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where once the waters of your face

Where once the waters of your face
Spun to my screws, your dry ghost blows,
The dead turns up its eye;
Where once the mermen through your ice
Pushed up their hair, the dry wind steers
Through salt and root and roe.

Where once your green knots sank their splice
Into the tided cord, there goes
The green unraveller,
His scissors oiled, his knife hung loose
To cut the channels at their source
And lay the wet fruits low.

Invisible, your clocking tides
Break on the lovebeds of the weeds;
The weed of love's left dry;
There round about your stones the shades
Of children go who, from their voids,
Cry to the dolphined sea.

Dry as a tomb, your coloured lids
Shall not be latched while magic glides
Sage on the earth and sky;
There shall be corals in your beds
There shall be serpents in your tides,
Till all our sea-faiths die.

In the work of ' most famous writer, Dylan Thomas, the sea is never far off, whether it's the "dolphined sea" above or the "sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea" of 'Under Milk Wood'. In his poetry, written on "spindrift pages" ('In my craft or sullen art'), it's actually hard to find a poem that doesn't mention the sea at least once.

It is part of the dense fabric of two of his most famous poems, 'And death shall have no dominion' and 'Do not go gentle into that good night'. (Incidentally, the former was used to great effect in Steven Soderbergh's 'Solaris', where it resonates with the mysterious ocean planet that makes unconscious desires come to life.)

A complex symbol of life, death and time, which seems to stem from some ancient Celtic mythology, the sea also reflects Thomas' unique musical style with its rhythm like beating waves of fiercely romantic imagery.

'Where once the waters of your face' is particularly ambiguous, almost surreal, in its evocation of the sea. Is the poem an elaborate image of lost love as a dried-up sea, or is it a lament for the sea itself? And what about the "green unraveller", who could be some primeval monster lurking in the dark depths of the sea, or a watery personification of death, killing the sea?

But then the poem seems to suggest that the archetype of the sea is too strong to be killed - unless "all our sea-faiths die". It provides a fitting metaphor for Dylan Thomas' poetry: keeping the sea-faith alive. As he wrote in 'Fern Hill':

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.

PoemHunter has Thomas' complete poems. And for fans and completists, Salon has the entire Caedmon Collection for download, eleven CD's worth of Thomas reading poetry and prose.


the last concern

Sequence To sleep, with the moon in one eye and the sun in the other, Love in your mouth, a lovely bird in your hair, Adorned like the fields, the woods, the routes, the sea, Around the whole world so lovely and adorned. Flee across … Read the full post »

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