Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Cadence of Words

I remember the first time I was captivated by the lyrical words of Dylan Thomas. I'd read the poems for which he is most known, of course, but they failed to strike a chord in me. Then a friend recommended that I read Under Milk Wood, a collection of Thomas' stories which was first published in book form in 1954. (The book has never been out of print, by the way.) I felt his words had the cadence of a lullaby. Cadence comes from the Latin word cadere, meaning to fall, which seems especially appropriate in this case. Dylan Thomas weaved a spell, and I fell.

In the intervening years, the rise and fall of his voice has been my muse, and a beat I return to in order to hear my own words. Thomas was a master of word sounds. It seems he was fond of words that hissed, and is it any wonder? He was born in a place called Swansea.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes, he writes. And

My tears are like the quiet drift
Of petals from some magic rose;
And all my grief flows from the rift
Of unremembered skies and snows.

A journey through his words is like a summer day in a blackberry patch. Here, a phrase, soft and spattered on the tongue. And there, a thorn to prick you, in case you dared to sleep.

Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrogered sea.

His words make my heart swell with an elusive longing. My fingers tingle with the promise of phrases almost ripe and unplucked; words that cling stubbornly to their stems until, finally, they dry on the vine.

It's little comfort that the words are there somewhere. What I need is a thing to help remove them. Maybe, like Thomas, I ought to take up drinking.


Simon said...

The only piece of Dylan Thomas’ writing I’ve either heard or read is Under Milk Wood; it was originally written by him as a play for BBC radio, and the Richard Burton reading (there were two, in fact) was often repeated on Radio 4, which is where I heard it at least once. I read the text at school, but for me the Richard Burton narration is what I’ll always hear in my head when I think of it.

Urban Cynic said...

Poetry is beautiful but when you imagine it recited in various accents it can sound ridiculous - Have you ever heard a Swansea accent? Swansea on a Saturday night is like Beirut & rough as a dogs arse.

MauritaMason said...

Simon, thanks for your comment. I'm going to see if I can find a recording of it. I imagine Richard Burton did a wonderful reading.

UC, you have a brilliant way of describing things. The only Swansea accent I've heard was when I listened to Dylan Thomas himself. Unfortunately, I can't recall how he sounded at all.