‘Fern Hill’ is one of Dylan Thomas’ most well-known poems.
Fern Hill was a country house and farm where Ann Jones, the poet’s aunt, lived. In this poem, the speaker looks back at the innocence of childhood. This lesson contains a summary of the poem, an explanation of some of the poem’s more significant lines, and a discussion of the major themes.
‘Fern Hill’ by Dylan Thomas was first published in 1946. In the poem, the speaker fondly remembers his days on the farm, and he marvels at the happy innocence of his childhood. The first line of ‘ Fern Hill’ says, ‘Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs.’ The past tense verb ‘was’ indicates that the speaker is now an adult. It is a happy time, and the child is a favorite around the farm and town. The first stanza is full of pastoral imagery, or pertaining to country life, with the poem mentioning ‘apple boughs’, starry skies, ‘trees and leaves’, and other natural objects.
‘Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs.’In stanza two, the child is described as ‘green and carefree,’ with ‘green’ having the dual meaning of both young and na;ve. The child is na;ve about something, and line 13 provides the first hint the child does not yet understand time.
Time is mentioned for the first time in this line, and as the poem develops in the succeeding stanzas, the significance of time becomes clear. The stanza ends with the child wasting time, skipping stones in a stream on a Sunday afternoon. Stanza 3 opens with additional description of the child’s pleasures on the farm. Line 21 describes this time as ‘playing, lovely.’ Beginning in line 23, the child hears and sees the farm in his dreams. He dreams of owls, night jars, and horses on the farm.
In the fourth stanza, the child awakens to the rooster. The poem contains many images of an idyllic childhood in the previous stanzas, but in stanza 4, the poet explicitly alludes to the Biblical Eden. Line 30 depicts the farm as ‘Adam and maiden.
‘ Lines 33 through 37 refer to the creation story in the Biblical Genesis, and lines 33 and 34 compare morning on the farm to the first light in Eden: ‘So it must have been after the birth of the simple light/In the first, spinning place…’ The child speaks again in stanza 5, saying that with all his activities, ‘my sky blue trades’ in line 42, he does not understand or care that this childhood paradise will end.The imagery that appears in stanza 6 is a bit darker than that in the earlier stanzas.
The swallow in line 47, for example, is an evening bird. The child, at last becoming an adult and leaving behind the innocence of the past, acknowledges that night/death is always coming. In line 48, he contemplates ‘the moon that is always rising.
‘ The poem ends with the child’s realization that death comes for everyone and that even the child is young, yet dying. The final lines, 53 and 54, indicate that the child has been able to live a carefree life only because of his naivety and ignorance. Once he understands the nature of time, he leaves his innocence behind, and becomes an adult.
The theme of ‘Fern Hill’ is stated explicitly in the poem’s last two lines: ‘Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.’ In other words, the innocence of childhood shelters the child from the realization that time erodes everything and that death comes for everyone.
The child is able to be happy in his idyllic childhood at the farm because he is young and naïve about the reality of death. This poem could be considered a coming of age poem, because it depicts the transition from childhood to adulthood.Line 2 indicates that the child is ‘happy as the grass was green.’ The word green in this line may indicate more than a color.
A person who is green is new or naïve. The phrase ‘once below a time’ in line 7, however, indicates that even though he is unaware that death will come for him, time is bearing down on the child, as it does for everyone. This line is an alteration of the traditional fairy tale opening of ‘once upon a time.”Fern Hill’ associates the speaker’s childhood with the Biblical Eden. Apples, associated with knowledge in the story of Adam and Eve, are mentioned twice in the poem, in lines 1 and 6.
Lines 33-37 specifically compare the child’s time at the farm to the Biblical paradise. Time and knowledge, however, eventually change everything. The speaker comes to understand the nature of time and realizes that time has been passing for him even though he has been unaware.
‘Fern Hill’ by Dylan Thomas depicts the poet’s idyllic childhood on a farm. The poem presents a child experiencing a happy, innocent time before the knowledge of death that comes with adulthood destroys this innocence. Poetic themes revolve around Eden and its garden paradise.
Many lines of the poem evoke pastoral imagery. The passage of time and how humans relate to it is also a prominent theme of this poem.