Although Thomas was not especially eager to look back on the poems of his youth, “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” was one of which he remained reasonably fond in later years. It was written in a burst of creative energy when Thomas was nineteen, possibly precipitated by the knowledge that his father had cancer and might not survive. The intensity of his feelings are captured by the propulsive power of the first line, which establishes a link between the awesome natural forces of the universe and the poetic consciousness of the young man who felt that his creative instincts were fired by the wonders of the world around him. When he declares that “the force”—a mystic surge of energy that animates and destroys—is the source of both the “green age” in which his youth glows with promise and the “wintry fever” that bends the “crooked rose,” he has drawn the terms of the paradox that was to haunt him throughout his life. Even in the presence of life at its most vibrant, Thomas detected the signs of death, and the language that he uses in the poem is both destructive (dried streams, rotted roots) and fructuous (a mouth sucking life, pulsing red blood), joining the joys of passion with an anticipation of its eventual dispersal. The poet recognizes the immediacy of a moment of excitement and the realization that everything is temporary as “time has ticked a heaven round the stars.”
The poem is particularly effective because both the passionate excitement and the premonition of extinction are powerfully evoked. The overwhelming rhythmic figure of the first line, typical of Thomas’s ability to fashion a striking start almost impossible to extend or expand, conveys the feeling of uncontrollable motion engulfing and overpowering resistance. The poet has no choice but to submit and takes a fierce delight in his participation. Each stanza begins with a figure for this force, the third suggesting the “hand” of God, the fourth suggesting an incarnation of eternal progression. Then, the images of oblivion crowd the poet, undermining his exultation in the latent energy of the “green fuse,” Thomas’s symbol for the earth/ womb at the heart of creation. Blood turns to wax, the wind stirs a shroud, the clay (body) of the poet anticipates its eventual decay. The result of the juxtaposition of the dynamic and the arresting leads to a confusion that Thomas describes as an inability to say or speak (“And I am dumb”), an additional aspect of the paradox since the protestation of dumbness occurs in the poem to declare its condition. In response to the poet’s proclamation of his difficulties in finding a language to describe the process of deterioration—an understandable situation since he directly experiences the life-giving component of the force but can only imagine its shattering side—a metaphysical tableau develops in the fourth stanza, which seems to suggest that some version of “Love” will ameliorate the effects of time’s passage.
Since the poem is an investigation of the poet’s involvement with the mysteries of existence, the language that engages these forces is more important than an explanation of their origins. The deft use of sound for emphasis, from the alliteration and repetition in the first line to the use of slant rhyme (sucks/wax/rocks; head/blood; sores/stars; womb/worm) to the rhythmic pulsation produced by the summary phrase, “And I,” is evidence of Thomas’s ability to make poetry that is intensely alive on the tongue and true to the emotional energy that drew it forth.
Line 1: "The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" is a complicated poem. On the first reading, it may seem almost too difficult for a beginning reader to understand. However, careful analysis will make much of the imagery clearer. As a survey of critics reveals, there is no one right explanation for the more complicated ideas in the poem. Even critics interpret lines in...
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