Tag Archives: Dylan Thomas

27 October: Dylan’s birthday

A Tale of Two Singers

Saint Augustine opens his Confessions with these words:

‘To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’+

Some 1500 years the prologue of Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems tells how, through his poetic imagination, he would overcome his fears to:

'... build my bellowing ark 
To the best of my love 
As the flood begins, 
Out of the fountainhead 
Of fear, rage, red, manalive. +

Dylan’s work is religious, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’.* It is confessional, in the meaning Augustine intended: a recounting of his experiences and a praise of God.

Under Milk Wood portrays Llaggerub, Dylan’s imaginary Welsh town with its roots in Laugharne where he and his family were based in the last years of his life. Is it the Chosen Land? Reading the play as a parable, Llaggerub intertwines Dylan’s earthly and heavenly towns. Dylan drank at the same source as Augustine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry served the ‘spinning man’ with a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, indeed, Dylan’s work gives hope that ‘the flood flowers now’, for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ that was his life.

+ Augustine: ‘Confessions’, Tr. Henry Chadwick, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p3.

+ All Dylan Thomas quotations from: ‘Prologue’ to Collected Poems, p1–3.

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10 August: Dylan Thomas: Doubts and confusions to share with the Brownings

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’ These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.
  from Collected Poems, 1934-1952 by Dylan Thomas
And that’s what it came down to for EBB as well. She had her share of doubts and confusions, as we saw in her feelings about Robert’s love for her, but she came to trust him.
Dylan was another complicated character, but not quite a total damn’ fool. Love the words, he said, love the words. Which is how Robert was first attracted to EBB.

  
Dylan looked out over this seascape from his study in Laugharne.
 

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11 September: Except Why.

109px-Vespula_germanica_Richard_Bartz

In his little book for big children, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas tells us about the Useful Presents, including:

Books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.

My 300 word target for these posts does not allow me to say more than

Why – because God so loved the world! Laudato Si!

Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Orion Edition, 1993, no page number.

wasp by Richard Bartz

 

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12 April: A response to Christina Chase’s An Eve in Winter.

 

Dear Christina,

It’s an editor’s privilege to respond or comment on contributions sometimes: bear with me!

Your poem connects. It reminds me of  John Betjeman, writing in prose:

“Many people, when they enter a quiet room, automatically – even before shutting the door – rush to turn on the wireless as though quiet were as unhealthy as a cold draught.”

And there is Dylan Thomas’s ‘Bible-black night’ in Under Milk Wood, which is a time of creation, as is the dark you reference in Genesis. ‘Let there be light’ indeed, ‘Kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, Lead thou me on.’ (Newman, of course.)

Your light that is poor for hearing secrets is from the same well as Shakespeare’s,

The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was.

(Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV:2).

These lines are not slap-stick comic, however slap-stick Bottom is elsewhere. When we are challenged, do we admit it and explore it, or turn on the bright lights or loud music?

A lighthouse cannot lead if the captain is dazzled by floodlights.

I mentioned R.S. Thomas in my introduction. We read how he prayed at his holy well on 17 October 2016:

 Ignoring my image I peer down

to the quiet roots of it, where

the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there.

 

Connections! Thank you again, for an offering by no means tarnished!

Will.

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March 9: Humanising organisations.

bike.band.bruges

A friend issued a personal challenge the other day: not to be one of the people who organise humanity, but one of those who humanise organisations. That, he said, was one of today’s great challenges.

Nothing new about trying to fit people into systems:

  Jesus said: Woe to you lawyers also, because you load men with burdens which they cannot bear, and you yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers.

(Luke 11.46)

This spring, this Lent, let’s pray for discernment to know when a rule is man-made not God given. e Of course, our efforts won’t always be appreciated, but we don’t want to be like Dylan’s Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, determinedly shutting out any break in the rules and routine of her life, and so shutting out joy: “before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.” (Under Milk Wood) 

MMB

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27 October: Dylan’s Birthday.

llagerub2

Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales; the sum has gone down, a half moon presides over the estuary outside our window. The birds are subdued but not far away. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan, that day when he whispered the truth of his joy. And may he be there, singing his joy eternally! First published on Will Turnstone.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

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27 October: Dylan Day, a personal relationship with God.

laugharne1

The view from Dylan Thomas’s home in Laugharne.

I never made the chance to ask Fr Austin (our writer AMcC) to expand on what we should understand by a personal relationship with God; now I am casting around for answers, and realising that there are at least as many ways as there are Christian believers.

