Monday, October 27, 2014

Dylan Thomas: Oh May My Heart's Truth Be Sung On This High Hill In A Year's Turning

Today is a very special day for the people of Wales and for those who have the blood of Cymru coursing their veins. It is the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet of the last century who produced some of the most extraordinary lyrical imagery found modern English. Thomas holds a very special place in my being. My grandmother's parents immigrated to the United States from Cardiff, Wales, in the 1870's. Although I don't remember my grandmother - she died before my second birthday - my father always reminded me of her Celtic pride and Welsh ancestry expressed especially in a love for song and singing. 

My family likely became aware of Thomas through his trips to the U.S. made over a span of about four years beginning in 1950. His trips always made sensational news for he was not only a rising star worshiped in metropolitan and university salons but also a boisterous character prone to drunkenness and colorful language.  Indeed, his trip in 1953 ended in death from pneumonia while in New York. One could say he covered the full spectrum of life and when he spoke of it in verse or prose he made music. I've read and listened to him recite his music since the mid-1950's. 

Here he is reading a poem about visits to his aunt and uncle's farm, Fernhill, near Llangain, Carmarthanshire, in the 1920's.

And for good measure, "Poem in October" and "In my Craft or Sullen Art."

What an unforgettable voice. And what imagery. 

I first heard a recording of Thomas sometime in elementary school. There's a good chance few students in any grade have that opportunity today. How unfortunate. We often think education has come a long way over the last seven decades. Perhaps it has, but somewhere on that journey we have undoubtedly lost some very precious cultural experiences. If we could hear Thomas's truth singing every year, we would know so much better who we are as individuals and as a people. 

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