Dylan Thomas

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How does Dylan Thomas use imagery in his poetry?

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Dylan Thomas was an avant-garde poet. He used imagery in his poems to convey a sense of the impossibility of any definite statement about the nature of reality.

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Dylan Thomas is known for vivid imagery in his poems. This is especially highlighted when his poems are read aloud.

Many of his poems feature nature imagery. One example is "Poem in October." The speaker writes about walking outside on his birthday. He describes the world around him: the woods and forest, the animals, and the weather. He says the town is "leaved with October blood," meaning that the town is covered by leaves that turn red in the fall. This imagery is striking and more interesting than simply saying the leaves are red.

He often uses alliteration, such as the "webbed wall" and "high hill." Additionally, Thomas uses both similes and metaphors:

And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls

In addition to nature imagery, this poem features religious imagery. Instead of simply saying it was his thirtieth birthday, Thomas phrases it: "It was my thirtieth year to heaven."

Religious imagery and death imagery are also present in "After the Funeral" and one of his most famous poems: "Do Not Go Gentle." He often writes about death, using similes and metaphors to describe it. He writes about it from a religious point of view.

When we read the poems of Dylan Thomas aloud, we can hear how his imagery allows us to form a picture in our minds. He often uses devices such as alliteration, simile, and metaphor to build his nature, death, and religious imagery.

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In many of Dylan Thomas' poetry, nature is heavily used in regards to imagery.

For example, in the poem "But Being Men" Dylan speaks of men walking through the forest afraid of waking the birds. The imagery used here represents men who wish to enter into things without causing problems for the things around them. In the poem, men are worried about the rooks, fearful they will wake them because of their heavy footfalls. Thomas reflects on children who would not wake the birds with their lighter footfalls. The point of the poem is that men walk with a heavy weight on their shoulders which can reek havoc on the things around them.

In another poem, "All All and All", Thomas begins the poem reflecting on the world around him: the the ocean, the ice, the lava, and the oil. This imagery speaks to the natural aspects of the world intermingled with the artificial: synthetic blood, ribbing metal, and seeded milling. Here the imagery used recognizes the imbalance between the natural and artificial world.

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How does Dylan Thomas use imagery in his poems?

In 1934, Dylan Thomas’s first book, 18 Poems (which brought him fame), was published. While other poets of the 30s were mainly focused on social issues, Thomas set about writing poetry dealing with the question of man’s nature, especially the subconscious. Thomas’s central theme is the circle of life and death, being and non-being.

Already in the first collection, a characteristic feature of his work transpires. It is a complex, musical, a-logical poetic language, wherein contradicting images flow into one another:

Before I knocked and flesh let enter,
With liquid hands tapped on the womb,
I who was shapeless as the water
That shaped the Jordan near my home
Was brother to Mnetha's daughter
And sister to the fathering worm. (1, p. 7)

In the next collection, Twenty-Five Poems (1936), his creative manner becomes more mature, and his syntax and imagery grow more complex. In his poems, despair and hope, life and death, and love and darkness are intertwined in most intricate metaphors which are weaved from simple concepts:

Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children’s circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has set its maggot on their track. (1, p. 50)

His imagery reveals a pantheistic worldview, a desire to penetrate into an archetypal substance of the myth, and extraordinary richness of meaning.

In 1939, The Map of Love was published. It is a mixture of poetry and prose, and its protagonists are madmen, children, and poets, who go through fantastic, almost surrealistic experiences.

Thomas’s approach to crafting poetry is well summed up in one of his letters (Thomas, Collected Letters):

I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual and critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict. (cited in 2, p. 63)

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How does Dylan Thomas use imagery in his poems?

Dylan Thomas attached great importance to imagery in his poems, and it provides an important key to understanding his work. In poems such as "Poem in October," Thomas draws upon the imagery of the natural world to present us with a picture of a man at one with his surroundings, in complete harmony with nature. The woods are the speaker's neighbor, the herons are priests, and the waves rise high as if in honor and worship of their creator. Thomas's vivid imagery conveys the sense of a holy creation deeply infused with divine spirit.

The theme of a cosmic force running through all things is further developed in "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower," where Thomas draws upon imagery associated with death and decay to remind us that the cosmic force that pulses through nature is capable of destruction as well as creation. This powerful, penetrating force doesn't just destroy certain elements of the natural world; it also destroyed the speaker's childhood and will return once more to consume him when he is dead:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.

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How does Dylan Thomas use imagery in his poems?

Much of the acclaim that is given to Dylan Thomas is attributable to his marvelous use of imagery that awakens the senses of the listener/reader of his poetry and lends a unique reality to his abstraction of thought. Clearly, there is a vitality and passion lent to his verse with his imagery. One critic writes of Thomas, "His rich rhetoric and imagery gave his poetry a magical touch."

Thomas is especially renowned for his use of nature imagery as in such poems as "A Winter's Tale" in which the image of the bird connotes the Holy Ghost or Pentescostal Dove that imparts powers to the individual.  In addition, there is a connection of the spiritual with the physical and the bird undergoes a metamorphosis in the bride's body that rises with him in spirituality.  Regarding such imagery that combines contradictions such as that of the bird and the bride, Thomas writes,

Out of the inevitable conflict of images--inevitable, because of the creative, destructive, and contradictory nature of the motivating centre, the womb of war--I try to make that momentary peace which is a poem.

Another nature poem replete with imagery is "Poem in October."  On his thirtieth birthday the speaker emerges from the limits of the town, he finds that nature greets him with herons as priests and the waves of the ocean standing to honor him.  In short, through the honor of nature and its imagery, the speaker transcends the mundane and rises to an ethereal joy. 

Thomas also employs images of death in many of his poems, the most famous of which is "Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night" in which death is portrayed as "the dying of the light" and "darkness." The anger and rage expressed toward these images denotes the poet's passion for life. In this poem and in all his works, certainly Thomas's artistic and original utilization of imagery is his greatest medium for meaning.

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