Tranquillity is not the state that springs to mind when Dylan Thomas is mentioned. He seems to have been fleeing tranquillity even while desperate to find it, like another addictive poet, Francis Thompson, pursued by The Hound of Heaven:
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know and what his trumpet saith…
For his part, Dylan admits the fear that Thompson describes; he acknowledges the fear-bred anger, and flees in an ark of roaring poetry, commandeering for his heart the boat that Noah entrusted to the waters when the flood washed against his home. Fear and anger – such emotions show that a man is alive, that the spring or fountainhead of being bubbles up inside him.
Hark: I trumpet the place,
From fish to jumping hill! Look:
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage red, manalive …
Dylan may mock his little town in the very naming of it, but he loves it, seizing the angelic trumpet to celebrate it. And he sees God not through the fog, but in ‘the close and holy darkness’ about the town; a loving presence ‘All through the Night’.
We came to Laugharne last week, saw how cramped the Boathouse had been for the poet’s family, how far from tranquil it must have been on a wet winter’s afternoon with the children running bored around his feet. We looked into Dylan’s little writing shed along the path and out through the windows about his writing desk. Here, on a golden summer’s day, it is easy to believe that Wales, including Laugharne-Llaregub, is a tranquil ‘God-built garden’. It smelt of marjoram, mint and salty mud.
There was an old television programme showing in the upper room, which dismissed the notion that Dylan’s poetry was religious, but claimed he celebrated life. He did that; indeed he did, but Milk Wood and the Prologue to his collected poems are the religious works of a reluctant saint, trying against himself to be, or not to be, a sinner. Ask St Augustine; ask Kathleen Raine; ask Rowan Williams.
Laugharne – Llaregub