AD's English Literature : Dylan Thomas’s ‘Poem in October’ Celebrates “The Unity of Man and Nature, of Past and Present, of Life and Death”

Dylan Thomas’s ‘Poem in October’ Celebrates “The Unity of Man and Nature, of Past and Present, of Life and Death”


 “It is my aim as an artist . . . to bring . . . wonder into myself, to prove beyond doubt to myself that the flesh that covers me is the flesh that covers the sun, that the blood in my lungs is the blood that goes up and down in a tree.”--Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas’s ‘Poem in October’ is a birthday poem. It celebrates the joy a person feels on the arrival of such a day in course of time. But the poem is more than such a celebration. Its theme, a closer look at the poem will convince us, is pantheism—‘a belief that God is everything and that everything is God’. Though the poet has used certain terms of Christianity (such as parable, chapel, mystery, truth etc) in it, his use of them is such that we shall be definitely off the track if we take them is indicative of Christianity. The poem’s message, if it does have any, is not Christian but pantheistic. It gets corroborated by his own assertion: ‘It is my aim as an artist to prove beyond doubt to myself that the flesh that covers me is the Flesh that covers the sun, that the blood in my lungs is the blood that goes tip and down in a true.’ This kind of utterance can only be made by one who is at heart nothing but a pantheist. It is because of such faith that Thomas can think of a bond of unity that binds all things of the universe. It is because of such faith that he can think of the existence of a unity binding man and nature, past and present, and life and death.

Let us first deal with the unity of man and nature. In the first stanza such unity is noticed when the poet wakes up hearing sounds coming from the harbour, the wood, and the mussel-pooled and heron-priested shore. A closer relationship between man and nature is felt when the poet hears the water praying and the call of seagulls and rooks. It is further attested when the morning beckons him to come out of home, and that very second he sets his foot in the outside. In the second stanza it is shown that the birds seem to have come to know of his birthday and they express their joy by flying his name above foamy waves and farms of the land. His journey towards the hill is a sort of escape from the bleak and unpleasant experience of the town. This seems to be known to nature, and this is conveyed to him through the rush of the high tide and the diving of the heron. In the third stanza the closely knit relation between man and nature is revealed nest clearly. Here the poet tastes all the four seasons at the same time which may be regarded as unity between man and all nature. The larks and the blackbirds remind him of the spring, and the sun on the hill’s shoulder of the pleasant summer. A few moments earlier while coming up here the poet listened to the fall of rain (i.e. autumn) and saw the blowing of the cold wind (i.e. winter) in the wood lying far away. In the sixth stanza man’s easy communion with nature has been described as a ‘mystery’, and a part of it the poet still finds in himself in his’ adult state when he states:
‘And the mystery! Sand alive! Still in the water and singing birds.’ In the last stanza Thomas points lo the unity between man and nature through the expression: ‘the town below lay leaved with ‘October blood’. Here nature is found to express sympathy to loss of life and bloodshed during the Second World War by shedding leaves as red as blood.


The poem also deals with another unity—that between past and present. This is particularly shown through the adult poet’s recollection of his past childhood at present. In the fourth stanza when the poet speaks of his relief from some townish experience which takes a sinister attitude because of the presence of the rain and the mist, he suddenly notices the gardens of spring and summer of his past childhood blooming once again in the same way these gardens on the top of the hill now are blooming ‘under the lark full cloud’. Thus, with the help of his mind’s eye the poet sees past and present scenes at once. The past summertime of his childhood was no less glorious than his present summer on the hilltop. The child’s summer was a season full of apples, pears and red currants. During that time he walked with his mother in the sunlight which appeared as good and instructive as parables and in the wood (‘green chapels’) which appeared as thrilling as saints’ legends narrated in the Bible. In the past the child shed tears when he felt some sorrow, and the poet in the present can still feel his tears burning his adult checks and he could feel his heart still throbbing in him. It is in this way that past and present are closely bound with a unity.

Finally, the poet deals with another unity between life and death. In the sixth stanza the poet refers to ‘the listening/ Summertime of the dead’ by which he means that those who then lived but are now dead (such as the boy’s mother and aunt) used to listen delightfully to his joyous whisperings, to the trees, the stones and the fish in the tide, and the poet could still feel the joy of the boy visible ‘in the water and singing birds’. In the last stanza he, again, speaks of ‘the true joy of the long dead child’ which seems to be keenly reflected in the summer sun. Thus the dead child relives in him confirming the poet’s belief about the unity of life and the death.
Dylan Thomas’s ‘Poem in October’, therefore, nicely celebrates the unity of man and nature, of past and present, and of the life and death.

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