Analysis of Poem in October by Dylan Thomas

This poem analysis is divided into three parts – context, rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, and themes.

Context: This part of the poem explanation focuses on the context of writing ‘Poem in October’. It is well known that Dylan Thomas had been writing and publishing poetry since his adolescent years. Hence, at thirty, he was already well into his poetic career. He had moved from the small fishing village of Swansea to London, and later to America. In his upwardly-mobile trajectory, however, he had always regretted leaving Swansea behind. ‘Poem in October’ arises out of these very feelings of regret. When he says that the change in weather is what has prevented him from spending entire birthdays in Swansea, he is not really talking about a physical change in the skies. He is talking about the fact that his situation in life had changed, forcing him to move out of his native town and go on to what he had then perceived as sunnier pastures.

Rhyme Scheme and Rhetorical Devices: ‘Poem in October’ is written in free verse. The sentences that Thomas writes are long and stretch on from one to the next, and the next, and so on. Often an entire stanza consists only of one sentence. However, this does not hamper the reading of the poem. It is quite melodic in its own way, and it is a joy to read it aloud.

This poem explanation would be incomplete if no mention were made of Thomas’s intentional lack of punctuation. For example, in the third line of the sixth stanza, Thomas remembers how he, as a child, would spend much of his time in “the woods the river and sea”. The fact that the poet does not use any commas implies that in childhood, all of nature was a single entity to him, and he did not separate out its various elements, but rather enjoyed the whole of nature in a single go without any interruption. As a result, the Thomas of his boyhood had formed a kinship with any and all elements of nature.

Alliteration and personification are two rhetorical devices used by Thomas. He uses alliteration, for example, in the second line of the fourth stanza when he writes “And over the sea wet church the size of a snail”. He personifies water, trees, climates, summertime, mystery, and joy, by endowing these non-living things and abstract emotions with human qualities. All of his personification serves to bring up visual images in the mind of the reader, such as that of the summertime listening to Thomas in his boyhood when he whispered all his joys into the trees, stones, and fish.

Themes: This part of the poem analysis focuses on three themes – the primacy of sound, childhood as a time of innocence, and alienation in adulthood. Right from the first stanza, hearing is privileged over sight and the other senses by Thomas. It is the sounds of the sea, not the sight of Swansea that draws him out of his sleep and takes him outside into the lap of nature. It is the whistling of the blackbirds that fascinate him when he is on the hillside. In fact, the blackbirds are actually invisible to him, since they are all huddling together in the bushes that line the road he is taking up to the hill. About childhood, he remembers it as a time characterised by the hearing of various tales and legends. As a child, he had desperately wanted nature to hear of his joy.

When talking about his boyhood, he thinks of it as a time that is characterised more by emotion than by reason. In his very remembrance of it, he cries, and his heart is touched. He had, as a child, loved nature and even talked with its various elements. Of course, it is not rational to talk to a non-human subject, but he does so anyway. This is because, in his innocence, he does not distinguish between nature and man. He regards nature as his friend, and since his joy is derived from nature, he tries to share that joy with nature itself.

As a poet of the modernist era, Thomas was aware of the effects of the so-called progress from agriculture to industry, from rural to urban areas. He had also had to move from Swansea to London to achieve financial stability. However, contemporary man’s alienation from nature bothers Thomas. On his thirtieth birthday, it is this alienation that triggers his return to Swansea, and colours his reminiscences. By returning to his native village, he tries to return to the years he had spent there with his mother, in close proximity to nature. This is how he hopes to keep countering the aging process again and again – by returning to childhood, to innocence, to nature.

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