Dylan Thomas in Winter

Dylan Thomas in Winter

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By Byron Beynon
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Dylan Thomas had a healthy nostalgia for childhood, the winter months, Christmas and the New Year, conjuring up feelings and memories within stories, poems and reminiscences of time past, using language of a familiar season when thoughts were cast back to more innocent times.
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“Memories of Christmas” was reissued, enlarged, and sold to Harper’s Bazaar for 300 dollars under the title “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales”. He also made a recording of it.  It begins with:
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“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
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He leaves his house in Cwmdonkin Drive and walks down the festive hill facing the bay as:
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“All the Christmases roll down the hill towards the Welsh-speaking sea, like a snowball growing whiter and bigger and rounder, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street;”
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He later returns to the comfort of his home “and the fire in the front room, and bang go the crackers, and holy, holy, holy, ring the bells, and the glass bells shaking on the tree…”
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In a letter from Laugharne in December 1939 he wrote to his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins; it opens with a reply “What do I want for Christmas? Oh, that’s nice.  I want a war-escaper – a sort of ladder, I think, attached to a balloon ….. could I perhaps have the New Yorker Annual (published by Hamish Hamilton…) which is all funny drawings, half a game, half a book? I should like that very much indeed …. But there will be Christmas Eve for us, and we’ll smoke your ridiculous cigarettes and buy bathfuls of Cointreau, bitter, biddy, or ink.  For you this Christmas a record: which?”
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The writer and commentator, John Ackerman, noted in his book “Welsh Dylan” that “Thomas had anticipated this presentation of the natural world in the poems of childhood, and also in “A Winter’s Tale”, which is an expansive and lyrical evocation of country life in winter:” The opening 10 lines sing through the winter air:
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“It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes,
The pale breath of cattle at the stealthy sail,
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And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl
In the river wended vales where the tale was told.
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Dylan sent the completed poem to the American anthologist Oscar Williams in New York saying: “The longish one, I’m glad to say, has taken a great deal of time & trouble”. It was eventually published in Poetry (Chicago) in July 1945.
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Back in Swansea, after much of the town he loved had been destroyed during the war he recalls in Return Journey: “It was a cold white day in High Street, and nothing to stop the wind slicing up from the docks, for where the squat and tall shops had shielded the town from the sea lay their blitzed flat graves marbled with snow and headstoned with fences.  Dogs, delicate as cats on water, as though they had gloves on their paws, padded over the vanished buildings.”
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And again, from the same piece, the excellent “staring through the glass of the hotel door at the snowflakes sailing down the sky, like Siberian confetti.”
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In “The Followers” he is again in Swansea, prose full of detail and vivid as a painting: “It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening.  Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps.  The pavements shone long and yellow.  In squeaking goloshes, with mackintosh collar up and bowlers and trilbies weeping, youngish men from the offices bundled home against the thistly wind…”
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And finally, as the old year becomes history and a new year approaches Dylan writes: “Of what is coming in the New Year I know nothing, except that all that is certain will come like thunderclaps or like comets in the shape of four-leaved clovers, and all that is unforeseen will appear with the certainty of the sun who every morning shakes a leg in the sky’” (from The Crumbs of One Man’s Year)
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Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales