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).

Especially when the October wind by Dylan Thomas

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make of you the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

by Dylan Thomas
(October 1934)

A recording of Dylan Thomas reciting his poem ‘Especially When the October Wind’.

Additional information: Two of Dylan Thomas‘ major themes come together in this poem. One, stemming from the fact that October was the month of his birth, is the initiation of decay traditionally associated with autumn. The other, confirmed by similar statements in the letters and by an earlier version of the poem, is what philosophers call the problem of ‘nominalism and universals‘. That is to say, for Thomas, word and thing seem indivisible: ‘When I experience anything, I experience it as a thing and a word at the same time, both equally amazing‘ (E. W. Tedlock, ed. Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet [Mercury Books, 1963], p.54).

Y Gwynt (The Wind) by Dafydd ap Gwilym

Masterly wind of the sky
Striding with mighty outcry –
Ah, what a man, unheeding
And harsh, without foot or wing
Given out from the pantry
Of the sky – how can it be?
How is your pace so nimble
Now, across the highest hill?
No need of horse for transport
Or, on river, bridge or boat –
You’ll not drown, you’ve been promised!
Angleless, go where you list,
Take nest, strip leaves – there’s no one
Arrests with accusation,
No posse, captain or corps,
Blue blade or flood or downpour.
Thresher of treetop plumage,
You nor king nor troop can cage,
Nor mother’s son foully kill,
Fire burn, nor trick enfeeble.
Though none see you in your den,
Nest of rains, thousands harken,
Cloud-calligrapher, vaulter
Over nine lands wild and bare.
You’re on the world God’s favour,
High oaktops’ tired-cracking roar;
Dry, for you tread prudently
The clouds in your great journey;
Archer of snow on highlands,
Useless chaff, swept into mounds –
Tell me where, constant credo,
Northwind of the vale, you go?
Tempest on the ocean, you’re
A wanton lad on seashore,
Eloquent author, wizard,
Sower, and tilt at leaf horde,
Laughter on hills, you harry
Wild masts on white-breasted sea.

You fly the wide world over,
Weather of slopes, tonight there,
Man, go high to Uwch Aeron
with clarity, with clear tone.
Don’t falter, frightened fellow,
For fear of the Little Bow,
That querulously jealous man!
Her country is my prison.
Too grave a love I’ve given
To my gold girl, Morfudd, when
My own land’s made my thraldom –
O speed high towards her home!
Beat, till they loose the doorway,
Messenger, before the day:
Find her, if you can, and bring
My sighs to her, my mourning.
You of the glorious Zodiac,
Tell her bounty of my lack.
I’m her true lover always
While the quick life in me stays.
Without her, I go lovelorn –
If it’s true she’s not foresworn.
Go up, till she’s in prospect
Under you, the sky’s elect,
Find her, the slim gold damsel –
Good of the sky, come back hale!

By Dafydd ap Gwilym

Additional information:The Wind” (Welsh: Y Gwynt) is a 64-line love poem in the form of a cywydd (one of the most important metrical forms in traditional Welsh poetry but most often referring to a long lined couplet) by the 14th-century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets.

The Litte Bow (Y Bwa Back) was Dafydd’s nickname for Morfudd’s husband.

Uwch Aeron was historically recorded as one of Cardiganshire’s (Welsh: Sir Aberteifi or Ceredigion) three cantrefs in the Middle Ages. The cantref was divided into three commotes: Mefenydd, Anhuniog and Pennardd.

However there is also another Aeron which was a kingdom of the Brythonic-speaking Hen Ogledd (English: Old North), presumed to have been located in the region of the River Ayr in what is now southwestern Scotland. It existed during the post-Roman era, perhaps earlier, and disappeared before or during the 7th-century conquest of the region by the ascendant Kingdom of Northumbria.

Aeron is incidentally mentioned in the Book of Taliesin in poems of praise to Urien of Rheged. It is the homeland of several heroes in the Book of Aneirin. The families of several of these heroes also appear in royal genealogies associated with the genealogies of the better-known kings of Alt Clut who lived in southwestern Scotland. This, taken together with the phonetic similarity of Aeron and Ayr, suggests the location of Aeron.

There are no historical records confirming its history or even its existence, only literary references combined with circumstantially consistent genealogies and incidentally relevant historical records. Though Aeron may have been located within the territory of modern Scotland, as a part of Yr Hen Ogledd it is also an intrinsic part of Welsh history, as both the Welsh and the Men of the North (WelshGwŷr y Gogledd) were self-perceived as a single people, collectively referred to in modern Welsh as Cymry.

