Poem Analysis – “Fern Hill” Dylan Thomas

Poem analysis Fern Hill
[I’ve written several song analyses but this is my first poem analysis.  Since I write analyses based on lyrics, a poem analysis is quite similar to what I have donein the past. This is one of my favorite poems, “Fern Hill.” The author Dylan Thomasinfluenced Bob Dylan who took the name “Dylan” as a tribute to Dylan Thomas. I don’t want to say what this poem is about because I don’t want to limit it. Instead, I’ll say that some of the themes in the poem are time, growth, nature, innocence, and death.]

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.

[Dylan Thomas places his character under “apple boughs” for a reason. The apple tree is said to have been the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis. The author connects the innocence of the young man to the innocence of Adam in the Garden of Eden. He mentions the green grass. Green recurs through the poem and it might symbolize freshness and youth. A “dingle” is a shaded valley. He says time let him climb because as a child, his focus was upward. Notice how children use the word “up.” They love things that are up: “growing up,” “staying up,” “up in the air,” and “climbing up.” In myths, the beginning of time is called the Golden Age. He talks about being “golden” in someone’s eyes.  The eyes, perhaps, are those of God. God is the King and this boy is a prince. Golden will also reappear in the poem.]

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.

[He writes of the sun, being “young once only.” If the sun, with all its power, with all its light and heat can be young only once, how can we hope to avoid the problems of aging? And yet, this poem seems to come from a traditional Christian perspective meaning that the poet probably believed in heaven. Heaven presents an opportunity for the saved to be young again.

He says he was “huntsman and herdsman.” If the first stanza describes

Adam (peace be upon him) in Eden, then this stanza describes prehistoric

man. Long before humans farmed fields, they hunted.

The end of this stanza compares two kinds of religion – Biblical and pagan. The

Bible prescribes a sabbath, or day of rest. The pagan religion glorifies nature and considers streams holy.]

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.

[ He’s talking about a pleasant time in his life. He is amazed by the beauty of nature. Nightjars are birds closely related to owls.]

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.

[“Like a wanderer white” uses white as a symbol. White often represents purity and innocence.

“Adam and maiden” is a reference to “Adam and Eve.” He’s describing a blissful time, like Paradise as described in Genesis.]

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

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.

[Here again we see, “green and golden.” By the way, Aurora’s Waubonsie High uses green and gold as their school colors.]

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.

[White appears again and here the symbolism is more obvious because it is connected with the lamb. The lamb is a symbol of Christ in Christianity because the religion sees him sacrificing himself for humanity. The moon represents night  and the end of life. This poem ends with one of the most poignant couplets in English literature. “Time held me green and dying” means as soon as he was born, he was destined to die. It’s interesting that Thomas uses the verb “held.” He sees time as benevolent. And this is quite an intriguing description of the sound of the sea. He compares the sound of himself singing in chains to the sound of the sea.]

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