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Comparing Loss in Thomas’s Fern Hill and Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Loss of Childhood in Thomas’ Fern Hill and Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Through the use of nature and time, Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” and William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” both address the agonizing loss of childhood. While Wordsworth recognizes that wisdom and experience recompense this loss(Poetry Criticism 370), Thomas views “life after childhood as bondage”(Viswanathan 286).

As “Fern Hill” progresses, Thomas’s attitude towards childhood changes from one of happiness and fulfillment to sadness and loss. In the first five stanzas of “Fern Hill,” Thomas uses nature as a pleasing memory of childhood, but in the last stanza his memories of nature during childhood reveal what he has lost. In this last stanza, Thomas, instead of reveling in the memory of childhood, can conjure only pain. The metamorphosis of the words “green” and “gold” through his poem, ranging in connotation from freshness to decay, helps to convey Thomas’s perceived loss of innocence and insouciance. Thomas initially personifies Time as “Golden” in line 5; time views Thomas as “prince of the apple towns,” (line 6) worthy of the riches nature has to offer. Thomas again refers to “green and golden” in line 10: “green and carefree…” to describe himself as young and blessed. The ironic statement: “green and golden I was huntsman…calves sang to my horn,”(line 15) demonstrates the power childhood gives him. A horn traditionally “sings” to another object, but Thomas’s calves sing to his horn demonstrating that childhood bestows power unattainable at any other stage of life. Thomas as an adult lacks power to do the unexpected because childhood’s magic can no longer create these kinds of illusions. The power of childhood imag…

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…ord “sang” suggests that Thomas ultimately accepts adulthood, even though he does so reluctantly. Thus, while Thomas seems to make “a hell out of heaven”(Paradise Lost line 255), Wordsworth is able to regress to childhood in his mind and heart and still maintain adult reason and rationality. Wordsworth’s new found knowledge and understanding of mortality will no longer allow his fear of mortality and adulthood to impede him from “living.”

Although Thomas and Wordsworth are both sorrowful at the loss of childhood, Wordsworth’s ability to recognize the rewards of adulthood– knowledge, experience, and a philosophical mind larger than any child’s– makes his poem more of a guide to living than Thomas’s. Thomas, in his regretful acceptance of age, feels “old at being young”; Wordsworth, on the other hand, enlightens the reader on how to feel “young at being old.”

Yeats’ Leda and the Swan and Van Duyn’s Leda

Yeats’ Leda and the Swan and Van Duyn’s Leda

In Greek mythology, Leda, a Spartan queen, was so beautiful that Zeus, ruler of the gods, decided he must have her. Since immortals usually did not present themselves to humankind in their divine forms, Zeus changed himself into a great swan and in that shape ravished the helpless girl (Carey 58-59). Both William Butler Yeats and Mona Van Duyn base their poems “Leda and the Swan” and “Leda,” respectively, on this story of a “mystic marriage.” Yeats’ focus on the sexual act itself, along with his allusions to Leda’s progeny, manifest a grave and terrifying tone. While he raises Leda to a status similar to that of Mary, mother of Jesus, Van Duyn portrays Leda as a universal mother. By making both figures, Leda and Zeus, ordinary, she gives a “surprising twist” (Greiner 337) to the original myth, emphasized by her witty tone. In addition, whereas Yeats suggests that Leda has gained something from her encounter with Zeus, Van Duyn asserts that she has gained nothing, portraying women in general as primarily objects of men’s satisfaction.

Yeats begins his poem by concentrating on the mere depiction of the rape scene. Words such as “beating, dark, helpless,” and “terrified” provide this violent act of intrusion with negative connotations. The victim, Leda, is helpless against the power of the aggressor, Zeus, and terrified by his actions. Recalling the original Greek myth, Yeats clearly shows Leda’s resistance at every step (“staggering girl,” “helpless breast,” “terrified vague fingers push”). Zeus’ relationship with Leda parallels human interaction in general with either Satan or God. In Christianity, the prevailing religion of Yeats’ time, pious men attempt to push away …

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…f violence, and underlying religious motif. Overall, Yeats instills fear into the reader, while Van Duyn elicits an occasional laugh; however, both poems are equally effective, one for its religious message and the other for its man bashing.

Works Cited

Barnhart, Clarence L. and Robert K. The World Book Dictionary. Chicago:Doubleday, 1985.

Carey, Gary. Cliffs Notes on Mythology. Lincoln: C.K. Hillegass, 1973.

Greiner, Donald J. “American Poets since World War II.” Dictionary of LiteraryBiographies. Detroit:Doubleday, 1980.

Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry . New York: Noonday, 1995.

Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey of Poetry. Engelwood Cliffs: Salem Press, 1982. Vol. 7

“Torah: The Five Books of Moses.” Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication

Society, 1985.

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