Sunday, December 18, 2016

Poetry Sunday

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh many years ago, one of our Christmas traditions was listening to our parents' recording of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading his marvelous prose poem A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's a very long poem, too long to risk boring you to death if you decide you don't like it, and so I've decided to feature today not the whole poem, but an excerpt that will give you a feel for the whole thing. It's always been special to me, and I hope it will be special to you as well ...

Excerpt from "A Child's Christmas in Wales"
by Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner
now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a
moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and
six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights
when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong
moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-
edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever
I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at
the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden,
waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.
December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But
there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to
snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and
snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-
eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off
Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise
cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal
snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's first cry
from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the
far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice
grew louder.
"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and
smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and
Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all
the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with
snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there
after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle
of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong.
"They won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."
There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the
middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.
"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we
missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.
"Let's call the police as well," Jim said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he
likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in
helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they
turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen
turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss
Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to
hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the
three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and
dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds
the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang
and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp
front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English
and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse,
when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a
small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it
down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white
wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted
out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of
the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled on
the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn
Christmas cards."

You can hear Dylan Thomas reading the whole of A Child's Christmas in Wales here.

Have a good day, and be festive - Christmas is one week from today!

More thoughts tomorrow.



Hell Hound said...

That's a great poem!

Mike said...

10 more votes for the AE.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

It's a long poem; but it's worth reading in its entirety as D. T. would have wished.