Fern Hill Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The “I” of the poem begins in innocence, the young Adam of the new world. As he experiences it, his correlative is as innocent as he, whether that be the farm or the princess, who is “maiden” rather than “Eve” because (as Genesis 3:20 states) the latter name means “giver of life” or “mother of all the living.” Saint Augustine of Hippo said that history began only after the Original Sin, so the child’s world seems timeless, a new world freshly created at each dawn.

As in many Renaissance poems (William Shakespeare’s Sonnets 18, 55, 65, and 116, for example), time is the enemy, but for the Renaissance reader, Father Time was Cronos (Saturn), who in Greek myth devoured all of his own children. In Thomas’s poem, time is a temporarily benevolent despot, “allowing” and “permitting” the child a time of perfect happiness before he sacrifices his own progeny to the demands of his cannibalistic nature.

At the beginning of the final stanza, Thomas uses a very private and obscure symbol: The lamblike child ascends to the loft of the barn at moonrise and sleeps to awaken no longer innocent, no longer childlike, alienated from the farm and from nature—expelled from Eden. Thus far, the reader may choose to understand this as a symbol of sexual experience of some sort. The episode involves bird symbols as well, however, and these the reader may well interpret as symbols of poetry—swallows, the implied owls and nightjars...

(The entire section is 462 words.)