Table of Contents
Poem in October by Dylan Thomas Study Guide
Introduction of the Poem
Dylan Thomas’ ‘Poem in October’ is a seven-stanza poem divided into ten-line sets. Thomas, as was his custom, did not adopt a specific rhyme pattern. However, there are a few instances where end sounds are unified by the use of half rhyme. In stanza three, the words “rolling” and “whistling” have a consonant rhyme. In stanza five, the end words “summer” and “mother” rhyme in the same way. There are moments of assonance, or rhymes that rely on vowel sounds, in these words that rely on consonants to rhyme. One such example is the first stanza’s use of the terms “heron” and “beckon.”
While there is no rhyme or rhythm scheme to tie the poem’s stanzas together, the lines are obviously similar in length and indentation. When one looks at the lines on the page, this is a feature that stands out. There are three lengthier lines followed by two extremely short lines. In each stanza, these are followed by two more long lines, two more short lines, and one last long line. They cause the reader’s eye to wander back and forth across the page, maybe replicating the rise and fall of waves, the “wringing” of rain, or the speaker’s ascent up the hill. The complete poem can be found here.
Summary of the Poem
Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Poem in October’ describes a speaker’s trek out of autumn and up a hill to recapture childhood delight, the summer season, and his spirituality.
The speaker begins the poem by claiming that he was thirty years old when he composed it. It was his birthday, so he decided to go for a walk. He left his house and walked along the water’s edge, listening to the seabirds and the sounds of the woods.
The speaker left town and began climbing a neighbouring hill. The town shrank as he soared. Simultaneously, the season began to shift. Autumn and its cold air moved away, giving way to summer. The rain and the presence of birds persisted as he ascended. These two images are critical to the speaker’s comprehension of happiness and childhood.
When he eventually made it to the top of the hill, he felt as if he had arrived in heaven. He was far above the cold of October, and he became obsessed with boyhood recollections. The speaker recalls visiting him with his mother and what it meant to him. While atop the hill, he hoped that the happiness he felt would continue the entire year. Perhaps he will return to recover it when he reaches the age of thirty-one.
Analysis of Poem in October
The speaker begins the opening stanza of ‘Poem in October’ by declaring that he was thirty years old. He expresses his age in terms of years progressing towards death or heaven. He is thirty years older than he was when he was born, and he is thirty years closer to death. The following sentences are excellent instances of Thomas’s inventive use of nouns and adjectives. The shore was “Priested” by herons, he said. They are everywhere, lording over a territory that has a spiritual character because to Thomas’ use of the word “priested” rather than another word like “ruled.”
This is one among the numerous sights and sounds that Thomas’ speaker awoke to this morning. There was also the waterfront and the “neighbour wood” to hear. He might hear the noises of rustling leaves or small animals running and walking from there.
These noises are agreeable to the ear of the speaker. They “beckon” or “call” him out of bed and into the world. In the next lines, the water is personified in the same way that the sunrise is. It is referred to as “praying.” As if kneeling in prayer, the waves dip and rise. The scene, like many that would come after it, is overwhelming. There are sights and noises that the speaker wishes to take in. These include the sounds of seagulls calling and boats crashing against the dock’s “webbed wall.”
The speaker declares at the end of these lines that he “set foot” in that “moment.” The town was “still sleeping,” but as has been amply demonstrated, the rest of the globe isn’t. What is unclear at this moment is where the speaker is going.
Stanza Two begins with the speaker reminding the reader that it is his birthday. He just turned thirty, and he is going on a celebratory walk. He notices the “water-/Birds” again, as well as those that fly into and around the trees. They all appear to be focused on him, “flying” his “name” around the neighbouring “farms and white horses.” It is interesting that the speaker picked this period to mention the fields and horses. The setting is a little jumbled, as if the speaker were recalling several landscapes and weaving them together. The “white horses” could also allude to the waves themselves.
The speaker is willing to continue on this trek for a while longer and rises in the “rainy autumn” to do so.
