What poetic elements are present in Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill"?

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The poem “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas is the poet’s musing on the innocence and wonder of his childhood at Fern Hill farm and the requisite shift from innocence to experience.

The poem has six stanzas, and each stanza has nine lines. There is no clear rhyme scheme. Thomas has, however, created his own set of rules. Each line has a set number of syllables, which repeat through each stanza. This decision curates a rhythm for the work.

Thomas is also very exacting in his use of assonance. The poem abounds with the long e sound from start to finish. “Green,” “happy,” “barley,” “trees,” and “leaves” are just a few of the words with this sound. This focus on the long e creates a feel of leisurely, optimistic youth at the poem’s start, while simultaneously creating a sense of dread and sorrow at the end:

I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

The two themes of innocence and experience are connected by the long e, showing that these two states cannot exist without each other, and we will always be in longing for the innocent days of our youth.

Furthermore, Dylan employs an immense amount of symbolism in the poem. In the second stanza he refers to himself as “green” and “golden.” Both colors are used symbolically to represent the innocence and bright-eyed wonder of his youth. He has yet to be marred with the passage of time, sorrow, and aging. Everything is new, bright, and full of life in his boyhood. He then uses owls, nightjars, and sleep to symbolize the slow dissolution of his youth:

And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

As he falls into slumber each night, the simplicity of life is eroding, the owls representing experience and wisdom taking him further away from the pastoral ideals of childhood.

As you dive deeper into the poem, you will also find personification. For example, the house is described as “lilting” in the opening line. You will also find allusions to Eden, such as “Adam and maiden” and “holy streams.” These are peppered throughout the stanzas and should be given a thorough analysis.

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