REVIEW: Miscellany One

I have a question. Are you meant to be able to understand Dylan Thomas or was his whole raison d’etre to be confusing and obscure?

In my quest to read more non-novels this year, I have just worked my way through Miscellany One, first published in 1963 (my version was 1976), that includes a selection of Thomas’s poetry, short stories and a couple of broadcast scripts.

It’s a slim volume of only 118 pages but it took me two days. I had particular difficulty with some of the poetry which, though I loved the imagery, I could make head nor tail of the overall meaning.

Not all of them. Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night I have read before, enjoyed and understood.

But take this for example:

The force that drives through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer.

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

That is the first verse of The Force that Drives the Green Fuse Drive the Flower, often cited as the poem that made Dylan Thomas famous. What does it mean?

I read it several times before I finally googled some sort of understanding but I’m still not sure whether or not I actually like it. No, actually I am sure. I want to like it… but I don’t.

I had better luck with the short stories although again, one that is lauded as one of his classics – The Map of Love – is, for me, just so full of metaphor that I struggle with it. I much preferred the other three included in this book, The Mouse and the Woman, The Visitor and The Followers, in which we see some humour.

But what I enjoyed the most about this book were the broadcasts at the end. Particularly Memories of Christmas, which includes such brilliantly evocative descriptions that you instantly recall your own childhood Christmases.

I don’t like reading things I don’t feel I understand properly – no one likes being made to feel stupid do they? even if it is in my own head rather than public stupidity. There was in Miscellany One, however, enough that I did a) comprehend and b) enjoy to keep me interested.

I do, though, think I am going to have to do more investigations about how to understand Dylan Thomas before I tackle Under Milkwood.

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