Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If My Head Hurt a Hair's Foot (and a contest)

by Dylan Thomas

'If my head hurt a hair's foot
Pack back the downed bone. If the unpricked ball of my breath
Bump on a spout let the bubbles jump out.
Sooner drop with the worm of the ropes round my throat
Than bully ill love in the clouted scene.

'All game phrases fit your ring of a cockfight:
I'll comb the snared woods with a glove on a lamp,
Peck, sprint, dance on fountains and duck time
Before I rush in a crouch the ghost with a hammer, air,
Strike light, and bloody a loud room.

'If my bunched, monkey coming is cruel
Rage me back to the making house. My hand unravel
When you sew the deep door. The bed is a cross place.
Bend, if my journey ache, direction like an arc or make
A limp and riderless shape to leap nine thinning months.'

'No. Not for Christ's dazzling bed
Or a nacreous sleep among soft particles and charms
My dear would I change my tears or your iron head.
Thrust, my daughter or son, to escape, there is none, none, none,
Nor when all ponderous heaven's host of waters breaks.

'Now to awake husked of gestures and my joy like a cave
To the anguish and carrion, to the infant forever unfree,
O my lost love bounced from a good home;
The grain that hurries this way from the rim of the grave
Has a voice and a house, and there and here you must couch and cry.

'Rest beyond choice in the dust-appointed grain,
At the breast stored with seas. No return
Through the waves of the fat streets nor the skeleton's thin ways.
The grave and my calm body are shut to your coming as stone,
And the endless beginning of prodigies suffers open.'

* * *

This poem was sent to me by Meredith. Unfortunately Dylan Thomas has never made a whole lot of sense to me: the general gist I get, but many of the individual metaphors puzzle me.

Meredith's explanation: "Basically it's a dialogue: the child speaks in the first three stanzas, and then the mother answers. The child says that if he's going to cause his mother so much trouble, he'd rather not be born at all, but the mother comes back and tells the child to be born and live and rest in her arms."

Thanks, Meredith!

All right, having posted all the poems for unborn children that I can find, I still want more. Time for a contest! The theme is unborn children -- by, about, and to them. You can write in any form, including those we've done on here before -- sonnets, ballades, triolets. It can be serious or funny (or both). Leave them in the comment box or email to enchiridion1 at yahoo dot com.


some guy on the street said...

Thus through three seasons,
Swiftly stirring, quickening;
Live, love. Heaven, help!

Please don't let this silly haiku win by default!

Warren said...

It seems obvious after you explain it, but I found it all very dense and difficult. Like the jerking arrhythmic motion of a camcorder zoomed way too far in. A nice effect, if you can manage it, but not pleasant. Perhaps, he means the reading of the poem to as discomforting as the travail of the new mother.


Sheila said...

That may be. But in my experience, Dylan Thomas is like that a lot. He just isn't my cup of tea, generally.

I've seen his writing made into centos by other people, however, to good effect. That's because he uses great words and phrases -- it's only his larger structure that seems to break down.

Enbrethiliel said...


A poem about an unborn child? I'll really have to think about this!

Meredith said...

One thing about Dylan Thomas: it helps to hear him reading his own poems. He had an extraordinary voice, and he attracted huge crowds at all of his readings. I didn't really go crazy over him until I listened to a CD of his poetry... at which point I became a pathetic groupie. ^_^ The effect of reading the poem on paper vs. listening to the words break across your startled and delighted consciousness is very different! As you listen, it is less like watching a jerky, zoomed-in image than like watching a painter starting to work... first laying down a wash of yellow, then some grey at the bottom, then going back and putting some red in the yellow and some blue in the grey, then some red in the grey, and frenetic little strokes of white... and eventually you see definite forms of a harbor and a sunset and fishing boats emerging. This one is quite obscure at first, especially for the first half, but I think it's probably because of what you said, Warren: the poem is supposed to be difficult as the birth of the child is difficult.

And Sheila, there are actually fewer than twenty of his poems that I think are really great, because of the problems with overall structure! His really good poems have a hidden key or "underthought" (to borrow Hopkins) which ties together all the odd phrases. But it took him years to get to that point, and most of his poems are interesting explosions.

(I've kept working on my Dylan Thomas/Lotr cento, by the way, and I think I've removed some of the unnecessary material. I certainly haven't added anything! When I wrote it, I went on a total binge and I think I hunted down every Tolkienesque line in Thomas's work. Which was not good for my mental stability, even if it improved DT's comprehensibility. ^_^ )

I will try and contribute a poem, but I don't know how I will call on my limited experience! Still, Dylan Thomas didn't let the trifling fact of his masculinity stand in the way... I can't let him outdo me!

Sheila said...

Hey, don't feel bad -- I'm having the experience right now and can't think of a thing to write! I'm going to leave a nice long time for this poem contest as we all wait for inspiration ... hope no one forgets it altogether!