Monday, 15 July 2013
Dark Summer Poetry: Dylan Thomas's 'Fern Hill' and Celan's 'Night Ray'
It is hot, hot, hot in London and many of us feel as though this is our first real summer in years. Of course, it has come at a price like hayfever, Dante-esque Underground conditions and air conditioning breaking in selected public buildings just when you need it the most - but it's still pretty wonderful, all in all.
Two poems have come to mind tonight which are somehow appropriate to the weather and my frame of mind (relaxed and nostalgic, essentially.) The first is more obviously a summer poem than the second.
FERN HILL (Dylan Thomas)
'Fern Hill' speaks for itself: its vision of a rural childhood is ecstatic and specific, and sensually intense, as Thomas's poems are. Speaking for myself, I find it odd sometimes that I have so many childhood memories which are specific to the five physical senses. They are often so intense that I can remember textures as though I still felt them beneath my hands or feet. Perhaps this is normal, but for such an in-my-head person as myself, you wouldn't think so. I certainly know that I have more sensory memories of childhood - reams of them - than some other people I've compared notes with. (On the other hand, I often can't remember someone's name after I've been introduced to them three times, so on the whole my memory is nothing to brag of.) 'Fern Hill' also reminds me of idyllic summers in Finland as a child, perhaps made more idyllic by memory, but also coloured by loss after my grandmother died. It is in the end a poem about mortality.
The second poem is perhaps less suited to this season, but seems to fit. (There is an ad in the middle of the page which breaks the poem in half, so make sure you scroll down.)
NIGHT RAY (Paul Celan)
'Night Ray' is a dark, dark love poem. Not untypically for Celan, it is unclear whether this early poem is more a love poem, or an elegy. I suspect that more than being a summer poem, 'Night Ray' came to mind after I thought of 'Fern Hill' because each poem seems to faintly echo the other in the choice of imagery, and just possibly in some of the conclusions. Perhaps it's just me, but try reading 'Night Ray' and the last stanza of 'Fern Hill' alongside each other.