Poem in October by Dylan Thomas

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

by Dylan Thomas
(August 1944)

Dylan Thomas reciting both ‘Poem In October’ and ‘In My Craft or Sullen Art’

Additional information: One of Dylan Thomas‘ many birthday poems.

The setting of the poem is Laugharne in Carmarthenshire viewed, stanza three onwards, from St John’s Hill.

Thomas called it ‘a Laugharne poem: the first place poem I’ve written‘ (letter to Vernon Watkins, 26 August 1944).

Yr Wylan (The Seagull) by Dafydd ap Gwilym

A fine gull on the tideflow,
All white with moon or snow,
Your beauty’s immaculate,
Shard like the sun, brine’s gauntlet.
Buoyant you’re on the deep flood,
A proud swift bird of fishfood.
You’d ride at anchor with me,
Hand in hand there, sea lily.
Like a letter, a bright earnest,
A nun you’re on the tide’s crest.

Right fame and far my dear has –
Oh, fly around tower and fortress,
Look if you can’t see, seagull,
One bright as Eigr on that wall.
Say all my words together.
Let her choose me. Go to her.
If she’s alone – though profit
With so rare a girl needs wit –
Greet her then: her servant, say,
Must, without her, die straightway.

She guards my life so wholly –
Ah friends, none prettier than she
Taliesin or the flattering lip
Or Merlin loved in courtship:
Cypris courted ‘neath copper,
Loveliness too perfect-fair.

Seagull, if that cheek you see,
Christendom’s purest beauty,
Bring to me back fair welcome
Or that girl must be my doom.

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By Dafydd ap Gwilym
(fl. 1340-70)
translated by Tony Conran

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Additional information: This love poem by the 14th century poet Dafydd ap Gwilym was probably written in or around the 1340s. Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets and this is one of his best-known and best loved works. The poem references Eigr (the Welsh name for King Arthur’s mother Igraine), Myrddin (the figure who eventually becomes Merlin the wizard in Arthurian stories) and Taliesin (a renowned, and somewhat mythologised, bard who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three kings and in some accounts is associated with King Arthur and Bran the Blessed).

An alchemical pun is also present in the poem. ‘Siprys’ translates from Welsh into ‘Cypris’, the Cyprian, one of the names for Venus the Roman goddess of love. The poet compares his lover to the goddess due to her copper hair. Copper is a metal often associated with the goddess due to her copper coloured hair, which most will recognise from Botticelli‘s The Birth of Venus, indicating the alchemical relationship between the planet Venus and copper.

The Welsh version of the pome set to music. Sung by Jeremy Huw Williams accompanied on piano by Nigel Foster

Beneath is the original Welsh language version of the poem.

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Yr Wylan

Yr wylan deg ar lanw, dioer,
Unlliw ag eiry neu wenlloer,
Dilwch yw dy degwch di,
Darn fal haul, dyrnfol heli.
Ysgafn ar don eigion wyd,
Esgudfalch edn bysgodfwyd.
Yngo’r aud wrth yr angor
Lawlaw â mi, lili môr.
Llythr unwaith lle’th ariannwyd,
Lleian ym mrig llanw môr wyd.

Cyweirglod bun, cai’r glod bell,
Cyrch ystum caer a chastell.
Edrych a welych, wylan,
Eigr o liw ar y gaer lân.
Dywaid fy ngeiriau dyun,
Dewised fi, dos hyd fun.
Byddai’i hun, beiddia’i hannerch,
Bydd fedrus wrth fwythus ferch
Er budd; dywaid na byddaf,
Fwynwas coeth, fyw onis caf.
Ei charu’r wyf, gwbl nwyf nawdd,
Och wŷr, erioed ni charawdd
Na Merddin wenithfin iach,
Na Thaliesin ei thlysach.
Siprys dyn giprys dan gopr,
Rhagorbryd rhy gyweirbropr.

Och wylan, o chai weled
Grudd y ddyn lanaf o Gred,
Oni chaf fwynaf annerch,
Fy nihenydd fydd y ferch.

That Summer by Emyr Humphreys

There was nothing to help us

Trapped in that ornamental summer

By sunlight and ubiquitous foreboding; the tides

The pebbles indifferent to our sore feet

Told us nothing: banner headlines

Congealed those lukewarm fish and chips.

 

From where we stood to the horizon

The future stretched like a brooding canvas

Awaiting a blood stained brush. There were rocks

and groundsheets to sleep on, nowhere to go.

Only the tanks knew where to assemble.

 

Who would win who would lose

Whose corpse would hang on the wire

Would come later. The seagulls knew

More than we did as they wheeled above us

Like fighter bombers, their droppings

Illegible leafets, mobilising their screeches

As they crossed and recrossed concrete

Frontiers reinforced in the Underworld.

 

It didn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t

But it would. Limbs still free

Twitched with the urge to run: the sea

Was a threat not a refuge: the sky

Was closing in. We could only turn and face

The mouth of the tunnel: only wait

For the machine to emerge and howl

On our behalf as it ran us down.

 

by Emyr Humphreys

The Voice Of Memory by Anna Akhmatova

For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina

 

What do you see on the wall, your eyes screwed up,

When in the sky the sunset’s burning late?

 

Do you see a seagull on the water’s blue

Cloth, or gardens by the Arno?

 

Or the great lake of Tsarkoye Selo

Where terror stepped in front of you?

 

Or the young man who left your captivity, left

You by walking into death like a white knight?

 

No, I am looking only at the wall’s

Reflections of the dying heavenly fires.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913, June, Slepnyovo)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas