Dylan Thomas’s 25 Poems: Paradox as Structure



Irony, inclusiveness, and complexity are the chief criteria of value in the twentieth century intellectual poetry. These criteria, however, do not merely indicate qualities of craftsmanship; they reflect a sensibility, a particular way of experiencing reality. What really distinguishes Dylan Thomas is a capacity for self-analysis, a capacity for objectifying, and subjecting to analytical scrutiny, one’s own experiences and feelings. The searching self-exploration that links Thomas with W.H. Auden is more evident in 25 Poems than in his 18 Poems, and in 25 Poems the readers are priviledged to watch his own mental processes. What happens in 18 Poems is that the poet’s mind operates simultaneously at two levels, and the readers can witness a co-operation and coalescence of emotion and ratiocination. In 25 Poems, the heart is involved in experience and suffers, while an alert intelligence, conscious of itself, analyses and weighs the experience. The result is inclusiveness arising out of a recognition of the complexity of experience, of the pressure of the total context upon a particular situation or mental state. Thomas’s 18 Poems has this quality of paradox in varying degrees, and it shows the juxtaposition and integration of opposed attitudes enriching the poetic texture. The most equal emphases on erotic love and creative quest in 18 Poems present one kind of inclusiveness.  In 25 Poems, the apparently disorganized flow of thought resembles the stream-of-consciousness technique, but the presence of an alert mind weighing different approaches and directing the journey of life is obvious. His interest in Day Lewis, Spender, and MacNeice is equally indicative of his love of contrasts, of chiaroscuro effects, and is not to be confused with Auden’s interest in characterization. Thomas’s early poetry is an imago of paradox, “a home” of “comfort” and faith “the neighbour’s strongest wish, to serve and love…” in which “no one but myself is loved”.

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