There are some places that seem to be infused with magic. Places that speak to you somehow. Places that, once you have visited them, may never leave you. The town of Laugharne, in Camarthenshire, Wales, is one such place. Famously home to the poet Dylan Thomas, and purportedly the inspiration for his wonderful play for voices, Under Milk Wood, Laugharne is a misty, mystical spot, with its compelling literary connection and its castle on the edge of the sea.
As our car rounded the corner and pulled up by the waterside, I let out an involuntary, audible gasp at the loveliness of it all (to the amusement of my family!) We made our pilgrimage to the white Boathouse perched on the cliff edge, which was once Dylan Thomas’s home, but it was his writing shed that I truly fell for. Preserved just as if he had just stepped out for a moment, teacup on the desk, crumbled paper on the floor, this wooden-walled room, with its pools of light and sea views, is the stuff of writerly dreams.
Dylan Thomas used words like no-one else. He conjoined them and juxtaposed them, tumbling them together in such a way that he conjured images and meanings that are startlingly unique and invariably beautiful. My Dad introduced me to Under Milk Wood as a young teen, and I’ve loved it ever since. Having only ever studied his most well-known poems, such as the famous villanelle Do not go gentle into that good night, since my visit, I have been delightedly discovering his poetic work.
In truth, I do not need to use my own words to describe Laugharne to you. Dylan Thomas did so himself, in this, Poem in October, written on his thirtieth birthday.
Poem In October
It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
In the still sleeping town and set forth.
My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singingbirds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.
— Dylan Thomas