Once Below a Time

My Welsh copy of Peter Rabbit isn’t my only souvenir of Wales. I’ve actually been to Wales twice. The second time was when I was in grad school and writing a thesis on the Anglo-Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Thomas  is now known mostly as the author of the radio play Under Milk Wood and the children’s story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” as well as his most famous poem,”Fern Hill.” In the ’50s, Thomas was like a rock star, travelling the world giving readings to swarming fans. He still has a lot of fans though, and I was lucky enough to take part in the inaugural year of the Dylan Thomas School, a 2-week gathering in Wales of Thomas scholars and general afficionados. There were seminars and guest speakers, including Thomas’s daughter (who sounds eerily like a female version of her father) and Sir George Martin (of Beatles fame), who was working on a new production of Under Milk Wood starring another Welshman, Anthony Hopkins. We also got to go on some day trips, some of which were Thomas-related, such as the town where he was buried and where his writing shack still stands, overlooking the ocean, and, of course, the famous Fern Hill, the family farm that inspired the poem.

So this is my other souvenir of Wales. It’s a piece of fern from Fern Hill. From the “dingle,” to be specific.

And if you don’t know it, this is the poem:

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking
warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

–Dylan Thomas

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