Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas
"The hand that signet the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death."

(in 'The Hand That Signed the Paper', 1936)
Dylan Thomas was born in the seaport town Swansea, West Glamorgan. His father, David John Thomas, was the senior English master at Swansea Grammar School, where Thomas was educated. His parents had a Welsh-speaking country background from Carmarthhenshire, but they adopted English language and culture. Although Thomas could not speak Welsh, he picked up the rhytms of the language, and started to write poetry while still at school.
Thomas received little formal education. When he was twelve, his poem was published in the Western Mail. Actually the work was copied from the Boy's Own Paper. Other verse, original without any doubts, he wrote for the Grammar School magazine. Ignoring his father's advice to attend university, he left his studies and worked as a trainee newspaper reporter on the South Wales Evening Post. His first book, dreamlike and sensuous 18 Poems (1934), marked the appearance of an energetic new voice in English literature. Thomas wrote the poems when he was nineteen and twenty years old. In 'I see the boys of summer' Thomas identifies himself with doomed Welshmen, victims of time. "Awake, my sleepers, to the sun, / A worker in the morning town, / And leave the poppied pickthank where he lies; / The fences of the light are down, / All but the briskest riders thrown, / And worlds hang on the trees."
After establishing his reputation with Twenty-five Poems (1936),  Thomas moved to London where he worked as a broadcaster, prose writer, poet, and lecturer. With the writer Pamela Hansford Johnson, he started correspondence and a love affair. "Charming, very young looking with the most enchanting voice," she wrote in her diary when they met. Later she married Lord (C.P.) Snow. In 1937 Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara, whom he called in a letter "Betty Boop". For a while the couple settled at Laugharne in Wales, returning there permanently after many wanderings in 1949. The marriage was stormy; Thomas was a natural bohemian and eventually Caitlin became tired in her husband's frecklessness. Thomas's earnings were irregular, his earnings just melted away, and he had to borrow money from his friends.
By the end of the 1930s, Thomas had gained fame in the literary circles, but he also suffered from depression and was afraid of losing inspiration. He became later a highly public figure due to his radio work and readings. His romantic, rhetorical style won a large following. Some writers, among them Philip Larkin, rejected his work as too subjective.
Unfit for active service, Thomas worked during World War II as a documentary film script writer. With Alan Osbiston he directed the documentary These Are The Men (1943), an attack on the Nazi leaders, which used shots from Leni Refenstahl's The Triumph of the Will (1935). Sporadically Thomas was employed by the BBC, where his striking, melodic voice made him a media star. After the German planes had firebombed London, Thomas composed the lines: "Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter, Robed in the long friends, / The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother, / Of the riding Thames. / After the first death, there is no other." (from 'A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London', 1946) In the 1940s Thomas wrote some of his best works. To Laurence Pollinger, who was was standing in for his regular agent, David Higham, he assured that his publishers would see a short novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade, "quite soon". However, he was still working on the book in 1953.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) was a collection of largely autobiographical short stories, paying homage to James Joyce   Thomas worked on the book while staying with Richard Hughes   at Castle House in Laugharne. Deaths and Entrances (1946) drew from religious imagery and took its subjects among others from the bombing of London, or from the loss of childhood world as in the poem 'Fern Hill'. Another pastoral ode, 'Poems in October,' expressed Thomas's nostalgia for lost youth.

In 1947, when Thomas contributed to more than 50 features for the BBC, he suffered a mental breakdown, and moved to Oxford. He returned to Wales in 1949 and made his first American tour next year, mostly because of financial pressures. In 1950, 1952, and 1953 Thomas continued his popular reading tours on American college campuses, managing to hide that he did not like reading his own work, but unable to resist the temptation to live up to his own reputation for being wild and drunken. Before a reading at Pomona College, Claremont, he lost his books and notes. In New York, he spent a lot of time at the Chelsea Hotel Bar. The tours were financially profitable and he met such celebrities as Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. At Chaplin's, he was seen urinating on a plant. Thomas died at St. Vincent's Hospital, after spending four days in a coma. According to a story, he had boasted to his American girlfriend, Liz Reitell, that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies in a bar in Manhattan. At the hospital a doctor had given him various drugs and an injection of morphine. In spite of Thomas's heavy drinking, the autopsy revealed that he did not suffer from serious cirrhosis of the liver. Caitlin Macnamara Thomas died in 1994.

