Jul 29, 2010


The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower by Dylan Thomas : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets.

Stratford, Ontario is a city of 30,000 in hilly, prosperous farmland two hours west of Toronto. It feels almost English as England does; otherwise, it’s an unlikely place for first-rate professional theater to thrive, but it does, and about half of it is Shakespearean.

Stratford has four theaters, a thriving downtown, all kinds of eateries, a few bookstores (used and new), a mile-long lake with rich greenery and walkways, just down a hill from the main drag (Ontario Street). There are scores of walkers in both places. In the couple of hours before matinees and evening performances, the place gets pleasantly busy. Families, seniors, middle-aged couples, young couples, along with singles gathering at pubs, it’s a mixed crowd, and everyone seems glad to be there.

I’m back from seeing two plays at Stratford. The first was Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, a one-man performance with Wyn Davies as Dylan Thomas. I learned a few things about the Welsh poet, and the acting was thoroughly professional, but I’m afraid I was not bowled over the way I expected to be.

I'm not sure what else Wyn Davies and playwright Leo Pownall could realistically have accomplished, but I don’t know or care much more about Dylan Thomas now than I did before the play, and that seems a less than optimal response. The lubricated Welshman struck me as one more sad, self-destructive poet, often gorgeous in his imagery and cadences, but also windy and full of himself, as Wordsworth the philosopher and Keats the sensualist converge in Thomas’ psyche.

Despite some great lines in the script, the play needed more information on just how it was America that lionized, mythologized, and thus killed the poet at the age of 39. We are asked to believe that he alone didn’t drink himself into a fatal “insult to the brain.” American groupies were equally to blame.

That’s the take on his work, life, and death that I’ve heard since college, but I don’t see why we should infer that he would have been a moderate drinker, better poet and healthier man if he’d stayed in Wales. For all its merits, the play does not address that question, or Thomas’ stature in the canon, or how he lived and wrote aside from whiskey, philandering and envy of Shakespeare. Wyn Davies' professionalism as an actor could not breathe life into those vacancies.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night makes for a moderately interesting, informative (re)introduction to Dylan Thomas’ work and life, but it merits are tepid and spotty, and might well leave viewers wanting more, especially if they already had some knowledge of the poet’s life and work.

Here is the most famous villanelle of all and Dylan Thomas' most famous poem, the source for the play's title:

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.Discover Poetry.

In case this has someone all fired up about Welsh power, Dylan Thomas poems were also discussed here on May 15 an 18, 2010. These poems and the Stratford play do make clear that childhood, nature, time, and death were major concerns in Thomas' poems.

Next time: Stratford’s Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.



Anonymous said...

god, I hate to say this, but I think there are/were certain authors and poets who could not have written what they wrote without the drug. I don't think the whiskey or whatever loosened the tongue -- it was part of the mystical, chemical reaction that made the tongue.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I'm sure we can't rule that out. Also, though I've called him windy, he's much more disciplined than I'd think a sloshing, falling-down guy could be. I will add that I've heard a few writers say that this or that hard drinking writer never WROTE drunk, stayed sober long enough to do the work. I might recall that Faulkner and Hemingway were two such guys.

Anonymous said...

And my hero, FSF. Even Capote. The problem was, after awhile, they forgot to come up for air.

Banjo52 said...

I'm pretty sure I read (a long time ago) that Hemingway claimed he could see in someone's prose the place where the person started drinking while trying to write. (Writing Under the Influnce, WUI).

He might have included Fitzgerald in that because FSF had Hemingway do some critiquing of his drafts (which wasn't a two-way exchange--all of this is probably from A Movable Feast or Papa Hemingway and is in the category of "if memory serves." Don't quote me.).

But I've also heard such thinking from at least one or two other writers over the years. Can't remember who.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Does it help to be equally under the influence when one reads these poems? What does "dumb" actually mean in "The Force..." poem?

I can see AH's point - the tongue loosened resulting in a mystical + chemical reaction. But my brain is a parallel circuit, not a serial one.

sigh. What does 'dumb' mean in this case?

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, you've nudged me to remember an explanation I settled on once upon a time. Both meanings of "dumb" apply. I am "mute," AND "I am stupid"--as in "unable" in either case.

"I cannot explain" how I can claim to know these other people and items in their other situations, but I do. If the same force (time? growth?) drives both a flower and me, if I can claim that, why not claim such identification with other beings as well? We are all driven by similar or even identical elemental forces, especially forces of life and death.

Sorry you asked? I don't remember reading any authoritative scholarship on Thomas, so those are probably my own deductions--buyer beware.

I must say, I like the rhythm and vowel-consonant sounds of "I am dumb" as a refrain, compared to other fancier, more abstract words--"unable," "incompetent," and so forth.

Also, I do like that he gets both meanings, stupid and mute. This kind of knowledge is beyond knowing in any rational, logical, intellectual, cognitive way.

You claim your brain is ONLY "parallel" and "serial." Forgive me if I don't believe you. On the "Winter's Bone" post, you just claimed you and your friend "have each other's backs." How rational is that? Your gonna put yourself (or she is) in harm's way to protect someone else? That's kinda "dumb," isn't it? That's a bond you'd have trouble explaining to someone else, isn't it? You're "dumb" to tell it, explain it, make it logical sequential.

Ditto your empathetic fear for Ree Dolly in the movie. That makes no sense; that's irrational as hell. Yet you claim it, and I believe you.

Whaddya think?

Once again, I really appreciate your earnest responses.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Hmmm.Maybe like movies, I take poetry too literally? 'Dumb' means a name a kid calls another kid to embarrass him/her.
I am just being dumb - as in 'dense' - in this case.

(off to see "Wild Grass" this week - have you seen it? I enjoyed our dialogue re: WB movie. I hope more people will see it!(

Banjo52 said...

No, I think he's confessing to being or feeling dumb, or dense, never mind what the other kids call him. He's dumb because he understands so much more than he can communicate.

Hope you'll tell us about Wild Grass. I haven't heard about it.

Got some good comments on Wild Bone, but would like more. Wonder how many will actually see it. Maybe if it hits the big theaters.

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