Dylan Thomas

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The great Victorian poets lacked the fire and passion that we find in the poets of the Romantic period.  Where does Dylan Thomas fit into the two poetic directions?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Victorians, of course, were influenced by the Romantics, and Romantic poets such as Wordsworth lived long enough to be writing into the Victorian age. However, that being said, Dylan Thomas definitely captures the fire of the early Romantic poets.

A poem such as "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" records the personal emotions of the poet, one of the aims of Romanticism. It is about an ordinary person—also a theme of Romantic poetry—presented in a positive light as the speaker cries out to his father to "rage, rage" against dying. We feel the deep intensity of the the speaker's love for the father and his deep emotional desire that he fight with all he has to stay alive.

A poem like "Fern Hill" celebrates natures, a theme of Romanticism, and more importantly, is Romantic in its recollection of idyllic childhood as the speaker returns to the place where he was happy and carefree as a youth. The poem is evocative of Wordsworth as it describes emotions recollected in tranquillity, triggered by returning to a childhood setting. Dylan writes in glowing terms about nature as he remembers it:

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay/ Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air /And playing, lovely and watery /And fire green as grass.

The verses carry the excited emotional cadences of childhood. The excitement of Thomas's poetry and its felt emotion, is reminiscent of the emotional intensity of Romantic poetry at its finest. It also uses the simple, everyday language of the Romantics.

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Both the Romantic and Victorian periods had finished by the 1930s, the time Thomas began to publish his poetry collections. However, Thomas is generally perceived as reacting against the prevailing realist and politically-committed mood of the 1930s. In his poetry, he went back to the exploration of themes which had been dear both to the Romantics (so much so that he's sometimes labelled as "new romantic") and the Victorians such as the unity of man and nature, man's relationship to religion and Christianity, the oxymoronic unity of life and death and the research and use of folk materials in poetry. Shelley has been quoted as an influence on one of Thomas's most famous poem "And Death Shall Have no Dominion" and Thomas's repeated appeals to imagination and intuition to grasp the wonders of God's Creation have been described as distinctively Romantic.

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