I think of people who walk around their local church, stopping for a few words at each statue: the saints are part of their family who can lead them in prayer.

If you call them superstitious you must say the same about the Canterbury Cathedral guides who light a candle at the start of their day of welcoming visitors.

Others walk around their church praying the Stations of the Cross, accompanying Jesus (and his mother) on his walk to Calvary; this was my grandmother’s way, one she could also follow seated at home.

Today I invite you to join Dylan Thomas, whose birthday it is today, when as a child, at Christmas day’s end  he

went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

There was darkness aplenty in Dylan’s life, as there must be in anyone’s. Even in the darkness the holy one is near; a few words will suffice to acknowledge that.

MMB.

 

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July 15: Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure at St Anthony of Padua, Rye, SX.

Someone should mark the feast of the  Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure. He is shown above with book and quill and two lamps, no doubt for burning the midnight oil in his studies and writing. His head is bathed in heavenly light, suggesting he is inflamed by the Holy Spirit. In this passage from ‘The Mind’s Journey to God’ he tells us, paradoxically for a researcher, to seek for God not in daylight but in darkness, not in research but in sighs of prayer.

This reminded me of the poet Dylan Thomas, for whom darkness was a creative space, even as a child. He tells us that at day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, ‘I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[1] And remembered, for thirty years.

And so to Bonaventure, writing poetically with many  images:
Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should mercylogoturn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.

 

[1] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, pages not numbered.

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July 8; Relics VI: ‘The knick-knacks that define us’

‘The knick-knacks that define us’ (see Tuesday’s blog post) – Bro Guy Consolmagno has his meteorites in the Vatican Observatory while my wife has a collection of pebbles in the bathroom. The red one came from Dylan Thomas’s Laugharne beach, the grey, crystalline shard from Saint Maurice in Switzerland; a smooth grey one, mottled with Saint Cuthbert’s beads from Lindisfarne; pink and white ones from Assisi, the colours of the buildings there.

One day one of our descendants will toss them all out for they are not even labelled. None are gemstones, so they are not valuable in this world’s eyes, and while Cuthbert may well have walked over our pebble on Holy Island, the shard from St Maurice was quarried not long before we found it on a roadside heap and cannot have been seen by the Saint.

Nevertheless I find such souvenirs as potent a call to prayer as Becket’s bones.

Francis and Cuthbert are two saints who go well together, resolutely poor men who lived for God; Maurice and his mess-mates died for Him. I can at least hope to stumble along in their wake.

laugharne1

And Dylan? A pebble from his beach at Laugharne reminds me (as do the others) of time spent with loved ones, but also the daily call to live to the best of my love.

Hark: I trumpet the place,
From fish to jumping hill! Look:
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage red, manalive.’ [1]

Saint Maurice and companions, African Martyrs in Europe:          pray for us.

Saint David of Wales, faithful in little things:                              pray for us.

Saint Cuthbert, friend to the wild creatures of the sea:               pray for us.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, holy and blissful martyr:                pray for us.

 

[1]  Dylan Thomas: ‘Collected Poems: 1934 – 1953’, London, Dent, 1998; p2.

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Interruption: Dylan Day

 waiting wood

The leaves are just colouring the ends of the twigs on the trees, but the gorse is always in flower.

 We should not let Dylan day pass unacknowledged, even if we missed Shakespeare’s birthday, mea culpa. 

Dylan is a great story teller. He proclaims in the prologue to his Collected Poems: ‘Hark: I trumpet the place.’ The place is Wales, eternal Wales, God’s own Wales – with all its people’s failings. That small Principality is concentrated Under Milk Wood, between the sea and Llareggub Hill. As Mary Ann Sailors says:

‘It is Spring in Llareggub in the sun of my old age, and this is the Chosen Land.’

mercylogoUnder Milk Wood celebrates life, a ‘greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men’. Hearing the words brings sight to our inward eye, insight to our hearts. The townspeople are brought to God by the Reverend Eli Jenkins, who like his Biblical namesake praises his Creator morning and evening. For him, Llareggub is an earthly paradise that he prays he may ‘for all my life and longer … never, never leave’. Eli is not blind to the sins of his flock, but they receive Blake’s blessing of ‘mercy, pity, peace and love’ rather than condemnation. his appreciation of Polly Garter reminds me of a saintly priest in my youth, doffing his hat to an unmarried mother shunned by many. ‘Poor Ivy,’ said Fr Lea, ‘she’s had more than her share of troubles.’

Let us celebrate life, and open our inward eyes to the innocence, rather than just the faults, of those we live and work with.

MMB.

 

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