Fern Hill Poem Analysis – Line by Line, Questions and Answers

Fern Hill Poem Analysis - Line by Line, Questions and Answers

Fern Hill Poem Analysis – Line by Line, Questions and Answers:

Fern Hill is a reflection on a real place where the poet, Dylan Thomas, spent time during his childhood. The poem is autobiographical, capturing the beauty and joy of his youthful experiences in the countryside.

Fern Hill Dylan Thomas: 1914 – 1953

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
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.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
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.

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
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
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.

Summary

The poem is a nostalgic celebration of the speaker’s childhood, highlighting the freedom and beauty he experienced in the countryside. The speaker reminisces about the innocence and fantasy of youth, contrasting these memories with the awareness of their loss as an adult. Thomas uses vivid imagery to present an idyllic view of childhood, which is eventually tinged with regret as the speaker reflects on the inevitable loss of innocence.

Form and Structure

Fern Hill” is composed of six stanzas, each with nine lines. The poem follows a strict syllabic pattern: 14, 14, 9, 6, 9, 14, 14, 7, 9. Despite this structured rhythm, the poem does not adhere to a specific form and is characterized by its song-like quality. The poem can be divided into two parts: the first three stanzas describe the poet’s experiences as a child, while the last three focus on the awakening and loss of innocence.

Line by Line Analysis

Stanza 1 Analysis

Lines 1-2: Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs / About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

  • The speaker, now an adult, reflects on his youth.
  • “bough” means branch, symbolizing the natural setting of his childhood.
  • “easy” indicates a carefree and joyful time.
  • “lilting” suggests a house filled with merry songs, enhancing the cheerful atmosphere.
  • “green” is associated with youth, innocence, and naivety, indicating the freedom and lack of worries the child experienced.

The speaker reminisces about the delight he felt as a child, enjoying the embrace of wild nature and playing under apple trees.

Lines 3-4: The night above the dingle starry, / Time let me hail and climb

  • “dingle” refers to a wooded valley, emphasizing the natural beauty surrounding the speaker.
  • “starry” indicates a sky filled with stars, capturing the charm and wonder of the night.
  • Time is personified as a friendly and permissive entity, allowing the child to explore and enjoy life without constraints.

The child is free from the worries of time, unlike adults who are constantly aware of its pressures.

Lines 5-6: Golden in the heydays of his eyes, / And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns.

  • “Golden” symbolizes the precious and idyllic days of childhood.
  • The child sees the world with awe and wonder, his “eyes” filled with the glory of youth.
  • “Prince of the apple towns” implies that the child feels a sense of sovereignty and importance in his natural surroundings, like royalty in his own kingdom.

Lines 7-8: And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves / Trail with daisies and barley.

  • “Once below a time” is a playful twist on the traditional fairy-tale opening, indicating the magical nature of the speaker’s memories.
  • “Lordly” suggests the child’s feeling of command and dominion over his environment.
  • The trees, leaves, daisies, and barley create a rich tapestry of nature, highlighting the vividness and beauty of the child’s world.

Line 9: And playing, lovely and watery / And fire green as grass.

  • The child’s play is described as “lovely” and “watery,” suggesting fluidity and the ever-changing nature of youth.
  • “Fire green as grass” combines the elements of fire and earth, symbolizing the intense and vibrant life force present in the child’s world.

Stanza 2 Analysis

Lines 10-11: And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns / About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

  • He recalls his naive, innocent, and carefree days of youth.
  • Being “green” symbolizes his inexperience and youthfulness.
  • Famous among the barns indicates his sense of importance in his small world, where he was well-known among the animals and rural community.
  • The farm felt like home, giving him a strong sense of belonging.

Lines 12-14: In the sun that is young once only, / Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means,

  • The sun that is young once only personifies time, emphasizing the fleeting nature of youth.
  • Time is portrayed as a kind entity that allows him to play and enjoy his childhood.
  • Golden in the mercy of his means signifies that these youthful days were a precious gift from time, given out of kindness.

Lines 15-16: And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves / Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

  • He compares himself to a huntsman and herdsman, imagining himself as a hero in his childhood fantasies.
  • The calves singing to his horn and the foxes barking depict a world where he is in harmony with nature, enhancing the idyllic atmosphere.

