Poem In October by Dylan Thomas is about a man who has turned 30 and goes out to have a walk, reflecting on life. He reflects on how his inner child is now gone. “Year to heaven” could mean that he beliefs it is his thirtieth year in his journey to heaven. He first describes the harbour and the woods, which are by his house. On the shore, there is a heron, which is a black, elegant bird with long, thin legs. He describes the shore as “heron priested” probably meaning that it is nicer, just with the presence of the heron. The water is praying(personification). This is probably because of the heron because as a priest has to do with religion, the water is “praying”. Then he talks about other birds, “seagull and rook”. After describing the scene, the man goes out of his house, the town “still sleeping”(personification). The town is not sleeping, it is the people in it.
In the next stanza, we realize that, indeed, it is his birthday. He describes the trees as being “winged”. This gives an impression that the trees are alive, but they are not; they are probably being blown by the wind and moving, so they look as though they are flying. He says “trees flying my name”. Dylan, the name of the author, is welshed, and means tide or sea, so probably “flying my name” means that they are being blown by the tide. Then, he keeps on walking “in a shower of all my days”. This means that it is raining hard. The tide rises, and the heron dives into the water. Then, he turned (“I took the road over the border”) and the gates closed behind him, as the people awoke.
In this stanza, he talks about a “springful of larks in a rolling cloud”. Larks are birds, so this probably means that there is a large number of birds, flying all clustered together, so it looks like a cloud of birds which is “rolling”, because the birds are moving. At the roadside, there are “bushes brimming with whistling blackbirds”. This means that there is all along the roadside a line of bushes, with birds singing. It is sunny. He is on the “hill’s shoulder”, which means that he is at the top of the hill. He looks back, and sees the wood below him, with the “rain wringing”, meaning that the rain is making a sound. In the next stanza, he says that he pursued his birthday.
The poet expresses his joy at being alive and almost one with Nature which he reveres to the point of worship. [Note the use of religious verbs and nouns some of them created through poetic license such as “priested”, “praying”, “parables” and “chapels”.] he also seems to shun humanity and human companionship and instead seeks out nature. For instance, he leaves the town asleep and ventures out into the countryside. Note how cleverly he incorporates all of the four seasons into this poem. He mentions spring in “springful of larks”, summer in “the sun of October/ Summery/ On the hill’s shoulder” as well as in “the listening/Summertime of the dead” and ” It was my thirtieth/Year to heaven stood there than in the summer noon”. Autumn appears in “the town below lay leaved with October blood” and also in “I rose/ In rainy autumn/ And walked abroad in a shower of all my days”. Winter also gets a mention in “the rain wringing/ Wind blow cold/ In the wood faraway under me”. The four seasons are of course symbolic and represent different stages in life. Thomas considers that he is in the summer of his life on his thirtieth birthday and this is expressed as the peak of existence filled with joy and peace and still highlighted by the exuberance of youth which would of course be spring. Although his birthday is temporary in autumn, in his heart and mind and soul he basks in “the summer sun” while winter [old age/death] is “the rain wringing… faraway”.
Dylan Thomas’ love of Nature is reflected on two levels in this poem. The first and primary is the immediate setting of the poem. He wakes to the sounds of nature, he walks to the sights of nature and this prompts him into the second level which comprises a flashback to his childhood where he was also in communion with nature. he reflects that on this day and with this powerful connection to nature he can recall and feel with accuracy the emotions of his youth: “That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine”.
Thomas’ choice of words conveys a sense of wonderment and awe with the natural world. He says, “there I could marvel my birthday away” which suggests that he is content to just stay there forever and observe the weather and the view. That the “morning beckon(s)” the poet to set foot “that second”, as soon as he wakes up at dawn when the town is “still sleeping”, suggests a sense of purpose. The similes used to describe the town suggest that it is part of the natural environment, with its “sea wet church the size of a snail” and the castle that is “brown as owls”. The description of “the woods the river and the sea” without any commas also suggests that what the poet sees is all one, as if he is in a state of heightened awareness and all the elements of the environment blend into one another. The speaker “walked through a shower of all my days” which suggests that it is raining heavily. The alliterative aural image of “rain wringing” and assonant aural image of “wind blowing cold” perform the sound of heavy rain and the howling of the wind respectively.
Recollecting his childhood memories, Thomas tells of a time when “a boy (…) whispered the truth of his joy to the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide”. This again concerns the joys of beholding the “mystery” of nature. The speaker experiences the same mystery and joy he felt as a child, as it “sang alive still in the water and singing birds”.
The symbols and images of the natural world are used by Thomas to express how he feels about death and childhood. “Springful of larks in a rolling cloud” suggests that there are so many larks flying together that they appear to “roll” like a “cloud”. The same image is repeated in the next stanza as the poet stands “under the lark full cloud”.
Thank you for helping me understand, at least a little, a poem I’ve always loved for its music and imagery, but didn’t really understand.