A Child's Christmas in Wales Essay - Critical Context

Dylan Thomas

Critical Context

A Child’s Christmas in Wales belongs to a long tradition of children’s literature written by prominent poets. For example, Christina Rossetti wrote a delightful collection of poems entitled Sing Song (1872), along with a wide variety of other poems for children. T. S. Eliot published Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939, a collection that was transformed into the popular Broadway musical Cats. Theodore Roethke wrote several fine selections of poems for children, including “Lighter Pieces and Poems for Children” in Words for the Wind (1958), and “Nonsense Poems” in I Am! Says the Lamb (1961). Thomas’ short-story collection is not as fine a piece as these selections of poetry, but A Child’s Christmas in Wales does feature a highly poetic style that sings with the same beauty as many of his lyrical poems and plays, such as Under Milkwood (1954).

Thomas evidences the Welsh love for language. For example, the opening paragraph of the first episode contains this sparkling sentence: “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.” This is fine writing reminiscent of Old English poetry, with its use of kennings, or compound nouns, such as “whale-road” and “swan’s-path” to rename common things such as the sea. The mesmerizing language of A Child’s Christmas in Wales makes even the most trivial of childish escapades worth hearing again and again. This book continues to be very popular for its portrayal of childhood as well as for its musical language.