Lines 17-18: And the sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams.

  • Sabbath alludes to a day of rest and worship, creating a mood of reverence.
  • The pebbles of the holy streams personify the stream, suggesting that even nature joins in the song of praise and worship.
  • He felt a sense of holiness and worship in the natural world around him.

Stanza 3 Analysis

Lines 19-21: 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

  • Sun represents the passing of time.
  • The unusual word order personifies the sun, making it seem alive and playful.
  • The hay fields high as the house (simile) and tunes from the chimneys emphasize the idyllic, musical quality of his memories.

Lines 22-24: And playing, lovely and watery / And fire green as grass. / And nightly under the simple stars

  • His playing is continuous, even in rain (lovely and watery).
  • The fire green as grass suggests a vivid, almost magical perception of his surroundings.
  • The simple stars at night symbolize the pure, uncomplicated beauty of his childhood world.

Thomas’s “Fern Hill” intricately captures the poet’s nostalgic recollections of his childhood, blending vivid imagery with the themes of innocence, freedom, and the inevitable passage of time.

Lines 25-27: As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away, / All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars / Flying with the ricks, and the horses / Flashing into the dark.

  • As the child drifts off to sleep, he imagines the farm being carried away into dreamland by the owls.
  • The nightjars and other nocturnal creatures continue to fill the night with sounds, making the night as vibrant as the day.
  • Horses flashing into the dark represents the vividness of his dreams and the continuation of life’s rhythm even in darkness.
  • He feels blessed, happy, and free, surrounded by the familiar sounds and sights of the farm.

At the end of Stanza 3, the child’s symbolic sleep and the flash of light signal the end of his innocent bliss and the beginning of awareness.

Stanza 4 Analysis

Lines 28-30: And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white / With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all / Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

  • The awakening in Stanza 4 symbolizes maturity.
  • The farm, personified as a wanderer white with the dew, suggests the passage of time and the arrival of winter, symbolizing the end of childhood.
  • The cock on his shoulder alludes to betrayal (like Peter’s denial of Jesus), indicating a sense of betrayal by time.
  • The reference to Adam and maiden (Eve) evokes the Garden of Eden, comparing his time at Fern Hill to the idyllic and innocent time before the fall.

Lines 31-33: The sky gathered again / And the sun grew round that very day. / So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

  • The sky gathered again suggests the beginning of a new day, with the sun rising brightly.
  • The sun grew round that very day symbolizes a significant day in his memory, marking a transition from childhood to adulthood.
  • The birth of the simple light refers to the creation and beginning of the world, drawing a parallel to his own awakening and loss of innocence.

Stanza 5 Analysis

Lines 34-36: In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise.

  • First, spinning place refers to the earth in its early, untouched state, symbolizing the purity of his childhood.
  • Spellbound horses and whinnying green stable evoke a magical, idyllic scene where nature is alive and harmonious.
  • Fields of praise suggest a reverent appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Lines 37-39: And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house / Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, / In the sun born over and over,

  • The child feels honoured and at one with the wildlife and the surroundings of the gay house (cheerful home).
  • New made clouds and happy as the heart was long indicate the ever-changing, joyful experience of his youth.
  • Sun born over and over symbolizes the endless renewal and vitality of his childhood days.

Lines 40-42: I ran my heedless ways, / My wishes raced through the house high hay / And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

  • Heedless ways reflect the carefree and innocent nature of his childhood.
  • Wishes raced through his days, filled with imagination and joy.
  • Sky blue trades suggest the innocent and simple pleasures of childhood, unconstrained by time.

Lines 43-45: In the farm, in the sun, the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise.

  • The repetition emphasizes the idyllic and magical quality of his memories at Fern Hill.
  • The spellbound horses and fields of praise reiterate the harmonious and joyful environment of his childhood.

Lines 34-36: Before the children green and golden / Follow him out of grace,

  • Children green and golden: These children are young, naïve, and in perfect harmony with time. They represent the speaker’s childhood self, carefree and innocent.
  • Follow him out of grace: This indicates a fall from grace or innocence, similar to Adam and Eve leaving Eden. The speaker is aware that he has moved from a state of perfect union with nature to an awareness of reality, bringing with it regret and a loss of freedom.

