Bob Dylan Got More Than A Last Name From Welsh poet Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas Reads Fern Hill

Dylan Thomas, the prototype for Bob Dylan

I was kept thinking about “Fern Hill” so much lately I had to listen to it again and to the poet himself recite it.

“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,”

Robert Zimmerman took “Dylan” as his stage name in 1959 when he arrived in Dinkytown in Minneapolis. It was not accidental.  

Dylan Thomas, who died in 1953 in New York City from the effects of alcoholism and neglect, was revered among young people and the University crowd in the late 60s. He was our poet, a little older but mystical for his early death and curious, sometimes inscrutable meanings with richly rewarding language.

Dylan Thomas wrote about God, protested war, sex as the driving force of life, death and decay. He told us to “not go gently into that good night, rage rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas wasn’t a beat poet if the 50′s but he embodied the myth of the romantic poet. Bob Dylan wrote “Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter” in A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, a song with more stolen lines of verse than most. The line reverberates with mythical life of Dylan Thomas, even before  FitzGibbon’s 1965 biography.

Bob Dylan imitated the assonance of Dylan Thomas, the death imagery and co-mingled it with the traditions of the blues, American folk music and good old rock and roll.  it wasn’t lost on us back in 1961 that Bob Dylan was keeping the flame for Dylan Thomas, which in the minds of college students set Dylan apart from the rest of the folk singers. It was his cache.

“It would later be revealed in his autobiography that this was a nod to Dylan Thomas, whose poetry had influenced the songwriter. This influence extended beyond Dylan’s stage name, going so far as to shape his lyrical style and even the types of songs he chose to write.” How Dylan Thomas Influenced Bob Dylan

All that being said, revel in the sound and imagery of “Fern Hill” one of Dylan Thomas’s great poems.

Fern Hill

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Isn’t that gorgeous?

For a modest critical biography of Dylan Thomas, see Poetry Foundation.

If you are interested in more Dylan Thomas poetry, I recommend the New Directions hardcover Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas 1934-1952 (New Directions Book)

. The volume has been my companion for nearly 5 decades and I have nothing critical to say about it, other than the paper cover is worn and long ago lost.

5 / 5 stars     
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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