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Fern Hill

Fern Hill


by Dylan Thomas

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

Now I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green

  • Welcome to Fern Hill, where the speaker was once young and carefree. Plus, apple trees. Sounds like a great place to Shmoop.
  • He also hung out in his "lilting house." What in the world is a lilting house, you ask? Well, lilting is an old school style of Gaelic singing, but it can refer to anything with a cheerful, happy tone.
  • So was the house singing? Well, maybe not literally, but with this personification, the speaker is setting the mood for the rest of the poem. Things are good.
  • He's young, happy, and the pastoral scenery is like a mirror of the speaker's joy.

Lines 3-5

The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

  • Lines 3-5 look a bit different from the opening lines. They're shorter, but they stick with scene setting like the opening two lines. 
  • Line 3 tells us that the night sky was full of stars, but the order of the words is a little funny. Why? Well, try rereading the line like this: the night starry above the dingle (and as much as you might snicker at that word, a dingle is just a small valley). By using that word, Thomas keeps the line quick and perky (try inserting valley instead, and you'll see what we mean). It seems like the speaker is as concerned with the sounds of words as he is with what he's describing. 
  • In that way, the poem's form has started to mirror its content. These lines have a cheerful cadence that's the perfect fit for their cheerful meaning.
  • Time enters the poem in line 4 and 5 as if the speaker and Time are BFFs. Thanks to a handy use of personification, these two sound like two peas in a pod—playmates under the apple boughs. 
  • Time even has "eyes" here. So what does that mean? Maybe that time is keeping watch over the youngster. But it also suggests that Time is happy to see the speaker so young and carefree. 
  • So the speaker can salute Time, feel "golden" and yet, because we know that Time, being what it is, will change, we have a suspicion that the "heydays" of his eyes won't last forever.

Lines 6-9

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.

  • The poem continues praising the good ol' days, calling himself a "prince" in line 6. You might think of that as a metaphor of youth and promise.
  • Then, he opens like 7 with a slight variation of the fairytale phrase, "once upon a time." Here, he says, "once below a time." It sounds like something is buried under time, sort of like what happens when something dies, right? But also, something like treasure that needs to be recovered. 
  • And what was happening below this time? The speaker spent his days ruling over the trees and leaves and daisies and barley and rivers, blown by the wind.
  • The gist here is that he felt like a young, powerful, world-at-his-fingertips prince. Things were easy, beautiful, and awesome. 
  • By the end of this first nine-line stanza, a clear rhythm has been established. The sing-songy feel of the poem is impossible to miss. 
  • But how is Thomas pulling that off? With sound play—that's how. 
  • We've got tons of vowel rhymes, or assonance, in words like "trees" and "leaves." They don't rhyme perfectly, but the long "e" sound binds them together.
  • Same with "daises" and "barley." Then there's consonance in pairs like "Rivers" and "windfall." The "v" in rivers and the "f" in windfall bind the words together by sound. 
  • But wait, there's more. He also says, "apple towns" which echoes "apple boughs" from the beginning of the stanza. 
  • Why all the repetition? We think it has something to do with Thomas's talent for music in a poem. His artful use of repetitive sounds and a vaguely iambic meter (hear that daDUM daDUM daDUM underneath the lines?) help Thomas create a sense of unity within the stanzas. This gives the poem, which has no traditional poetic form, a structure all its own. In fact, Thomas peppers every stanza in the poem with these qualities, so keep an eye (or ear) out as you read.

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