Poem of the Month: ‘Poem in October’

‘And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.’

As it’s Dylan’s birthday on the 27th October, this month we’ve decided to look at one of Dylan’s birthday poems, ‘Poem in October’. According to Vernon Watkins, ‘Poem in October’ was first conceived in 1941 and had the opening line ‘It was my twenty-seventh year to heaven’. The final poem, completed in 1944, and published in Horizon magazine in February 1945 before appearing in Deaths and Entrances in 1946, had the altered line ‘It was my thirtieth year to heaven’.

Dylan wrote other birthday poems, ‘Twenty-four Years’ and ‘Poem on his Birthday’, but this one is also regarded by Dylan as his first ‘place poem’ (as he noted in a letter of 26 August 1944). Set in Laugharne, the poet walks to the top of the hill and from his vantage point sees the town mapped out below him. Here he is a witness to nature and the changing seasons. The repetition of the word ‘border’ demonstrates not only the physical but the metaphorical liminality of his situation; he is at the threshold between maturity and adolescence, the divide between summer and winter. There he can view and clearly remember the spring and summer of his youth, those reminiscences brought to the present as the tears of the ‘long dead child’ ‘burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.’

In a letter to Vernon Watkins of 30 August 1944, Dylan writes of the poem:  ‘it’s got, I think, a lovely slow lyrical movement.’ Indeed, the poem flows very easily, with variations in line length, run-on lines and single sentences occupying one or more stanzas. This apparently loose flow is, however, beautifully deceptive, as when you examine the structure and syllable patterns, both are technically tight and meticulous. Similarly, on first read there does not appear to be a regular rhyme scheme. Upon further examination, though, you note there is heavy use of assonance-vowel rhymes which add to the fluidity of the piece.

The poem finishes with the wish: ‘O may my heart’s truth/ Still be sung/ On this high hill in a year’s turning.’ With so many people and places celebrating Dylan’s words to this day, we can only hope he would view this as a wish fulfilled.

Katie Bowman, Dylan Thomas Centre

This post is also available in: Welsh