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The dynamic ‘force’ that drives man and nature is now spoken of as ‘the hand’ that controls (‘ropes’) both the wind that blows about the world and the ship of death, so to speak, that the poet sails (‘my shroud sail’) in his mortality. “(John Ackerman p. 79) The hand that whirls the water in the pool Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind Hauls my shroud sail. And I am dumb to tell the hanging man How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.
In the poem ‘Especially When The October Wind’ we see again the ties that Thomas had with man and the natural world, also intertwined in the themes of childhood innocence and sexuality. In this poem Thomas glorifies the life that he observes in Swansea with images of children playing in the park with their present innocence; “star-gestured children”, while also saying that they will not be innocent for long; “Of many thorny shire tell your notes”.
Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark On the horizon walking like the trees The wordy shapes of women, and the rows.
Of the star-gestured children in the park. Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches, Some of the oaken voices, from the roots Of many a thorny shire tell you notes, Some let me make you of the water’s speeches. This theme of fading childhood innocence is also seen in the poem ‘Fern Hill’, where in the beginning line it sates: Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs Using the biblical symbol of the apple to show innocence, and then in the last stanza stating that ageing is naturally breaking free of the ‘chains’ of innocence:
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.
Back to ‘Especially When The October Wind’ where Thomas refers to his heart as feminine, drawing out an underlying sexual subtext: My busy heart who shudders as she talks Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words. Here we see the influence of the religion on Thomas, as we see a biblical reference to sexuality being a sin, while at the same time calling it natural: Behind a post of ferns the wagging clock.
Tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning And tells the windy weather in the cock. Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs; The signal grass that tells me all I know Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye. Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins. In September 1933 while the work for 18 Poems was being written, Thomas was starting to correspond with a woman by the name of Pamela Hansford Johnson, who had contacted him after reading some of his work in the London newspaper The Sunday Referee.
Frequent letters between the two made them feel quite close, and when they finally did meet in February 1934, they spent a night together drinking at Ms. Johnson’s house, feeling instantly comfortable around each other. Thomas and Johnson held a steady relationship with one another for two years (inspiring the sexual references often found the 18 Poems) until it finally ended when Johnson became tired of the thoughtless and unreliable side of Thomas. Thomas was now living in London pursuing publishers, when in December 1934, 18 Poems was finally published.
Sexuality is a major theme that is explored by Dylan Thomas throughout his works. We see this theme emerge in such works as: ‘If I Were Tickled By The Rub Of Love’, ‘My Hero Bares His Nerves’, ‘Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines’, ‘early notebooks’, and ‘Twenty-four Years’. Many of Thomas’s early poems revolve around sexual themes, either in a romantic sense or directly sexual. An early poem entitled ‘Cabaret’ written when Thomas was just sixteen years old shows the romantic sexuality of Thomas’s writing: I poor romantic, held her heel Upon the island of my palm,
And saw towards her tiny face Going her glistering calves that minute. There was a purpose in her pointed foot; Her thighs and underclothes were sweet, And drew my spiral breath… The band was playing on the balcony. In this poem we see the romantic sexuality of Dylan Thomas, where he is with a girl and he is explaining the experience and feeling that he sees in her pleasure. He is focused on her feelings, rather than of his own as seen in ‘My Hero Bares His Nerves’: My hero bares his nerves along my wrist That rules from wrist to shoulder,
Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost, Leans on my mortal ruler, The proud spine spurning turn and twist. This is a poem taken from 18 Poems; at first glance it is about internal growth and confidence, or so I thought. Until I was corrected by the literary criticism of John Ackerman where he states: “Initially a more obscure poem, until we realize its theme is masturbation, perhaps not a surprising preoccupation in a sexually and poetically precocious adolescent boy, for the themes of sexual love and poetic inspiration from the subtext that emerges in the second stanza”.
And these poor nerves so wired to the skull Ache on the lovelorn paper I hug to love with my unruly scrawl That utters all love hunger And tells the page the empty ill. The poem goes from his own body (masturbation), to his fantasy of love, although natural to the human body, Thomas feels alone; as in religion, sexuality is seen as a sin. My hero bares my side and sees his heart Tread; like a naked Venus, The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait; Stripping my loin of promise, He promises a secret heart.
My point is further proven through Ackerman where he writes: “In the final stanza the phallus is referred to as ‘wire’, a more commonplace term than ‘hero’; celebrating the sexual activity with physical and religious ambiguities (two ‘knaves of thieves’ clearly referring both to the testicles and the two thieves crucified alongside Christ – who came to redeem man from death, the ‘mortal error’).
(John Ackerman p73) Another poem that shows a sexual theme in a religious shadow is ‘If I Were Tickled By The Rub Of Love’.
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