Below is the poem in its original Middle Welsh form.

Y Gwynt

Yr wybrwynt, helynt hylaw,
Agwrdd drwst a gerdda draw,
Gŵr eres wyd garw ei sain,
Drud byd heb droed heb adain.
Uthr yw mor eres y’th roed
O bantri wybr heb untroed,
A buaned y rhedy
Yr awr hon dros y fron fry.

Dywaid ym, diwyd emyn,
Dy hynt, di ogleddwynt glyn.
Hydoedd y byd a hedy,
Hin y fron, bydd heno fry,
Och ŵr, a dos Uwch Aeron
Yn glaer deg, yn eglur dôn.
Nac aro di, nac eiriach,
Nac ofna er Bwa Bach,
Cyhuddgwyn wenwyn weini.
Caeth yw’r wlad a’i maeth i mi.

Nythod ddwyn, cyd nithud ddail
Ni’th dditia neb, ni’th etail
Na llu rhugl, na llaw rhaglaw,
Na llafn glas na llif na glaw.
Ni’th ladd mab mam, gam gymwyll,
Ni’th lysg tân, ni’th lesga twyll.
Ni boddy, neu’th rybuddiwyd,
Nid ei ynglŷn, diongl wyd.
Nid rhaid march buan danad,
Neu bont ar aber, na bad.
Ni’th ddeil swyddog na theulu
I’th ddydd, nithydd blaenwydd blu.
Ni’th wŷl drem, noethwal dramawr,
Neu’th glyw mil, nyth y glaw mawr.

Rhad Duw wyd ar hyd daear,
Rhuad blin doriad blaen dâr,
Noter wybr natur ebrwydd,
Neitiwr gwiw dros nawtir gŵydd,
Sych natur, creadur craff,
Seirniawg wybr, siwrnai gobraff,
Saethydd ar froydd eiry fry,
Seithug eisingrug songry’,
Drycin yn ymefin môr,
Drythyllfab ar draethellfor,
Hyawdr awdl heod ydwyd,
Hëwr, dyludwr dail wyd,
Hyrddwr, breiniol chwarddwr bryn,
Hwylbrenwyllt heli bronwyn.

Gwae fi pan roddais i serch
Gobrudd ar Forfudd, f’eurferch.
Rhiain a’m gwnaeth yn gaethwlad,
Rhed fry rhod a thŷ ei thad.
Cur y ddôr, par egori
Cyn y dydd i’m cennad i,
A chais ffordd ati, o chaid,
A chân lais fy uchenaid.
Deuy o’r sygnau diwael,
Dywaid hyn i’m diwyd hael:
Er hyd yn y byd y bwyf,
Corodyn cywir ydwyf.
Ys gwae fy wyneb hebddi,
Os gwir nad anghywir hi.
Dos fry, ti a wely wen,
Dos obry, dewis wybren.
Dos at Forfudd felenllwyd,
Debre’n iach, da wybren wyd.

Poem by Wyn Griffith

If there be time enough before the slaughter
let us consider our heritage
of wisdom, remembering the coil of laughter
girdled our youth, wine of bright vintage
carrying short sorrows into oblivion;
some talk of love in smooth meadows
where dusk brings quiet and night a vision
of daylight joys freed from their shadows.
Above all, wisdom: for years are shrinking
into a huddle of days and the world a parish
where neighbours bolt their doors and lights are dimming.
Soon there will be nothing left for us to cherish
but the grave words of the last statesmen
before the battle starts and the air is darkened:
fast fall the night upon the frightened children
and on the wombs where once they quickened.
What towered land of man’s endeavour
will first be desert, with all our learning
a burnt page trodden in the dust of error?
Farewell to wisdom and to all remembering.

By Wyn Griffith

Additional information: Llewelyn Wyn Griffith CBE (30 August 1890 – 27 September 1977) was a Welsh novelist, born in Llandrillo yn Rhos, Clwyd. A captain in the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers, part of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First World War, he is known for his memoir, Up to Mametz, which he wrote in the early 1920s, although the work was not published until 1931.

Griffith was a career civil servant, and rose to a senior post in the Inland Revenue. He was a key helper to Sir Ernest Gowers in the writing of Plain Words in 1948. He was a well-known broadcaster, a founder-member of the Round Britain Quiz team. After retirement from the Inland Revenue he served as vice chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. He was appointed CBE in the 1961 Birthday Honours.

A continuation of his World War memoir, based on research into Griffith’s papers, was published in 2010.

Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

.

Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.