Today is Dylan Day. Despite a swell of opinion that Dylan was not a religious writer, I find the evidence points to a deep spiritual awareness and yearning. Here is a taste of why I see many parallels between him and Augustine.
At the end of the fourth century Augustine of Hippo opens his masterpiece, the Confessions, with these words:
‘To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’
1550 years later, Dylan Thomas, would tell John Davenport that his poetry was written for the love of man and in praise of God; indeed the prologue of his Collected Poems tells how he sought to obey his calling and overcome his fears to:
‘… build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage, red, manalive.’
The poet Kathleen Raine affirms that however chaotic his lifestyle, Dylan’s poetry is ‘holy’, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’, and confessional, in the double meaning that Augustine intended: a recounting of experience entwined with praise of God: Dylan’s awareness of his work as prayer grew as he matured. His masterpiece, the radio play Under Milk Wood, also opens by invoking Creation, familiar from Genesis and John’s Gospel:
‘To begin at the Beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black.’
Here are two books written by men in mid-life, although Under Milk Wood would be Dylan’s last work. This is the story of a community of people like him, saints who are sinners, a Welsh City of God, funnier and warmer than Augustine’s version. Sadly we mortals may not yet linger there.
Dylan had seen Llareggub builded here, in Wales, the Chosen Land. It is no mean city, although it is little, like Wales, and like Wales, or the Churches of John’s Revelation, it is on earth as it is in heaven. Dylan was nurtured at the same source as Augustiine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry released for the ‘spinning man’ a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, we may hope that ‘the flood flowers now’ for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ of his life.