Structure And Sound In The Poetry Of Dylan Thomas


When Dylan Thomas hits his rhyming stride, often using “slant rhymes,” his rhymes ring with a natural feel– the height of that particular style.

In the poem, Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed, Thomas matches the word “listening” with “singing,” and even more daringly, “wound” with “wind”…

under the mile off moon we trembled listening

to the sea sound flowing like blood from the loud wound

and when the salt sheet broke in a storm of singing

the voices of all drowned swam on the wind.


I don’t have a problem with this sort of slant rhyme, and enjoy Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed.

 On the other hand, sometimes Thomas will place his rhyming words at odd junctures, very far apart or off-beat or at NOT the natural pauses of speech… in this way, he LOSES much of the value of the rhyme.  Depending on the poem and on how much the reader tries to force the rhymes to coagulate– Thomas runs the risk of, collaterally, ruining the rhythm of the poem, as the reader attempts to suck the rhyme out of the poem, as if one chose to destroy an orange to get at the seeds.

I give below, as an example of Thomas’s half-wasted rhymes, a poem I actually admire for other reasons and in spite of its rhyming pattern.  Here, in the poem, In My Craft Or Sullen Art, Thomas utilizes the rhyme scheme of ABCDE BDE CCA (!?)…  The result is a house built of– here four walls, there five, and yonder three…

In my craft or sullen art  (A)

exercised in the still night  (B)

when only the moon rages  (C)

and the loves lie abed  (D)

with all their griefs in their arms,  (E)

I labor by singing light  (B)

not for ambition or bread  (D)

or the strut and trade of charms  (E)

on the ivory stages  (C)

but for the common wages  (C)

of their most secret heart  (A)

Sometimes Thomas will depend on the LINE-BREAK to act as punctuation, sometimes for pause or emphasis where no punctuation is required, and at other times (mostly in his later poetry) he just careems right through the line-breaks in the modern or post-modern style which I so abhor.

For just one example, here are a few line breaks from Poem In October… My problem is not the line-break between “boy” and “in” (a natural enough pause), but between “listening” and “summertime”– for it only adds a hiccup of confusion, since it may cause a reader to stutter-step on his way through the poem, at first assuming that “the listening” was the boy’s listening, whereas it turns out to be the SUMMERTIME’s listening…

“where a boy

in the listening

summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy”

Poem In October is unusual in a couple of ways for Thomas… 1) it’s one of the few poems to which someone along the way has given a true title, not just allowing the first line to act as a stand-in title,  and  2) the imagery of the poem is that of the woodlands– not a scene Thomas typically paints.

As far as line-breaks or other structural issues concerning Dylan’s poetry, I applaud the risk he undertakes with his poem of diamond-shaped stanzas called Vision And Prayer… unfortunately, I consider the work a complete failure. 

Lastly, speaking structurally, I notice a lot of Thomas’s poetry could be printed on a single page.  The same is true of many of my own poems, and many, many a poetical work in general.  I mention this because I have long proposed the theory that the size of the standard sheet of paper has evolved to that particular size for a reason– a subconscious reason… I contend that there is something about that amount of information, that physical size for handling, that is psychologically pleasing to us, and that the size of a sheet of note-book or typing paper is no accident.  In other words, it is no coincidence that most people find a concentrated piece of work like a poem neither too long nor too short when it goes about a page-length.

Other Dylan Thomas posts to follow…


More posts from Hammering Shield on Dylan Thomas…

Anti-Eroticism In The Work Of Dylan Thomas

The Futile Rebellion Of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas And The Poetry Of Doomed Beginnings

Dylan Thomas On Dylan Thomas

The Failures Of Dylan Thomas



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