Dylan Thomas is one of the most accomplished modern poets in English literary domain. As an original poet of great power and beauty, he has shown his extra-ordinary creative power in his poems. His images were most carefully ordered in a patterned sequence and his major theme was the unity of all life, the continuing process of life and death and new life, which linked the generations to each other. He has presented us one of his remarkable and popular poems “Fern Hill” made by his exquisite artistic temperament through using several images. “Fern Hill” was the name of a farmhouse that belonged to the poet’s aunt Annie Zones. The poet used to pass his summer vacation there in his boyhood. His memory came back when he became an adult. The poet evokes his joys, mysteries, wonders of childhood in his poem “Fern Hill” through a series of image.
Dylan Thomas attached great importance to the use of imagery and an understanding of his imagery is essential for an understanding of his poetry. As he was a poet both of the sea and the woods, the sense and sights of the countryside, the various objects and phenomena of nature – are the most important sources of imagery in his poetry. Imagery of pain, diseases, decay and death as well as sexual imagery are also frequent.
The poet’s golden and sunlit child was happy in the song filled house. The house was actually ugly but to the transforming vision of the boy, it seemed to be “lilting” sweet and pleasant. This is a synonymousthetic imagery. We use ‘the lilting’ in connection with the music. But the poet Dylan Thomas uses it as an epithet for an ugly house. In the third stanza of this poem, we find another example of synonymousthetic imagery. The poet says that “The tunes from the chimneys” – the sight of the columns of smoke coming out of the chimneys was as pleasant and sweet to the boy as sweet tunes of music.
In his imagination, the poet feels that he was the master of his little world. In the very first stanza the poet calls himself as the prince of the apple town. The poet says, “I was the prince of the apple town”. This conveys the imagery of self sufficiency. The boy was self-sufficient like a prince in the apple town. In this poem, the poet imagines various kinds of things and objects: apple boughs, the lilting house, grass, the dingle, wagons, tree leaves, daisies, barley, barns, the yard, the farm, the sun, the calves, the foxes, the pebbles, the streams, the hayfields, the dew, the cock, the field etc.
Thomas himself said that a poem by him needed a host of images, because the poem’s center was a hose of image. Personification is an important element of Dylan Thomas’s imagery. And in the poem “Fern Hill” the poet has personified time. In this poem we get the image of time as a big child who is all powerful, all wasting, all consuming that allowed the boy to be the lord and the master for a short while. Time let him play and live; time let him plat and leave alone. In the fourth stanza the poet says:
“And the farm like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder.”
Here the poet personified the farm as a wanderer. It is another fantasy of the boy. When the boy woke up in the morning, the farm also returned to its location. The farm is compared to a wanderer who has been roaming about during the night and who comes back at dawn covered with dew drops and with the crowing cock on his shoulder.
In “Fern Hill” the poet employs four overlapping kinds of imagery. There is the kind of image he had made fully his own, consisting of a familiar phrase given a surprise twist; happy as the grass was green, once below a time, all the sun running. Then there are comparisons, implicit or explicit, which would occur naturally to a child. ‘I was huntsman and herdsman.’ ‘The calves sang to my horn, the hay filed high as the house.’
There is religious tone everywhere in this poem. In the second stanza the poet says –
“And the Sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.”
Sabbath is Sunday, the day of rest and worship to God. When the Sabbath came, the boy heard the ringing of the church bells. The sound of the church bells was mingled with the sound of the water flowing over the pebbles of streams. Here we get a picture of passing holy days and the religious awareness of the poet when he was a child.
In “Fern Hill” we also find light imagery. In the first stanza the poet says –
“Down the rivers of the windfall light.”
Here the river is not a river of water but of light, which flows continually like a river. The word windfall means prematurely fallen. The rivers of the windfall light means that bright light falling on the apples, which had prematurely fallen down upon the ground. The word ‘windfall’ also means a stroke of good luck. The light falling upon the apple is regarded as a lucky chance.
To the child all this is Paradise itself, the Garden of Eden where Adam and eve moved carelessly among green and golden things. To the innocent eyes of childhood, it even seems a miracle and grows big and round once more. It is the miracle of creation repeated. The horses, which flashed away into the darkness he went to sleep, appear from their ordinary stables again though the child thinks, still a little under the spell of the magic night before. And so off they go into the ‘fields of praise’ that is the green fields, which remind us again of God’s goodness and the necessity to give thanks for it.
Thus Dylan Thomas through his image convinces us of the significance and authenticity of his childhood vision.