The few critical comments which Dylan Thomas has made on his Poetry show that he is pet fectly aware of What he is up to. He is a I ighly intelligent man, determined to keep the intellect in its place. Ile is also the tough boy from Wales with the " gift of the gab " and a suspicion of London and all it stands for : a kind of literary Lloyd George breaking up an Asquithian conspiracy of writers from Oxford and Cambridge who ruled the roost when he came to town.
Dylan Thomas is frequently described as a " pure poet," but he i 3 nothing so sophisticated, literary and (to use the word in a purely aesthetic sense) decadent. He is a romantic revolting against a thin contemporary classical tendency, and driven by a rhetorical Urge. His poetry is not so much influenced by, as soaked in, child- hood experiences of the Bible, and doubtless, also, Welsh bardic Poetry. In his early poems there is much obscurely subjective material. As his detractors have pointed out, his metaphors are sometimes mixed and inexact ; his images sometimes will not stand UP to a severely " critical examination." The weaker poems (mostly of what, at his present stage of develop- nent, must be called his "middle period ") show that his poetry, unless it is galvanised into unity by some dramatically powerful situation, tends to fall apart into its separate components. It needs to be, in a quite obvious sense, inspired by a unifying vision, moment of self-realisation, great occasion, which organises the images around his centre. When this happens—as it does in the youthful poems nSpired by a sense of adolescent wonder and the later ones which end more and more to celebrate occasions—the writing becomes Nonderfully coherent, and, if there are occasional obscurities, the Xlem as a whole is filled with joy and light. The discipline in Thomas's best work has the quality which uoethe called" demonic." It is that of a very alive person able to relate his molten, turbulent ideas to certain primary, dithyrambic Docasions. In poems like Ceremony After a Fire Raid, and Vision 211d Prayer Dylan Thomas has discovered not a subject-matter (that he has always had) but subjects which—after the impulse of the first Juvenile poems—seemed rather lacking. This poetry is concentrated the greater sensations of living : birth and death, vision and Prayer, festive celebrations, like the two poems on his birthdays. in this poetry the reader feels very close to what Keats yearned for t" life of sensations "without opinions and thoughts.