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The Use of Aesthetic Symbols and Imagery in the Poems of Dylan Thomas

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The Use of Aesthetic Symbols and Imagery in the Poems of Dylan Thomas Dr. Usha Jain Asst. Professor, Dept. of English Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Govt. Arts & Comm. College, Indore & Lekha Rani Singh Asst.
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The Use of Aesthetic Symbols and Imagery in the Poems of Dylan Thomas Dr. Usha Jain Asst. Professor, Dept. of English Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Govt. Arts & Comm. College, Indore & Lekha Rani Singh Asst. Professor, Amity Law School- Centre II (ALS-II) Amity University Noida India Abstract The study of the poetry of Dylan Thomas is incomplete if symbolism is not read or studied in depth with all its nuances. Welsh poets like Vernon Watkins, Euros Bowen and Dylan Thomas were drawn towards the aesthetics of symbolism. An essay by M. Wynn Thomas in the A Yearbook of Critical Essays played a vital role in attracting the attention of these writers. Thomas familiarity with the French symbolists is obvious as he chose symbolism as his medium of expression. His urge to explore the inner essence to realise the true nature of human existence and achieve the aesthetic element is evident and in his keen observation and impeccable use of symbols. He is incomparable as a British symbolist. The insights from Eliot and Yeats also played pivotal role in shaping Thomas symbolist engineering in his poetry. Imagery is another literary device which is dexterously employed by the poet for adding the imaginative value in his poetry along with symbolism. The impact of the Christian symbols and images founds profound expression in his poetry. Dylan Thomas gave huge significance to the use of imagery and for understanding his poetry it is necessary to understand his imagery. Thomas s vibrant imagery comprised of fractured syntax, word play and personal symbolism. Thomas was an ingenious language-changer who created the English language into an opulently creative blend of imagery, rhythm and literary allusion; like Shakespeare, Hopkins, Joyce and Dickens. 450 Introduction The famous poet, short story writer, critic Edgar Allan Poe pioneered symbolism in poetry. Symbolism is a literary movement which originated in France. The term symbol broadly signifies something therefore every word is a symbol. The study of the poetry of Dylan Thomas is incomplete if symbolism is not read or studied in depth with all its nuances. Poetry of Dylan Thomas is indeed like a musical evocation of moods, vague, subtle and evanescent. The idea in Thomas poetry, compliment the rhythmic association of words which is of par excellence. In literature the Symbolist Movement began with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe s poems: The Raven, Ulalume, Lenore, The Haunted Palace etc. which turned out to be a landmark for other symbolist poets. The movement was developed and found its full articulation in 60 s and 70 s. The writers of 80 s were extremely impressed and influenced by the aesthetics developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine. Jean Moréas was first to coin the term symbolist and later the entire western thought before Freud tried to explore the intricacies of aesthetics through symbolism based on intuitive, instincts and suggestions. Welsh poets like Vernon Watkins, Euros Bowen and Dylan Thomas were drawn towards the aesthetics of symbolism. An essay by M. Wynn Thomas in the A Yearbook of Critical Essays (1995) played a vital role in attracting the attention of these writers. The impact of the French Symbolism is also obvious in their works especially in the works of Bowen and Watkins. Dylan Thomas happens to be a welsh poet but followed the English tradition with the characteristic European touch. Dylan Thomas was not much acquainted with French so only through the translations and critical works in English he could comprehend the French Symbolism. His sources were all second hand yet from his work the continental influence is apparent. The poet himself refers to his works as: the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive . Thomas intense sensitivity towards the portrayal of nature while using the aesthetic devices of the French symbolists as well as his wide vision which transcends the mundane makes it inevitable for him to develop the symbols which profoundly evoke his experience and thought process in his poetry. Thomas familiarity with the French symbolists is obvious as he chose symbolism as his medium of expression. His urge to explore the inner essence to realise the true nature of human existence and achieve the aesthetic element is evident and in his keen observation and impeccable use of symbols s witnessed poets uncanny use of symbols. During this period he created the poetry par excellence. Although the impact of the French symbolists is 451 eminent on his creative work yet he was never dependent on any of the symbolist for his vision that leaves his readers spellbound. The mood and the synaesthesia depicted in the poetry of Dylan Thomas carries an undercurrent of the eminent French symbolists. Both Baudelaire and Thomas translate the hieroglyphics of nature through their poetry. The iconic representation of nature in Baudelaire is achieved in the Thomas poetry too but Thomas had his own journey to reach to the pinnacle of Baudelaire. Therefore he is incomparable as a British symbolist. The insights from Eliot and Yeats also played pivotal role in shaping Thomas symbolist engineering in his poetry. Imagery is another literary device which is dexterously employed by the poet for adding the imaginative value in his poetry along with symbolism. Imagery works on all the human senses like taste, touch, sight, smell and sound and helps to evoke the