There was nothing God ever made that Dylan Thomas, the revolutionary, wanted to alter. The careful compounder of explosive imagery believed only in calm … The true tragedy of Dylan Thomas’s death is that he died. Everything else is secondary to that … He had the faculty of immediacy, of making everything present, and of becoming a part of people’s lives almost before he knew them; how much more did he do this when he knew them well.
Vernon Watkins on Dylan Thomas, from Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.
Vernon Watkins was a friend of Dylan Thomas from boyhood, when they encouraged each other’s writing. Watkins saw the man struggling beneath the chaos of Dylan’s life and remained his friend : even after Dylan failed to appear for Vernon’s wedding, when he was chosen as best man.
‘He had the faculty of … making everything present’, as we can gather for ourselves as we read his work. In Elegy he confidingly brings us to the bedside of his dying father, and shares the thoughts coursing through his mind as he keeps vigil, night and day, holding the hand of that cold kind man. Dylan’s faith that his father may grow young again and never lie lost drives the poem. It is truly a love poem.
Too proud to die; broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away,
A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride
On that darkest day, Oh, forever may
He lie lightly, at last, on the last, crossed
Hill, under the grass, in love, and there grow
Young among the long flocks, and never lie lost
Or still all the numberless days of his death, though
Above all he longed for his mother’s breast
Which was rest and dust, and in the kind ground
The darkest justice of death, blind and unblessed.
Let him find no rest but be fathered and found,
I prayed in the crouching room, by his blind bed,
In the muted house, one minute before
Noon, and night, and light. the rivers of the dead
Veined his poor hand I held, and I saw
Through his unseeing eyes to the roots of the sea.
(An old tormented man three-quarters blind,
I am not too proud to cry that He and he
Will never never go out of my mind.
All his bones crying, and poor in all but pain,
Being innocent, he dreaded that he died
Hating his God, but what he was was plain:
An old kind man brave in his burning pride.
The sticks of the house were his; his books he owned.
Even as a baby he had never cried;
Nor did he now, save to his secret wound.
Out of his eyes I saw the last light glide.
Here among the liught of the lording sky
An old man is with me where I go
Walking in the meadows of his son’s eye
On whom a world of ills came down like snow.
He cried as he died, fearing at last the spheres’
Last sound, the world going out without a breath:
Too proud to cry, too frail to check the tears,
And caught between two nights, blindness and death.
O deepest wound of all that he should die
On that darkest day. oh, he could hide
The tears out of his eyes, too proud to cry.
Until I die he will not leave my side.)