His last four years Thomas spent at the Boat House in Laugharne, where he later was buried. The cottage was purchased for the family by Margaret Taylor, the wife of the historian A.J.P. Taylor. Shortly before his death in New York, Thomas took part in a reading of what was to be his most famous single work. Under Milk Wood (1954) was a return to the Welsh landscape, and a celebration of domestic life and dreams of ordinary people. It was published posthumously as his reminiscence A Child's Christmas in Wales  (1955). His Notebooks, edited by Ralph Maud, came out in 1968. A new edition of The Poems of Dylan Thomas (1971) included personal comments by his friend and early collaborator, the composer Daniel Jones. The musician John Cale has set several of Thomas's poems to music. "As to the Thomas heritage industry: ouch!" Cale has said.

Thomas's poetry is marked by vivid metaphors, the use of Christian and Freudian imagery, and celebration of the mystical power of growth and death. "My poetry," Thomas once said, "is the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light." Although Thomas's poems appear to be freely flowing, his work sheets reveal much work behind his mixture of the vernacular and literary. To Pamela Hansford Johnson he once said in the 1930s, that he wrote at the rate of two lines an hour. Among his best-known individual poems are 'And death shall have no dominion,' 'Altarwise by owllight' (a sonnet sequence), 'A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,' 'Do not go gentle into that good night,' 'In My Craft and Sullen Art,' and 'Fern Hill.' His own role and gift as a poet Thomas paralleled with the forces of nature: "Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, / time held me green and dying / though I sang in my chains like the sea." (from 'Fern Hill') 
Thomas also wrote short stories, essays, and a roman à clef, Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955), which was left unfinished. Thomas's radio play Under the Milk Wood portrayed a small Welsh coastal town and was adapted to screen 1971 starring Richard Burton and Elizabet Taylor. His own film scripts concerned less personal subjects. No Room at the Inn (1948), directed by Daniel Birt and scripted by Thomas and Ivan Foxwell, was adapted from a stage play by Joan Temple. The Doctor and the Devils (1953), set in the late eighteenth century Edinburgh, examined the theme of 'the ends justify the means'. It was based on the case of the murderers Burke and Hare. In the story a surgeon starts to pay for bodies, which he uses as cadavers for dissection. The trial also touched foundations of the whole society: "SECOND PROFESSOR: ... and if a member of the royal family is accused of a commoner's crime, then it is the whole family that is accused. An elaborate smile - but you see my point?"

Some of his poems
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

All all and all the dry worlds lever,
Stage of the ice, the solid ocean,
All from the oil, the pound of lava.
City of spring, the governed flower,
Turns in the earth that turns the ashen
Towns around on a wheel of fire.

How now my flesh, my naked fellow,
Dug of the sea, the glanded morrow,
Worm in the scalp, the staked and fallow.
All all and all, the corpse's lover,
Skinny as sin, the foaming marrow,
All of the flesh, the dry worlds lever.


Fear not the waking world, my mortal,
Fear not the flat, synthetic blood,
Nor the heart in the ribbing metal.
Fear not the tread, the seeded milling,
The trigger and scythe, the bridal blade,
Nor the flint in the lover's mauling.

Man of my flesh, the jawbone riven,
Know now the flesh's lock and vice,
And the cage for the scythe-eyed raver.
Know, O my bone, the jointed lever,
Fear not the screws that turn the voice,
And the face to the driven lover.


All all and all the dry worlds couple,
Ghost with her ghost, contagious man
With the womb of his shapeless people.
All that shapes from the caul and suckle,
Stroke of mechanical flesh on mine,
Square in these worlds the mortal circle.