“walk…abroad.” He also discusses how his actions affect the environment around him. The waves crashed and the heron “dived” into the sea just as he was getting up.
The speaker departs from the town in the closing lines of this section. He mentions a “border” he must cross and “gates” he must open. Whether or whether these are real, they were previously a hindrance to him exiting the enclosed area. They are no longer. The town begins to wake up as his spot in town closes behind him.
The environment in Stanza Three is absolutely active and feels more like summer or spring than October. He extends on this idea by referring to the “October sun” as “Summery,” or similar to summer. It is perched on the “hill’s shoulder,” yet another example of personification. Now that you have read this far into the piece, you can see why Thomas uses personification so frequently. He wanted to make the entire universe come to life for the reader.
He describes the area as having “sweet singers and fond climates.” In these lines, the speaker mentions the birds once more, as well as the “rain.” These are two of the poem’s key images, which appear repeatedly. “Come in the morning,” the birds say, as they have in prior stanzas. They appear in the same location as the speaker walked and meandered. He notices the wind wringing the rain and blowing “cold / In the wood faraway” under him.
The choice of the word “faraway” in these lines is intriguing. The wind and rain are under him, but they are also far away. This can be understood in a different, more fleeting manner. The rain is far away in the sense that it is “dreamlike,” or mentally remote. This is more appropriate for Thomas’ words and the environment he has constructed.
The speaker returns to the rain in Stanza Four. It is now referred to as “Pale” and is said to be looming over the “dwindling harbour.” He resumes his ascent of the slope. He moves further away from the boats and dock where he began. The next lines are a delightful tangle of imagery that are typical of Dylan Thomas.
He has ventured far beyond the town’s bounds and into his own nature-inspired dream. It is a spot where he can “marvel” at the spring and summer gardens. They are flowering “in tall tales.” This gives the reader a hint regarding the actuality of the word being described by the speaker. It is a “tall tale,” or a falsehood, rather than a real site he may visit.
The final words of stanza five describe how, from the hill, he could “marvel” at the “weather,” but that as soon as he got there, it began to move away.
In ‘Poem in October,’ Stanza Five refers to the transition from autumn to summer. The speaker is consumed by the delight of the day, which is only heightened by the beauty of the surroundings. When he looks around, he sees all of summer’s wonders. He recalls all the times he is been here as a child. His recollections of a period when the world was coloured are returning to him.
“Red currants” and “green chapels” can be found. Everything was vibrant and unadulterated.
He recalls coming to the same hill with his “mother” in the mornings. “Through parables,” the speaker said. These are stories with a moral or spiritual underpinning. They are mentioned throughout the Bible and are directly related to the “green chapels” in verse ten. It is unclear why the speaker remembers the chapel as green, perhaps because of the green environment in which it was located. In Stanza Six, as the poem nears its conclusion, the speaker delves further into his memories. He considers himself to be so dissimilar to the boy that they are two distinct individuals. “His tears burned [his] cheeks,” he recalls. The speaker perceives the young boy’s heart to be remote from his own. Through these lines, the speaker emphasises that, while he has retuned to this location and is once again experiencing joy, it is nothing compared to the “truth of…joy” he knew during his youth’s “Summertime.”
The “dead” of his past, the summer days he can no longer access, remind him of his life and his relationship with the world.
“The mystery” was sung over the world. This is the type of spiritual connection that the speaker began to value less as he grew older. He recalls it now and sees it specifically inside the “water and singingbirds.” The sentences are not dismal in tone while reflecting on the changes that have occurred in the man since his childhood. They are as upbeat and joyous as the ones before them.
Stanza Seven contains the final ten lines of ‘Poem in October,’ in which the speaker describes how the “joy” of his childhood returned to him on his thirtyth birthday and what that meant to him. On his birthday, he was able to visit this location. The weather changes, as it always does. He is in the sun and is witnessing the joy of the long-dead child’s song blazing.
