AD's English Literature : Dylan Thomas’s Language in ‘Poem in October’ Follows the ‘Grammar of Dreams’: Way of Construction of Sentences in the Poem

Dylan Thomas’s Language in ‘Poem in October’ Follows the ‘Grammar of Dreams’: Way of Construction of Sentences in the Poem

 The language that Thomas uses to dress the thoughts of his poems has always drawn the attention of critics, admirers, and readers alike. Had they been written in the normal way, ordinary people would have found no difficulty in understanding the strands of his thoughts. But they have been written in a way which makes their meanings very difficult to the uninitiated. The poet’s careless attitude to grammatical rules, his attempt to see past and present simultaneously, his belief at the unity of man and nature and of death and life, his projection of matters in a surrealistic way (i.e. in a dream-like manner), and his greater emphasis to unrealistic things and creations of the imagination have indeed made his poetry very difficult to understand. Noting this, a critic has commented that his poems follow the ‘grammar of dreams’ and that his remarkable poem ‘poem in October’ is one such poem.


Before we proceed to discuss this matter we shall have to be clear as regards the implications of the two important terms used here—‘dreams’ and ‘grammar’. The word ‘dream’ has been variously explained in the lexicons. But all of them have laid emphasis on certain elements of the dream—it’s unrealistic nature, its capacity to hold us under some spell, and its ability to relate some impossible things. The word ‘grammar’ obviously has been used in the sense of ‘rules’. So the phrase ‘grammar of dreams’ suggests an attempt to put some unrealistic, impossible and fictionalized things under some control so that they may appear to be romantic and acceptable, and not something wild and unbelievable, and hence worthy of being rejected.

Let us first come down to the way of construction of sentences in the poem. The first sentence that comes to a stop after ten lone and short lines is a classic example of the manner of writing that Thomas preferred. The poet does not say that he woke up but that his thirtieth year woke up; the complicity here is, however, doubled when he says that it was not simply his thirtieth year but his ‘thirtieth year to heaven’. Allan Rodway remarks: ‘The first stanza notably lacks grammar and punctuation. What is more, no ingenuity of punctuation would put it into logical or grammatical order.’ Since the poem develops in an atmosphere of dream, it will be too much for us if we seek nothing but logic in it. So let us seek out those areas where the poem’s affinity with dream is sufficiently clear.

In the first stanza the dream element plays its part when the morning and not any human being beckon him to come out. What is more he at once responds to its call. In the second we mark it when water-birds and birds of ‘winged trees’ begin to wave his, name (possibly written on a banner) as they fly ‘above the farms and the white horses’ (their introduction, we must admit, is too quick for reality to welcome, although such is quite possible in a dream-like situation). Now we find him walking abroad ‘in a shower of all my days’. What this means in terms of reality is hard to explain. But it does not appear impossible in a dream for it merely signifies a kind of shower representative of all his showers of the past as well as of the present. Here, again, the gates of the town close as he crosses its border, but the difficulty arises when we hear of the waking of the town at the same time. A town waking with its entrances closed can only take place in a dream and not reality, and therefore we shall have to assume that this closure of gates is not real but psychological.

In the third stanza the dream element is quite prominent. The poet sees a cloud full of larks and the roadside bushes have whistling blackbirds in plenty. They obviously bring in the spring season. Again, on the hill’s shoulder he senses in the sun a temperature which is ‘summery’ in its pleasantness. Apart from these two pleasant seasons he has already experienced autumn rain in the town and cold wintry wind in the wood faraway. The coexistence of all the four seasons at the same time and almost in the same place can take place, needless to say, in a dream alone.


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