Flower, flower the people's fusion,
O light in zenith, the coupled bud,
And the flame in the flesh's vision.
Out of the sea, the drive of oil,
Socket and grave, the brassy blood,
Flower, flower, all all and all. 
The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

A stranger has come
To share my room in the house not right in the head,
A girl mad as birds

Bolting the night of the door with her arm her plume.
Strait in the mazed bed
She deludes the heaven-proof house with entering clouds

Yet she deludes with walking the nightmarish room,
At large as the dead,
Or rides the imagined oceans of the male wards.

She has come possessed
Who admits the delusive light through the bouncing wall,
Possessed by the skies

She sleeps in the narrow trough yet she walks the dust
Yet raves at her will
On the madhouse boards worn thin by my walking tears.

And taken by light in her arms at long and dear last
I may without fail
Suffer the first vision that set fire to the stars.
If I were tickled by the rub of love,
A rooking girl who stole me for her side,
Broke through her straws, breaking my bandaged string,
If the red tickle as the cattle calve
Still set to scratch a laughter from my lung,
I would not fear the apple nor the flood
Nor the bad blood of spring.

Shall it be male or female?  say the cells,
And drop the plum like fire from the flesh.
If I were tickled by the hatching hair,
The winging bone that sprouted in the heels,
The itch of man upon the baby's thigh,
I would not fear the gallows nor the axe
Nor the crossed sticks of war.

Shall it be male or female?  say the fingers
That chalk the walls with greet girls and their men.
I would not fear the muscling-in of love
If I were tickled by the urchin hungers
Rehearsing heat upon a raw-edged nerve.
I would not fear the devil in the loin
Nor the outspoken grave.

If I were tickled by the lovers' rub
That wipes away not crow's-foot nor the lock
Of sick old manhood on the fallen jaws,
Time and the crabs and the sweethearting crib
Would leave me cold as butter for the flies
The sea of scums could drown me as it broke
Dead on the sweethearts' toes.

This world is half the devil's and my own,
Daft with the drug that's smoking in a girl
And curling round the bud that forks her eye.
An old man's shank one-marrowed with my bone,
And all the herrings smelling in the sea,
I sit and watch the worm beneath my nail
Wearing the quick away.

And that's the rub, the only rub that tickles.
The knobbly ape that swings along his sex
From damp love-darkness and the nurse's twist
Can never raise the midnight of a chuckle,
Nor when he finds a beauty in the breast
Of lover, mother, lovers, or his six
Feet in the rubbing dust.

And what's the rub?  Death's feather on the nerve?
Your mouth, my love, the thistle in the kiss?
My Jack of Christ born thorny on the tree?
The words of death are dryer than his stiff,
My wordy wounds are printed with your hair.
I would be tickled by the rub that is:
Man be my metaphor.

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Jalal al-Din Rumi  

The greatest mystical poet of Persia, famous for his didactic epic Mathnawi (or Masnavi-ye Ma'navi; Spiritual Couplets), a treasure-house of Sufi mysticism. The theme of Rumi's ghazals is sacred love. After Rumi's death his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West the "Whirling Dervishes".
This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say. I don't plan it. When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all. (in 'Who says words with my mouth?', tr. Coleman Barks)
Jalal al-Din Rumi, known to his disciples as Mawlana Rumi, "the learned master of Anatolia", was born in Balkh, Ghurid empire (now in Afghanistan). His father, Baha'uddin Walad, was a Muslim preacher and jurist. He named his son Muhammad but later called him by the additional name Jalalu-'d-din (The Glory of the Faith). In the West, he is usually known as Rumi, Rum referring to the Anatolian peninsula, "the Greek-occupied lands". The family moved from place to place, perhaps because political reasons or because Baha'uddin Walad did not have success as a preacher. Also the times were violent.

 The Mongols had turned against the Islamic states. They destroyed Balkh in 1221, and eventually conquered Baghdad in 1258.Some sources tell that Rumi was visiting Baghdad just before it was sacked by the Mongols. The family settled for some time in Aleppo and Damascus, where Rumi is said to have studied. Rumi  was educated in the traditional Islamic sciences. He perhaps met the great mystic Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240) or his students. From Syria the family travelled to Laranda, where Rumi's mother, Mu'mine Khatun, died. Eventyally they settled in Konya, in Anatolia, a rare haven during the Mongol invasion. According to an Arab legend, the remains of the Greek philosopher Plato were buried in the city.