He mentions the fact that this was his “thirtieth / Year to heaven.” He has risen as close to paradise as he would ever get in his life. The speaker has left the autumn weather that surrounds and contains the “town below” and has gone somewhere for his birthday, to a dreamland of warmth, joy, and childhood. In the final lyrics, he requests that his delight remain on the hill and be sung “in a year’s turning.”
Critical Interpretation of The Poem
“Poem in October” was written around 1944 and is one of Dylan Thomas’s four birthday poems. The others are “Especially When the October Wind” (for his twentieth birthday), “Twenty-Four Years” (for his twenty-fourth birthday), and “Poem on His Birthday” (to commemorate his thirty-fifth birthday). It is a mystic re-creation of his childhood given in more lucid words than in his earlier poems (in fact, this as well as an element of tranquilly have been two generally remarked characteristics of his later works such as “Poem in October”, “Fern Hill”, and “Over Sir John’s Hill”). This poem is also an example of Thomas’s obsession with the interplay of creation and destruction, life and death, and the ritual invocation of the moment of birth at the poem’s beginning ushers in a celebration of this continuous process and the workings of biological processes as a part of the natural world that connect generations of life (as the adult Thomas does in the poem while walking with his mother) as well as hu This demonstrates his commitment to the cyclical biological processes of birth and death, decay (or degeneration), and regeneration, which he articulates through an emphasis on the “intensity and integrity of non-human organic life” (Davies: 69). This results in a degree of humility, which translates into the human being able to abandon its ego and get assimilated into such a life within nature.
This involvement underpins and informs issues such as physical processes, infancy, nature, and even poetry. When the poet wakes up on the morning of his 30th birthday, he is greeted by the sounds and sights of nature, which appear to commemorate the occasion. With this, he is forced to recall his history and picture himself as a youngster with his mother in the familiar Welsh landscape. As the poet emerges from the town that appears to be a womb, he is overwhelmed by the physical metamorphosis of the gloomy autumn weather into June sunlight and a “springful of larks.” This is complemented by the poet’s mature self-being transformed into the poet as a child, which is more figurative. All of this is accompanied by a ‘sacramentalising’ of nature, that is, the superimposition of certain Christian rituals (like baptism) on natural events (such as birds – both water and land birds – crying out in the morning; the town on the edge of the sea, water being an important element in baptism; nature in terms of a “green chapel”; and the use of the phrase “heron-priested” because in Celtic folklore and mythology, birds like the It also has a sense of majesty in the natural world. Because Thomas sees the child as more organically connected to nature and its cyclical processes, the poem revolves around the child’s delight and joy in a natural setting. This serves as the foundation for the poet’s exploration of the meeting of religious, spiritual, and physical/material aspects in the child’s wonder and absorption in nature that this organicity implies (for example, in expressions like “parables/ Of sunlight” that the child appears to learn from his mother in the “green chapels”).
The poem can also be considered as part of a long tradition of English poetry (seen in works like as Henry Vaughan’s “Regeneration” and Wordsworth’s “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality”) that places a “reflection of man’s moods” in a pastoral setting (Davies: 52). Again, the setting for the poem is Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, in Dylan Thomas’ native Wales, and the hill referred to is most likely Sir John’s Hill in the same location. As a result, Thomas referred to the poem as a “Laugharne poem,” the first “place poem” he had composed (Goodby and Wigginton: 198). Images of the sea, water, the heron, “green chapels,” and other natural phenomena reinforce the poem’s pantheistic nature. At the same time, the image of the sea (which is essential to many of Thomas’s great poems) is a “non-location redolent of margins, swamping, self-loss, and erasure,” according to Goodby (Goodby and Wigginton: 200). The poem is focused on being in several realms, with the sea imagery serving as the primary support.