feeling of virtual reality in his poetry. The inevitability of the sensory perception in a creative work by passionate use of images, kinesthetic, organic or subjective imagery enhances the depth and vividness of the world which helps the reader to connect the subjective experience of the author to his own. Imagery has lots of significance in literature, the poets, playwrights and novelists use imagery for many reasons. The main use of imagery in a work of literature is to create mood. To help the readers understand the fictitious world, an author can use imagery and the details of imagery frequently can be read symbolically. To understand the mood and the symbolism in a piece while examining literature it is essential to consider the imagery used. Strong forms of imagery use metaphors to convey ideas. Poem in October is an autobiographical poem of Dylan Thomas written to celebrate his thirtieth birthday. Dylan at this stage wanted the beauty of nature to sip into the core of his being. He describes his leisurely walk towards the hills from the dock and this unhurried walk in the beautiful natural landscape gives him plenty of time to observe and articulate the natural beauty that surrounds him which is symbolic as the upward movement depicts the journey of his life and the simple pleasures of life which made this symbolic journey so beautiful and the climax is when he arrives at the top of the hill which is the culmination of his youth to maturity and the wisdom gained can be compared to the wonder of summer. The first two stanzas of the poem explore the delight of youthfulness as implied in the lines: A springful of larks in a rolling. The praise of the Almighty and the love of man is the essential subject in the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Poem in October is a poem about the poetic art. In the poem the poet while going on a morning walk visualizes the true joy of his youth which is being recycled into 452 poetry. It was his thirtieth year to heaven; he asserts this, while leaving Laugharne. Here heaven may signify God. He salutes God for his existence as he commemorates his birthday in Poem in October: It was my thirtieth Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon Though the town below lay leaved with October blood. O may my heart's truth Still be sung On this high hill in a year's turning. (65-70) The tone of the poem is incantatory and the waves presume the shape of a prayer and on the holy shore the mussels and the heron are working as the priests of the ceremony who are blessing the parishioners. In the poems of Dylan Thomas the heron is a symbol of holiness of thought. Therefore the nature is transcendent by the poet. Another meaning of Dylan is high tide. It appears as if the morning is inviting him as he was rechristened on his birthday. Dylan Thomas poems usually appeals to the readers aesthetically more if they are listening to his recorded readings even if they do not follow the meaning because of the language which is very musical, attractive, significant and sacramental. The syllabic meter has been used artistically in Poem in October. This poem reflects so many colours which show that Thomas is an artist who uses his words as a paint box and his paper as a palette which appeals to the readers aesthetically. The theme of Poem in October is the joy of childhood, symbolic of the poet s original creative power, and the recapturing of that joy, symbolic of the renewing of that creative power. The child is used as a symbol. The symbols in this poem are all related to nature and have an aesthetic appeal. The poet is talking about the change in the season s, morning time, hills, water, gardens and clouds which are the parts of nature and gives a soothing feeling to everyone and pleases our senses. From the beginning till the end the poet has expressed nature beautifully. The poet begins the first stanza by requesting his father not to be gentle on death. He asks his father to fight against death with great force and passion and not to accept it quietly. The word night symbolises death and in the first line, the word good night refer to a good death and the poet motivates his father to defy death in a gentle way. Burn and rave are often related with the passion of youth; here the poet wants the old people to sing passionately. In the second line, Close of day symbolises approaching death. 453 The use of the word rage in Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night illustrates the poet urging his father to have a strong confrontation with death: Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (1-3) In Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night the fifth stanza is about the attitude of grave men: Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (13-15) Here the word grave has two meaning, seriousness and death. These men have realised that although they have become weak and are losing their sight, even then they can use their vigour to fight against death. Symbolically speaking, though their eyes are going blind, they can see with an irresistible conviction or blinding sight. The blinding sight here symbolises Thomas s father who had lost his sight. Therefore, these men know that they are going to die, so before leaving the world they want to see as much as they can. They believe that instead of dying in blindness, they can blaze like meteors which symbolises living life with full intensity. The form of the villanelle comes from a choral dance song; it has refrain and self-made lyrics in each stanza. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night is a masterpiece of contrasts in all its aspects. The use of simple language and the classic subject matter of death are created into a complex structure which Dylan Thomas shapes to perfection. This contradiction is highlighted by the structure of the poem, a gentle, happy villanelle rhythm dealing with a gloomy topic. The passion and the theme of the poem are powerfully communicated by recurring use of repetition and poetic devices which appeals to our senses. The poem Ceremony After a Fire Raid deals with the death of a new-born baby in an air raid. It was written in 1945 and published in Thomas s Deaths and Entrances in 1946.The theme of the poem is the death of the innocent infant in war who got totally burnt in the arms of its mother. The poem is written into three parts having a different structure for each part: the first part is having grief and a confessional prayer, the second part describes the significance of this death and the third part ends with a song of glory and joy. 454 In Ceremony After a Fire Raid, the religious experience and symbolism becomes apparent as the poem progresses: Forgive Us forgive Us your death that myselves the believers (17-19) To give significance to the death of this child, which took place in a worldly awful destructive war; the poet employs the biblical imagery and the symbols of the Christian ritual and theology. The child s death symbolically obtains some attributes of Christ s death and gives enlightenment to the difficulty of death in the life of humans; but Dylan Thomas is not giving a sermon, he is just taking pleasure in using these words, images and symbols for emotionally elevating this poem and to please the readers aesthetically. Even though the Christian images and symbols are used, but death is seen from a different viewpoint in the poem. Thomas s cultural background, his linguistic and mythological world is shown by the use of these religious elements in his poetry, according to his subjectivity they are reinterpreted and combined with some other non-christian elements and instead of using them for religious purpose they are used for philosophical and aesthetic purposes. The death of an individual is transformed by Thomas into a symbol of mythological significance in Ceremony After a Fire Raid. The impact of the Christian symbols and images founds profound expression in his poetry. Thomas transfigures the death of a person into a symbol of mythological importance in Ceremony After a Fire Raid. His aesthetic sense is reflected through his use of imagery. In order to celebrate the dead, he uses the Christian images and rituals, illustrating the significance of a dead person for a living person and how to deal with the fact of the death of the other person. A sense of harmony is expressed by Thomas for the dead one, giving a feeling that the death of the other person directly affects the living person. He beautifies Death by attributing it as a sense of spirituality. Fern Hill is the most famous poem of Dylan Thomas which was initially included in Deaths and Entrances published in The poem uses vibrant imagery and lyrical language to remember the joyful phase of childhood. The poem is about youth and reminiscence of childhood and it tells about a period of life when the idea of age is inconceivable. The poem is made of six nine-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme abcddabcd. In Fern Hill time is personified. Time let me hail and climb / Golden in the heydays of his eyes, (4-5) and Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means, (13-14) 455 Thomas creates imagery by expressing a feeling of freedom from the reality of time; the speaker of the poem is young and ignorant of the momentary nature of time. Thomas was inspired by Donne for the use of imagery and it appears that from him Thomas obtained the facet of the principle of correspondences which became an essential base of his symbolism. Some of Thomas s imagery appears to emerge precisely in the view of man as a small world and much of Thomas symbolism can be significantly illustrated in terms of a mystical communication between the spiritual world and the earthly world. In the poem A Saint About to Fall , Thomas views a religious meaning into the natural phenomenon of birth and the body, where it looks like that the mother s womb resembles heaven, the birth of a child to the fall of a saint from heaven and the nutritive liquid of the placenta to manna. In the poem Altar wise by Owl-light , it appears that the bone and blades of the spine and ribs of the standing man signify the Jacob s Ladder to heaven. Conclusion Dylan Thomas gave huge significance to the use of imagery and for understanding his poetry it is necessary to understand his imagery. Thomas s vibrant imagery comprised of fractured syntax, word play and personal symbolism. The poetic imagery of Thomas demonstrates the use of a combination of numerous techniques, such as the imagistic, surrealistic and metaphysical being the most important. Along with these, his study of Shakespeare and other English poets and the Bible are also the basis of his imagery. Semantic violations in poetry is also done by Dylan Thomas to build peculiar but appealing aesthetic images, like the use of phrase a grief ago in the poem A Grief Ago. By using the word grief with ago, to create poetic effect Thomas added the characteristic of time-span to the word grief ; though the noun phrase is abnormal, it induces some emotions. The natural phenomenon of life and birth through the use of images is portrayed aesthetically by Thomas in his poetry. Thomas was an ingenious language-changer who created the English language into an opulently creative blend of imagery, rhythm and literary allusion; like Shakespeare, Hopkins, Joyce and Dickens. 456 References: Thomas, Dylan. Poem in October. PoemHunter.com. PoemHunter.com, 3 Jan Web. 27 June Thomas, Dylan. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. PoemHunter.com. PoemHunter.com, 3 Jan Web. 27 June Thomas, Dylan. Ceremony After a Fire Raid. PoemHunter.com. PoemHunter.com, 30 March Web. 27 June Thomas, Dylan. Fern Hill. PoemHunter.com. PoemHunter.com, 3 Jan Web. 27 June
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