Rumi married at the age of eighteen. His first son, Sultan Walad, was born in Laranda. After the death of his father in Konya, Rumi continued there as a teacher and religious authority issuing opinions (fatwas) pertaining to the Islamic law (Shariah).

Although Baha'uddin Walad had been known for his visionary powers, and he had written about spiritual love, at that time Rumi was not interested in the mystical tradition. Late in October 1244 (in some sources on November 30), Rumi met the wandering dervish called Shamsuddin of Tabriz (Shams ad-Din). Shams did not observe the Shariah, and he believed that he is united with the Muhammadan Light. The encounter was the turning point in Rumi's life. Shams asked, "Who was greater, Mohammad the Prophet or the Persian mystic Bayezid Bistami?" Bistami could cry in ecstasy that he and the Godhead were one; Mohammad was the Messenger of God.

"You are either the light of God or God," Rumi wrote of Shams later in one poem. He neglected his teaching duties and family, and spent all his time with the dervish, whom he would compare to Jesus. The holy man left the town as mysteriously as he had appeared. "But suddenly God's jealousy appeared, / And whispering filled all the mouths around," explained Sultan Walad in his book Waladnama. The disappearance of Shams turned Rumi into a poet.

Shams returned again to Konya, was married to a young girl who had been brought up in Rumi's family, but in 1248 he vanished completely. It was rumored that he was murdered with the connivance of Rumi' second son Ala'uddin (Alaeddin). Rumi searched his friend without results, and went again to Damascus. Describing this period as the search of his own identity he wrote: "Indeed I sought my own self, that is sure, / Fermenting in the vat, just like the must." Rumi saw himself as a man who was created from the wine of Love, but Love was also something that was beyond letters, it was eternal life, fire, tower of light, black lion, an ocean with invisible waves – love was limitless. "Pass beyond form, escape from names!" he said. "Flee titles and names toward meaning!" Rumi's poetry is full of images of Love.

Rumi's association with Shams has been compared to the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but it also has psychological similarities with the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist – or even with  James Boswell's worship of Dr. Johnson. Rumi wrote some 30,000 verses about his love, longing, and loneliness. They were collected in Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz (Divan of Shams of Tabriz), in which he appended Shams's name as the author. Rumi used often the traditional form of love lyric, the ghazal, which consists generally of five to twelve lines and employs one single rhyme through the poem.

After the death of Shams, Rumi met an illiterate goldsmith, Salahuddin Zarkub (Salah ad-Din Zarkub), and wrote some poems under Salahuddin's name. This was another scandal but in spite of the public reaction Rumi also married Sultan Walad to Salahuddin's daughter. After the death of his first wife, Rumi married Kira Khatum of Christian background; they had two children. Rumi had cordial relations with Christians, but in accordance with the Qur'an, he did not belive that Jesus is a God: "How could it be allowed as a possibility that a frail person . . . with a bodfy shorter that two cubits could be the keeper and preserved of the seven heavens . . .?"
Salahuddin Zarkub died in 1258. Hasamuddin Chelebi (Husam ad-Din Chelebi), one of Rumi's students, became for him a new mirror of Love in the world, which is the mirror of God. "The wine is one; only the vessel's changed – " Rumi said in a poem. During the following years, he composed the nearly 26,000 couplets of the Masnavi-ye Ma'navi, but he did not mention Shams's name anymore. The work, published in six volumes, was never completed. His other major works include Ruba'iyyat, whose Istanbul edition consists of 3318 verses, Fihi ma fihi (The Discourses), Makatib (a collection of letters), and Majalis-i sab-ah, which consists of sermons and lectures. Rumi died in Konya on December 17, 1273. Christians and Jews joined his funeral procession, too. Rumi's cat died a week later and was buried close to his master.

Rumi remained a major influence upon Sufism. His followers have sometimes claimed to have experienced his nearness. In the English-speaking world  The Mathnawi of Jalalud'din Rumi (1925-40) by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson was the first major work on the Mathnawi. Nicholson's student, A.J. Arberry, translated its stories in lucid prose (Tales from the Masnavi, 1968). The translations of the American free verse poets Robert Bly and Coleman Barks have been immensely popular. Kabir Helminki's and Daniel Liebert's collections  embrace Rumi's ecstatic experience in free verse.

