Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Thomas’s poetic telling of his childhood memories of Christmas in early twentieth-century Wales is one of the classics of the literature. Dylan Thomas’s writing, here, though not really a poem in form, is infused with the same vivid, sensory imagery that makes him one of my favorite poets.  For instance, near the beginning of the book, he captures a quintessential boyhood experience.

Thomas leaves no sense unfurled here, and while some might dismiss his work as nostalgic sentimentality, the beauty and wonder of his depiction of a Christmas celebration that is not overshadowed by consumerism stirs up a storm of possibilities in the imagination. May all of our Christmas celebrations this year be full of the frivolity and child-like joy that Thomas poignantly recalls here.

Like his poetry, 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' does not have a narrative structure but contains several descriptive passages designed to create an emotive sense of nostalgia. The story is told from the viewpoint of the author recounting a festive season as a young boy in a fictionalised autobiographical style. In the first passage Thomas searches for a nostalgic Western belief in Christmas past with the line, It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. He furthers the idyllic memory of childhood past by describing the snow as being better and more exciting than the snow that is experienced as an adult. The prose is comedic with exaggerated characters, used either for comedic effect or to show how childhood memories are enlarged due to youthful interpretation.


"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."

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