Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
- The speaker continues to explain what it was like being young at Fern Hill.
- Notice how the syntax, the order of words, is used in this line. The repetition of the phrase "it was" creates a rhythm so the words are actually doing what they describe—growing more excited, more amped up. The speaker is describing long, pleasant, exciting days, and the line is a long, pleasantly rhythmic, excited line.
- Line 20 continues to tell us about the awesomesauce landscape. We have fields that are "high" and chimneys that play "tunes" and then that phrase "it was" yet again. The speaker is so entranced with his memory and description, it's like the landscape has a life of its own.
- And notice how he ends the line on "air." That's not a mistake. In fact, it's a tool poets like to use called enjambment, and this poem's chock full of it.
- What do you think of when you think of air? Something invisible and everywhere, right? Or something your life depends upon. In this sense, the speaker is deeply connected with what gives him life, which makes him seem all the more alive.
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
- And, and, and. That's anaphora at its best, ladies and gentlemen. Beginning each line with "and" gives Thomas a chance to build momentum, to stack up the pastoral imagery.
- And just what are those images here? Well, things have taken a dreamy turn, and instead of specific descriptions of apple boughs, we get "lovely and watery / And fire green as grass" under "simple stars."
- Using a word like "watery" works for several reasons. First, it ends on that long E sound, which echoes in "lovely," "green," and "nightly." But water, like air, is also a symbol of a life-giving source. And it's fluid, and flowing, just like the lines of the poem, which suggests the passing of time.
- Line 22 brings back the speaker's favorite "green as grass" but this time it's a clause describing fire. Why fire? Possibly because there were fires in the evening, but also because fire is a source of energy and light and warmth. These are all good things, and tonally consistent with the mood of being young and healthy.
- Line 23 moves the poem into nighttime. The stars are "simple" just like the speaker's life back then.
- While this stanza so far is a bit different from the first two, it's clear that the themes, imagery, and sound patterns are much the same.
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among the stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
- These lines are the beginning of the end of the day for the speaker. Still, the beauty remains, and yet something different is beginning to happen.
- The owls are "bearing the farm away" as if the landscape itself is leaving. Instead of all the sun long, he says, "all the moon long," meaning, all night long he heard nocturnal birds (nightjars) "flying with the ricks." Ricks are stacks of hay, and they seem to be taking off, too. Trippy. It's like the farm is alive and is walking away in the night. Even the horses are "flashing" into the dark.
- Imagine looking out your window and watching the trees in your backyard uproot and start walking away. That would be weird, right? Well, this is also a figurative leaving for the speaker. A shift has begun to occur as night appears. The landscape, which brought so much freedom and joy, is beginning to leave.
- Just as the day has ended, the night has begun, and time is passing.
- It's also worth noting that the look of the stanza has changed a bit. The patterns established in the first two stanzas—the syntax, the indentations of the lines, have shifted.
- Now, the final line of the stanza is indented even further than the one before. And the imagery, too, has turned dream-like and strange. This is no longer your stock and standard pastoral poem. Things are getting weird up in here.