Friday, 7 May 2010

My Favourite Poem

Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas. It is possible to read the rest of this post without clicking the link and reading the poem but a) it will be harder to follow and b) you will miss what may be one of the most amazing poetical experiences ever.

"Fern Hill" is one of those poems (and there are many) that deals with the loss of childhood and more importantly the loss of the world that you live in whilst a child. A world of half-reality, half-stories, where everything is new and bright and wonderful and you are immortal. Many poems have been written about this theme, but for some reason Fern Hill is something more, something amazing. I can't read it without tearing up a little. It's the lilting style, the rhythm is sings with, and the words, the beautiful half-meaningless worlds, that just transport you back to childhood. When you read it you feel like a kid again, running around in breathless excitement with the words tumbling out of you, still not fully understood. Everything is held together by images, it's a poem that paints pictures in your mind as much as it makes words sing in your head.

I think the thing that particularly stands out with it for me is the colours. I love colours. They each have a meaning and a theme and a hundred ways of interpreting. Different cultures and languages use them in different ways, they are something personal, and dictate such a large and sometimes under-appreciated part of how you view the world. And the colours in Fern Hill paint everything in childish sweeps of poster-paint primary colours. The world is green and golden, the wind is bright sky-blue, even the fire is "green as grass". You can almost see the colours on the page, making it shine, making it meaningful. There's a trail of symbolism you can trace right through them as well:


So many words, so many thoughts and images and feelings, all from one colour! The feelings of youth and excitement, along with the naivety and innocence, all tinged with the regretful sadness of loss.

The thing I love most about this poem is that there are so many ways to pull it apart. Colours are (for me) the most exciting aspect, but there are so many themes to grab and tease out you could spend all day writing about it. There's a biblical thread, a very strong one, running through beginning to end. There's also an animal thread, a sound thread, a taste and smell thread, and at least four different ways of viewing Time. But unlike other poems (Keats is a good example here!), this one is special as it doesn't change it's meaning depending on my mood. It has a feeling of solidness, of certainty, every time I read it I know exactly what I'm going to get (mostly the sniffles), I just don't know what new facet I'm going to see.

I'll probably come back to this poem in the future, possibly comparing it with others. But I would definitely recommend reading it. It's six small stanzas, and it shines like a jewel.

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