It is believed that Rumi created his poems in a state of ecstasy, accompanying his verses by a whirling dance. After Shams's death Rumi had started in his grief to circle a pole in his garden, and speak the poetry, which was written down by scribes. However, listening to music and ecstatic prayer rituals were already before Rumi features of Sufism. In the 12th century dervishes emerged throughout the Islamic world. Dance was a rhythmic expression of dhikr, an Arabic word meaning 'remembrance'. The repetition of religious formulas, the dhkir, was based on Gur'an: "O believers, remember God often and give him glory at dawn and in the evening."

In the simple reed flute Rumi saw the metaphor for himself: "Listen to the reed, how it tells a tale, complaining of separateness." The sama', the mystical dance, was for Rumi more than a technique for meditation, it was the cosmic truth, the manifestation of the secret power of God. The sun dances on the sky, the Eternal is the axis, and the entire universe is dancing and whirling around Him. "Whatever there is, is only He, / your foot steps there in dancing: / The whirling, see, belongs to you, / and you belong to the whirling."

Some of his poems
From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
This We Have Now

This we have now
is not imagination.

This is not 
grief or joy.

Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.

Those come and go. 
This is the presence that doesn't.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.
     Moving Water

When  you do things from your soul, you feel a river
moving in you, a joy.

When actions come from another section, the feeling
disappears.  Don't let

others lead you.  They may be blind or, worse, vultures.
Reach for the rope

of God.  And what is that?  Putting aside self-will.
Because of willfulness

people sit in jail, the trapped bird's wings are tied,
fish sizzle in the skillet.

The anger of police is willfulness.  You've seen a magistrate
inflict visible punishment.  Now 

see the invisible.  If you could leave your selfishness, you
would see how you've

been torturing your soul.  We are born and live inside black water in a well.

How could we know what an open field of sunlight is? Don't
insist on going where

you think you want to go.  Ask the way to the spring.  Your
living pieces will form

a harmony.  There is a moving palace that floats in the air
with balconies and clear

water flowing through, infinity everywhere, yet contained
under a single tent.

From The Glance
by Coleman Barks

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

      Light Breeze

As regards feeling pain, like a hand cut in battle,
consider the body a robe

you wear.  When you meet someone you love, do you kiss their clothes?  Search out

who's inside.  Union with God is sweeter than body comforts.
We have hands and feet

different from these.  Sometimes in dream we see them.
That is not

illusion.  It's seeing truly.  You do have a spirit body;
don't dread leaving the

physical one.  Sometimes someone feels this truth so strongly
that he or she can live in

mountain solitude totally refreshed.  The worried, heroic
doings of men and women seem weary

and futile to dervishes enjoying the light breeze of spirit.

From Soul of Rumi
by Coleman Barks
Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
no light and no land anywhere,
cloudcover thick. I try to stay
just above the surface, 
yet I'm already under 
and living with the ocean.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
If you want what visible reality
can give, you're an employee.
If you want the unseen world,
you're not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish,
but you'll be forgiven for forgetting
that what you really want is 
love's confusing joy.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
Birdsong brings relief
to my longing
I'm just as ecstatic as they are,
but with nothing to say!
Please universal soul, practice
some song or something through me!

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
Not Intrigued With Evening

What the material world values does
not shine the same in the truth of

the soul.  You have been interested
in your shadow.  Look instead directly

at the sun.  What can we know by just
watching the time-and-space shapes of

each other?  Someone half awake in the night sees imaginary dangers; the

morning star rises; the horizon grows
defined; people become friends in a

moving caravan.  Night birds may think
daybreak a kind of darkness, because

that's all they know.  It's a fortunate
bird who's not intrigued with evening,

who flies in the sun we call Shams.

From Soul of Rumi
by Coleman Barks

For awhile we lived with people, but we saw no sign in them of the faithfulness we wanted.  It's better to hide completely within 
as water hides in metal, as fire hides in rock.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.