memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for June 25, 2011

Fern Hill

The first time we learned to compartmentalize the various facets of our lives was at boarding school.  Very few of us would ever talk about our homes or families (or even think about them) as a sort of filter to protect ourselves from the almost unbearable sadness of being (there). In some of us the habit would persist into our twenties and become a breeding ground for schizophrenia.

You became like the man with no name riding into town, tethering his horse in front of the saloon and then entering into life of the place for a few years then exiting from the saloon, untying his horse and riding away to the next town.

One such life for me was the time I spent at Bretton Hall. Situated in wooded South Yorkshire parkland, this small elegant early 18th century mansion housed at that time a College of Education. I entered the, by now, familiar enclosed micro-society and became a (professional) student.

We were the last beneficiaries of The Welfare State; but already change was in the air and the new Education Minister (a certain M. Thatcher) was sharpening the blade of the scythe with a whet-stone and, like the fallow grazing deer in the park, we lifted our noses from the grass and sniffed the air and scented danger.

I joined a literary club, where almost every month there was a guest speaker – some minor post kitchen-sink novelist, in which the local district seemed to abound, some aggressive out-to-shock feminist writer who told us she would read Henry Miller while sitting on the loo (which was frankly way too much detail, dear) and some even more minor Leeds poet digging out his arrhythmic non-verse.

One evening we asked the College Principal if he wouldn’t mind popping by and giving a reading of one his favourite poems; being students we all had to sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor (although there were perfectly adequate chairs available). This person, an affable Welshman and a career academic, had chosen Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas.

He read well and I was moved.


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

In the sun born over and over,

I ran my heedless ways,

My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

Before the children green and golden

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

In the moon that is always rising,

Nor that riding to sleep

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

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.

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