Summary: “Fern Hill” is a poem about the realization of life and mortality that appears after an unexpected experience occurs. The speaker is moved to a greater wisdom about himself and the world around him. [pic] Dylan Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” represents the passage of one mans life from boyhood to adulthood and the realization of his mortality. The speaker in this poem uses expressive language and imagery to depict a tale of growing up. The use of colour adds life and character to people and abstract ideas.
He looks up to “Time” (313) as an authority figure who has strict control of his life, and with descriptions of biblical figures we can presume that he is a religious person who believes that God is in control of his destiny. Each of these images contributes to a picture of one man’s outlook on life and death. Colour imagery is used in the beginning of the poem as the speaker describes his happiness as a child. He explains his young days as being as “happy as the grass is green” (313), or in other words, alive and healthy. He then directly refers himself to being “green and carefree” (313).
As a young boy he was vibrant and full of life. Being full of life, like “green grass” (313), means that there is a natural course that life has to follow, birth to death. Anything living has a purpose in life and the speaker reflects his young days as a “Huntsman and Herdsman” (313). The poem takes a dramatic turn when he describes “fire as green as grass” (313). Fire or burning paired with grass means that something destructive has occurred in the speaker’s young life that has changed or altered the course of his natural growth. He is an adult when he looks back and says “before the children green” (314).
He had gained an understanding that his life is running out and says time held me “green and dying” (313). He is seeing his “green” (314) life turning brown and wilting. He is staring in the face of mortality. The colour white is identified with purity and innocence. The speaker describes himself as a “wanderer white” (313) after he gained knowledge or after the birth “of the simple light” (313). Wanderer meaning delirious or roaming, and white meaning innocent, paired together give the impression that he was confused about growing up and maturing. Now, no longer a child, the speaker looks back at his “lamb white days” (314).
Used in biblical terms, the white lamb was an animal of purity used for sacrifices to God. The speaker was merely an innocent “white lamb” (314) graciously following his shepherd (God) to his own sacrifice (death). The colour golden is spoken to in terms of time. He is comparing the value of time to the value of gold when he says “Golden… Time let me play” (313), and “Time… Golden in the mercy of his means” (313). He realizes the value of time now that he is older and no longer youthful. We can hear through his words that he wishes he could have cherished time as a child as he now cherishes and values it.
He last uses the word golden in the past tense. The children are spoken of “before… golden” (313). As an adult he is no linger as powerful as he was as a child. “Golden” (313) time has forever taken him far away from his “childless land” (314). Time is only seen as golden and valuable but is also looked upon as a concrete figure. The speaker characterizes time as a father figure that “allows”(314) him to play and be young. He associates time with an adult who is supervising him and who has strict control of his life. Time was once on his side as he first adds “once below a time”(314).
As a child, he did not have to worry about time. Now, as an adult, he has resentment for time since it took him away from his carefree “childless land” (314). He is also sad that “Time allowed” (314) him to play and be free. He wanted to be in control of his own time. Throughout his life “Time held him green and dying”(314). He has now realized that his green life would run out of time and die, as sure enough as green grass dies, the days pass, and the sun rises over the east. Life could not carry on if it wasn’t for the existence of a supreme beingthat the speaker recalls in the poem.
He uses religious language and biblical allusions to depict his faith and what he believes in terms of life and death. In the beginning of the poem as he describes himself as a pebble in the “holy stream” (313). The speaker believes he is one piece in a large unending stream of life. The next use of biblical allusion also appears when the speaker encounters his turning point. He compares himself and his actions to the biblical figures Adam and Eve. In the Bible, these were the first two people who acquired knowledge by eating aforbidden fruit.
Life changing events would alter a child’s perspective of himself. “Fern Hill” is a poem about the realization of life and mortality that appears after an unexpected experience occurs. The speaker is moved to a greater wisdom about himself and the world around him. He realizes that the immortality he felt as a child was merely a step towards the unyielding movement of life towards death. Through the use of colour, time, and religious language readers develop an understanding for the speaker’s emotions, beliefs, and passage through life.