Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
- Here he goes again. We've got repetition up the wazoo in these lines, with some interesting twists to keep us on our toes.
- Much like the "grass was green" in the first stanza, the speaker is green here. And just as he was "easy" in line 1, here he's "carefree." And much like the speaker was happy in line 2, here the yard is happy, which is a handy example of pathetic fallacy, or attributing human feelings and emotions to inanimate objects, like a yard. And just as the house was "lilting" in line 2, so the speaker's "singing" in line 11.
- Whew. That's a whole lot of similar ideas, with a few shakeups here and there. What this tells us is that Thomas isn't just about creating unity within stanzas—he's all about creating unity between stanzas, too. And he's not going to use just sound play to accomplish that goal. He's going to use ideas as well—youthfulness, happiness, carefreeness, singing.
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
- Here's our first hint that all this joyful youthfulness won't last. The speaker's romping and frolicking beneath a sun "that is young once only."
- It's another moment of personification that makes the natural world seem somehow closer to the speaker.
- Which is only reinforced when his old buddy Time shows up, to let him play. And Time seems merciful here, as if he's trying to let this young kid have as much fun as possible before that sun, and the speaker, grow old. Still, Time is definitely an authority figure; he's got the power. At least, in this case, he's using his power for good by allowing the kid to play.
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
- Okay, it's official. This is the most repetitive poem ever. Now that we've reached the end of the second stanza, we're starting to realize it looks an awful lot like the first.
- But we'll get to that in a minute. First? Content.
- We get more green and gold imagery that describes the speaker: he was "huntsman and herdsman" and basically every animal ever did his bidding, mooing and barking and who knows what else.
- Then the Sabbath enters the poem. It rings, which is odd, but even odder, it rings in the pebbles of the holy streams. The speaker talks about the landscape with such reverence, he believes it to be sacred. And like the rivers of light in the first stanza, this stanza ends with "holy streams."
- Now let's talk form. Did you notice that this stanza seems eerily familiar? Check out the structure of the lines.
- "Now as I was […]" from line 1 becomes "And as I was […]" in line 10. "About the lilting house and happy as […]" (2) becomes "About the happy yard and singing as […]" (11). "Time let me" from line 4 gets repeated in line 13, and "Golden in the heydays" (5) becomes "Golden in the mercy" (14).
- All that repeated syntax is only reinforced by the repeated imagery here. Greens, golds, rivers, stars—it's all popping up again and again, to create a dreamlike sense of this youth's pastoral world.
- And then there are those sonic repetitions to deal with. The long E's of green, carefree, happy, be, mercy, means, green, and streams. The consonance of "farm was home." The assonance of "sun that is young." The alliteration of "mercy of his means" and "huntsman and herdsman" and "clear and cold."
- No matter which way you look (or listen) in "Fern Hill," the repetition is inescapable, adding music and meaning to each line and stanza.
- But the syntax and sounds aren't the only thing that make this stanza look a lot like stanza 1. They both have nine lines, and each of those lines has a certain number of syllables, depending on where it falls in the stanza. For more on that, check out our "Form and Meter" section, and in the meantime, keep an eye out for more syntactic, sonic, and structural repetitions as you make your way through "Fern Hill."