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Recurring Motifs In Fern Hill

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Eventually, in adulthood, the rosy illusions of childhood are stripped away and an individual must confront the world of experience, the fallen world. Although there may be regret for what is lost, the garden gate is shut fast and there is no way to go back. As with all themes of significance, the inevitable “fall from grace” has been explored extensively in myths, literature and art. Nowhere is this theme more articulately explored than in Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Fern Hill”. In its allusions to the myth of Eden and its personification of time, “Fern Hill” suggests that the transient bliss of childhood arises from an ignorance of mortality.

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To begin, the theme is illustrated through the poem’s numerous references to the Biblical tale of Eden. A direct allusion to the story expresses the intense joy of the speaker’s childhood: “[I]t was all/Shining, it was Adam and maiden” (30). As Adam and Eve dwell joyously in God’s sacred Garden, so does the speaker romp amongst the “fields of praise” (36) and “holy streams” (18) of his own youthful utopia. In a close parallel to the Biblical protagonists, the poem’s speaker resides in harmony with all living things; he is “blessed among stables” and “honoured among foxes” (14). God pronounces Adam the master of nature and the speaker, a “prince of the apple towns” (6), is likewise lord of all living things; at his command, “the trees and leaves/Trail with daisies and barley/Down the rivers of the windfall light” (7-9). However, like the idyll of Adam and Eve, the speaker’s bliss is doomed to fail, for all “children green and golden” (44) must at last fall “out of grace” (45). It is their very ignorance of this doom which allows the inhabitants of Eden and the speaker in “Fern Hill” to experience their briefly ecstatic experience; they may run their “heedless ways” (40) and play “young and carefree under the apple boughs” (1), but only so long as those apples remain untasted. It is evident, therefore, that the poet’s allusions to Eden support the dominant theme of the poem.

In addition, time plays a substantial role in developing the central idea of the poem. Personified as a magnanimous overlord, Time graciously grants the speaker an untroubled childhood, allowing him to “hail and climb/Golden in the heydays of [Time’s] eyes (4-5). It is “below a time” (7) that the speaker’s youthful frolics take place, and because this benevolent despot is a gentle killer, children are permitted to be “[g]olden in the mercy of his means” (14). Yet despite his compassion, Time is inexorable; his “tuneful turning” (43) never halts, sweeping away the “morning songs” (43) of youth. Without warning, he will “fly with the high fields” (50), carrying off the “house high hay” (41) of childhood, together with childhood’s transitory joy.

For the speaker can only be “young and easy” (52) while the “mercy of [Time’s] means” (52) leaves him unaware of his inescapable mortality. Though cast “green and dying” (53) into the arms of Time, his merciful master renders the speaker oblivious to his wretched state; he sings in his chains “like the sea” (54), because he does not know he is bound. Thus, the personification of Time is instrumental in imparting the poem’s underlying theme.

In conclusion, through two significant recurring motifs, Dylan Thomas illustrates his belief that the fugitive bliss of childhood springs from an ignorance of death. Like Adam and Eve, the speaker experiences a fall from grace; he is exiled to grim reality, forever banished from the land of innocence that is childhood. After his fall from grace, the speaker contemplates his joyous past and comes to the realization that he has been “green and dying” (53) all along. In a poem of great beauty, Thomas renders a speaker who sings even though he is mortal.

18 March 2020

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