Thomas, Dylan - Lament
Type of spiritual experience
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
In 1951 Thomas wrote a friend that the "Lament"#161 was nearly finished and it was published in that year. This remarkable poem tracing out five stages of a man's life, somewhat in the manner of the Solon's poem on the stages of human life, is in a much simpler format that, say" Sir John's Hill" with it wild sweeping ranged of meters and sounds. Here each stanza of the five is a modular copy in form of the first one, with the lines limited to four stresses each. This might remind one of his earlier metrical patterns from before the war, but everything is changed. The stanzas are laid out perfectly but not in an obtrusive way for the reader who may easily pass by some of the technique. Each first line of each stanza marks a decade or more of life., each third line in brackets is a reminiscence from when the final stanza ends. Each second line rhymes with each sixth, and the word coal and black pervade the texture of this verbal tapestry.
This is a highly acoustic poem, it simply must be read aloud to get the drift and sense of it. On the other hand a college professor standing at his lectern and reading the lines in his usual academic voice, will miss the drive and thrust of the poem entirely.
A description of the experience
When I was a windy boy and a bit
And the black spit of the chapel fold,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,
The rude owl cried like a tell-tale tit,
I skipped in a blush as the big girls rolled
Nine-pin down on donkey's common,
And on seesaw sunday nights I wooed
Whoever I would with my wicked eyes,
The whole of the moon I could love and leave
All the green leaved little weddings' wives
In the coal black bush and let them grieve.
When I was a gusty man and a half
And the black beast of the beetles' pews
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of bitches),
Not a boy and a bit in the wick-
Dipping moon and drunk as a new dropped calf,
I whistled all night in the twisted flues,
Midwives grew in the midnight ditches,
And the sizzling sheets of the town cried, Quick!-
Whenever I dove in a breast high shoal,
Wherever I ramped in the clover quilts,
Whatsoever I did in the coal-
Black night, I left my quivering prints.
When I was a man you could call a man
And the black cross of the holy house,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of welcome),
Brandy and ripe in my bright, bass prime,
No springtailed tom in the red hot town
With every simmering woman his mouse
But a hillocky bull in the swelter
Of summer come in his great good time
To the sultry, biding herds, I said,
Oh, time enough when the blood runs cold,
And I lie down but to sleep in bed,
For my sulking, skulking, coal black soul!
When I was half the man I was
And serve me right as the preachers warn,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of downfall),
No flailing calf or cat in a flame
Or hickory bull in milky grass
But a black sheep with a crumpled horn,
At last the soul from its foul mousehole
Slunk pouting out when the limp time came;
And I gave my soul a blind, slashed eye,
Gristle and rind, and a roarers' life,
And I shoved it into the coal black sky
To find a woman's soul for a wife.
Now I am a man no more no more
And a black reward for a roaring life,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of strangers),
Tidy and cursed in my dove cooed room
I lie down thin and hear the good bells jaw--
For, oh, my soul found a sunday wife
In the coal black sky and she bore angels!
Harpies around me out of her womb!
Chastity prays for me, piety sings,
Innocence sweetens my last black breath,
Modesty hides my thighs in her wings,
And all the deadly virtues plague my death!