Walking Out in the Sun of October

Brian Pier, "Autumn Sunset"

Brian Pier, “Autumn Sunset”

Since we’re moving into October, luxuriate in the most sensuous poem I know about the month. I am, of course, talking about Dylan Thomas’s “Poem in October” where, on his 30th birthday, he walks out into the town of his childhood and compares his feelings now with his feelings then. The sentiments he expresses are similar to those of Wordsworth’s “My Heart Leaps Up”:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Although Thomas may be older now and traveling toward heaven in a town “leaved with October blood,” he prays that his heart will always resonate to the scenery.

I’m particularly interested in the reference to “the legends of the green chapels” as I have just been teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The green chapel, which in the poem is a primitive earth mound from pagan times, is a symbol of our connection with nature and the earth. Thomas is establishing a mystical connection with nature in this poem.

Revel in “Poem in October” and then go out and revel in your own autumn.

Poem in October

By Dylan Thomas

         It was my thirtieth year to heaven
   Woke to my hearing from harbor and neighbor wood
         And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore          
   The morning beckon    
   With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                 That second
         In the still sleeping town and set forth.

         My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
         Above the farms and the white horses
                 And I rose
             In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in a shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
             Over the border
                 And the gates
         Of the town closed as the town awoke.

         A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
         Blackbirds and the sun of October
             On the hill’s shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
             To the rain wringing
                 Wind blow cold
         In the wood faraway under me.

         Pale rain over the dwindling harbor
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
         With its horns through mist and the castle
                 Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                 My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

         It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
         Streamed again a wonder of summer
                 With apples
             Pears and red currants
   And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                 Of sunlight
         And the legends of the green chapels

         And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
         These were the woods the river and the sea
                 Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                 Sang alive
         Still in the water and singing birds.

         And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
         Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                 In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
         Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
         Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart’s truth
                 Still be sung
         On this high hill in a year’s turning.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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