The sensual strut of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas

Ah, the “sensual strut” of Dylan Thomas! I can’t forget those words of his.

I couldn’t recall the poem where he wrote those words, so I searched Google and found it. It’s not one of his best known poems, but those two words from it – “sensual strut” – sum up the appeal of Dylan Thomas, at least to me.

He was sensual and sensuous, he revelled in words and the senses, writing about life and death and love and nature with an abandon that recalls the ecstasy of Blake and Whitman – but with a rush of words and images that’s like no other poet’s, that’s utterly his. Dylan Thomas is incomparable.

Tomorrow is his birthday. So I was reading his poems. Here is the poem where he mentions the “sensual strut”. It’s called Twenty-Four Years.

Twenty-Four Years
By Dylan Thomas

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance as long as forever is.

This poem is about the journey of life, beginning as a foetus. So I read when I wanted to find out what the poem was about. But you don’t have to look for explanations to be struck by the words and the images. You may or may not like the poem, but it is different and unusual.

Dylan Thomas did not live to old age. He was born on October 27, 1914, and he died on November 9, 1953. Maybe that’s why his poems are all the more exuberant, because he didn’t live long enough to write with the restraint of all passions spent.

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines

Many of his works appeared in print while he was still a teenager; however, it was the publication of “Light breaks where no sun shines” that caught the attention of the literary world, say Wikipedia and the Telegraph. He was only 19 when the poem appeared in The Listener. It is also one of his first poems that I read in a poetry anthology.

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines
By Dylan Thomas

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

I was in high school when I read Dylan Thomas for the first time. And I was blown away by his words and images. I wanted to read more of him. So when I found a copy of his poems in a library — possibly when I was in college — I brought it home and copied many of his poems into a notebook. There were no personal computers or laptops then. So I wrote them down. I named the notebook The Sensual Strut because those two words encompassed Dylan Thomas for me.

WB Yeats, TS Eliot and WH Auden may be more anthologized, more quoted, than Dylan Thomas. They wrote poems that seemed to capture the spirit of the 20th century. Yeats and Auden wrote poems about major events and Eliot captured the alienation of the age all too well. Dylan Thomas’ best known poems, with one or two exceptions, do not relate to any particular event or the zeitgeist. He wrote about life and death, love and nature, themes that are eternal and universal, and he will always have a piece of my heart. He hooked me when I was a schoolboy and he’s still got me after all these years.


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