In this regard, the figure of the Bard becomes significant, especially when one considers that when Thomas went to his first public reading in the United States of America, he was introduced as “having come ‘out of the druidical mists of Wales” (Davies: 96). In ancient Wales (and related civilizations in Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere), a poet was not just a professional writer of verse but was also recognised to wield enormous spiritual power. Furthermore, the bard was more than just a respected member of the community; he was one with the people, their voice. He sang the people’s songs, upheld their basic traditions, and kept poetry and music alive and personally significant. In the 1980s, Ackerman and many other critics saw Thomas as claiming a lofty function for the poet as a prophet in terms of the bard. With the exuberance of the bardic personality, the fondness for ceremonial and complex ritual coexisted with a devotion to composition and workmanship in Thomas, connecting him yet again to the bardic’s impulsive but rigorously technical poetry approach. Another essential characteristic of old Welsh poetry that Thomas seemed to incorporate was a recognition of reality’s dual nature, of unity in disunity, of the simultaneity of life and death, and of time as an illusion.
Rather than being divided into the past, present, and future, the eternal continuous moment is divided into the past, present, and future.
Important Themes of the Poem
The following are the main themes of the poem.
The Welsh Origins:
Dylan Thomas’ Welsh heritage is a prominent theme in his work. He settled in southwest Wales, in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire, now known as Ceredigion, regions that drew him throughout his life. Initially viewed as a Romantic and a “provincial,” Thomas’ poetry was thought to be influenced by the Welsh language, its rhythms, and the Bardic tradition. For example, in his book Welsh Dylan: Dylan Thomas’s Life, Writing, and His Wales (1980), John Ackerman saw his poetry as the product of a strongly individual imagination fostered by Welsh ways of thought and feeling and distinguished by its lyrical quality, strict formal control, a romantic conception of the poet’s function, and a religious attitude toward experience. Ackerman cites three ways in which his Welsh heritage influenced his poetry. First, there was the direct and unavoidable influence of a specific community with specific traditions, such as the bardic tradition; second, there was the influence of other Welshmen writing in English (Thomas did not speak Welsh) and who helped to create a national consciousness, a sense of a life that was unique to Wales. Thomas gained access to a community of ideas from Welsh culture through these connections. According to Ackerman, the third effect of the Welsh background on Thomas was the cultural tradition that existed in and through the Welsh language.
Identity Issues in the Face of Changes Caused by Time:
Dylan Thomas’s poetry also documents the pain of World War II. “Poem in October” was published in the collection Deaths and Entrances (1946) and is significant because it contrasts with the majority of the other poems in the collection, which reveal vivid accounts of Germany’s bombing of London during the War. It explores the terrible entry of the war into people’s ordinary, private lives, as well as the ramifications for the poetic self. Given this, the poem appears to be occupied by a sense of nostalgia for the past in the face of unfathomable horror. Despite its pastoral and serene tone, the poem has an elegiac tone that questions the happiness linked with birthdays because they bring us closer to death. Given the volume’s abundance of death and general tone of sadness, the poem concludes on a hopeful note regarding the poet’s function in such a situation:
“O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.”
The title of the volume “Deaths and Entrances” is vividly reflected in “Poem in October” by the continuous allusions to “turning” as the poet departs from the bounds of the town to climb up the hill, only to return to the town.
An Idea of Modernism
Thomas is also associated with Modernism. The sceneries and imagery, as well as the hallucinatory effect of the visions he inspires in his poetry, appear to approach surrealism, which is more linked with modernist writers’ imaginative and psychological studies. While the Surrealists achieved this effect by the arbitrary or irrational juxtaposition of pictures, Thomas, even when employing an interior landscape of the mind, picked, controlled, and developed his images into a conscious poetic order that served an aesthetic function. Davies, on the other hand, claims that Thomas has affinities with modernism in that he believed in “concreteness of presentation,” which Davies describes as “the final barrier that Modernism…had placed against any return to Victorian discursiveness or Georgian descriptiveness” (Davies in Goodby and Wigginton: 115). Second, Thomas exhibits a form of self-consciousness in his use of language, which is another fundamental Modernist characteristic: “the conscious foregrounding of language as language, language itself as theme, within poems.”