Friday, August 3, 2007

Heroes - #2

Dylan Thomas

By the time I was hormonally well syncopated with the clammy, rhythmic grip of adolescence, it was no longer cool (in my mind, anyway) to idolize mere athletes. The wrong type of girls—the ones with trowelled on make-up and bouffant hair-dos which were varnished into breeze-proof helmets by frequent applications of hairspray—admired those conceited jerks. Swaggering through the halls of the high school, the jocks lorded it over the rest of us, receiving unwarranted female adulation in return for their moronic posturing, preening, arm-punching displays. I was made of more sensitive stuff than that. The female companion for whom I yearned was a reader of Shelley and Keats, a sensitive soul who would understand the hellish agonies of my unquenchable and perpetual horniness and turn it into a thing of beauty: I would become a poet.

I’m not too sure how I first encountered my second hero and role model, Dylan Thomas, but I think that it must have been in the Modern Poetry anthology that was required for my AP English course. Thomas was represented therein by several of his better-known works. It was probably the hard-driving cadence of his perfect villanelle, the magnificent Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, that first hooked me. The sheer bravado of this endgame challenge, or desperate plea, for the beloved father to howl in the face of death, to go down, as they say, kicking and screaming, was very attractive to the nascent rebelliousness of a mid-western “good boy,” yearning to be a man.

But surely, it was it was the urgently hydraulic and conspicuously phallic message of The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower that alerted me to the irresistible mixture of sex, death, and sheer joy that the drives the best of Thomas’ poems. That he died tragically young; that he died of drink; that he had a reputation as a rake, did nothing to hurt his appeal, on the cusp, as we were, of the Eisenhower years and the ‘Sixties. If not for the photograph of the young Dylan Thomas displayed here, I may well never have started smoking.

For all that, it was the final lines of what I considered to be his greatest poem, Fern Hill, which conquered me utterly. Dylan Thomas taught me, at that most difficult age, what my essential nature was, where I was inevitably bound, and how I should conduct myself during the brief interim of my journey:

"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."

The patent and eternal Truth of those words left me no choice but to believe.