Stanza 6 Analysis

Lines 46-47: Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me / Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

  • Nothing I cared: Emphasizes his complete freedom and lack of concern during childhood.
  • Lamb white days: Symbolizes innocence and purity, highlighting his carefree attitude as a child.
  • Time would take me: Time is personified, guiding him inevitably towards adulthood.
  • Up to the swallow thronged loft: A high place filled with swallows, representing a place of joy and freedom.
  • Shadow: Introduces something negative or unpleasant, hinting at the loss of innocence and the looming presence of adulthood.

Lines 48-51: In the moon that is always rising, / Nor that riding to sleep / I should hear him fly with the high fields / And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

  • The moon that is always rising: Suggests the perpetual passage of time and the continuous cycle of days and nights.
  • Nor that riding to sleep / I should hear him fly with the high fields: Literally, this means hearing swallows flying over the fields at night, but figuratively, it indicates how he went to sleep without worries, eagerly anticipating another day of play.
  • Wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land: The speaker laments that the carefree days of childhood are gone forever. Adulthood and its responsibilities have arrived too quickly, and he realizes that childhood innocence cannot be reclaimed.

Stanza 5 Analysis

Lines 34-36: In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise.

  • First, spinning place: Refers to the earth in its early, untouched state, symbolizing the purity of childhood.
  • Spellbound horses and whinnying green stable: Evoke a magical, idyllic scene where nature is alive and harmonious.
  • Fields of praise: Suggest a reverent appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Lines 37-39: And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house / Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, / In the sun born over and over,

  • The child feels honoured and at one with the wildlife and the surroundings of the gay house (cheerful home).
  • New made clouds and happy as the heart was long indicate the ever-changing, joyful experience of his youth.
  • Sun born over and over symbolizes the endless renewal and vitality of his childhood days.

Lines 40-42: I ran my heedless ways, / My wishes raced through the house high hay / And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

  • Heedless ways reflect the carefree and innocent nature of his childhood.
  • Wishes raced through his days, filled with imagination and joy.
  • Sky blue trades suggest the innocent and simple pleasures of childhood, unconstrained by time.

Lines 43-45: In the farm, in the sun, the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise.

  • The repetition emphasizes the idyllic and magical quality of his memories at Fern Hill.
  • The spellbound horses and fields of praise reiterate the harmonious and joyful environment of his childhood.

Lines 34-36: Before the children green and golden / Follow him out of grace,

  • Children green and golden: These children represent those who are still young, naïve, and in perfect harmony with time. They symbolize the carefree nature of the speaker’s own childhood.
  • Follow him out of grace: This phrase indicates a fall from grace or innocence, akin to Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden. The speaker is aware of his transition from a state of perfect union with nature to an awareness of reality, which brings regret and a loss of freedom.

Lines 46-47: Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me / Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

  • Nothing I cared: Emphasizes the speaker’s complete freedom and lack of concern during childhood.
  • Lamb white days: Symbolizes innocence and purity, highlighting his carefree attitude as a child.
  • Time would take me: Time is personified as a guiding force that leads him from childhood to adulthood.
  • Up to the swallow thronged loft: A high place filled with swallows, representing a place of joy and freedom.
  • Shadow: Introduces something negative or unpleasant, hinting at the impending loss of innocence and the responsibilities of adulthood.

Lines 48-51: In the moon that is always rising, / Nor that riding to sleep / I should hear him fly with the high fields / And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

  • The moon that is always rising: Suggests the perpetual passage of time and the continuous cycle of days and nights.
  • Nor that riding to sleep / I should hear him fly with the high fields: Literally, this means hearing swallows flying over the fields at night. Figuratively, it indicates how the speaker went to sleep without worries, eagerly anticipating another day of play.
  • And wake to the farm forever fled: The speaker laments that the carefree days of childhood are gone forever. Adulthood and its responsibilities have arrived too quickly, and he realizes that childhood innocence cannot be reclaimed.
  • Childless land: The speaker reflects on how the farm, once a place of joy and freedom, now feels distant and unreachable due to the loss of his childhood innocence.

Lines 52-54: 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.

  • Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means: Reflects on the carefree days of youth, where the speaker was at ease and time was gentle.
  • Time held me green and dying: Contrasts the vitality of youth (green) with the inevitable approach of death (dying). Time is both a nurturer and destroyer.
  • Though I sang in my chains like the sea: Despite the constraints of time and the loss of innocence, the speaker finds hope and expression through art. The verb “sang” suggests that the speaker’s memories and experiences are immortalized through poetry.

Themes

Childhood Joy and Innocence:
“Fern Hill” nostalgically recalls the speaker’s carefree and joyful childhood. This theme is woven through the poem with vivid depictions of the speaker’s youthful adventures and the pure delight he found in the natural world. The innocence of childhood is celebrated through imagery of green fields, golden light, and the simplicity of rural life. The speaker’s recollections are filled with a sense of wonder and enchantment, emphasizing the untroubled and blissful state of being a child.

Harmony and the Wonder of Nature:
The poem is set in an idyllic rural landscape, depicted with rich and vivid imagery that showcases the beauty and harmony of nature. The speaker’s childhood is intertwined with the natural world, presenting a harmonious relationship where he feels at one with his surroundings. This connection to nature is illustrated through descriptions of apple trees, hayfields, and starlit nights. Nature is not just a backdrop but an integral part of the speaker’s joyful experiences.

Time:
Time is a significant theme in “Fern Hill,” personified throughout the poem as both a gentle guide and a relentless force. During the speaker’s childhood, time is depicted as kind and merciful, allowing the child to revel in his carefree days. However, as the poem progresses, time becomes a symbol of the inevitable passage and the loss of innocence. The juxtaposition of “green and dying” highlights how time nurtures youth but also brings about its end, emphasizing the fleeting nature of life’s most joyous moments.

The End of Childhood Grace:
A central theme of the poem is the transition from the innocence of childhood to the awareness of adulthood. This loss of grace is akin to a fall from Eden, where the speaker moves from a state of perfect harmony and innocence to one of awareness and experience. The poem captures this bittersweet shift, mourning the end of the carefree days and the onset of adult responsibilities and consciousness.

Nostalgia:
The speaker looks back longingly at his past, cherishing the memories of his youth with a sense of nostalgia. The recollections are imbued with a deep yearning for the simplicity and happiness of childhood. This longing is palpable in the rich, evocative descriptions and the emotional depth of the poem, as the speaker revisits the idyllic days spent at Fern Hill.

Regret Associated with Growing Up:
Alongside nostalgia, there is a strong sense of regret in the poem. The speaker mourns the loss of innocence and the harsh realities that come with growing up. The joyous memories of childhood are contrasted with the somber acknowledgment that those days are irretrievably lost. This regret underscores the theme of the inevitability of time and the changes it brings.

The Joys of Childhood:
“Fern Hill” celebrates the simple, carefree joys of being a child. The poem is filled with images of play, exploration, and the boundless imagination of youth. The speaker’s childhood is portrayed as a time of pure, unadulterated happiness, where each day is an adventure and the world is full of wonder.

Tone

Joyful:
The poem initially captures the exuberance and freedom of childhood. The tone is light and joyful, filled with the delight and wonder of a young boy’s experiences at Fern Hill.

Fervent:
There is a passionate intensity in the speaker’s recollection of his youth. The descriptions are vivid and lively, conveying the strong emotions associated with these memories.

Emotional:
The language and imagery evoke strong feelings of happiness and longing. The speaker’s deep connection to his past is evident in the rich emotional landscape of the poem.

Ecstatic/Rhapsodic:
The speaker’s memories are portrayed in an almost dreamlike, rhapsodic manner. The poem’s rhythmic and lyrical quality enhances this ecstatic tone, creating a sense of euphoria and enchantment.

Melancholy:
As the poem progresses, a sense of sadness emerges as the speaker acknowledges the loss of innocence. The transition from the joyful recollections of childhood to the somber reflections on growing up introduces a melancholic undertone.

Nostalgic:
The overall tone is nostalgic, as the speaker reflects on his past with a mix of joy and sorrow. The longing for the simplicity and happiness of childhood is ever-present, coloring the poem with a bittersweet hue.

Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” is a poignant reflection on the beauty and innocence of childhood, set against the inevitable passage of time. The poem’s rich imagery and lyrical quality capture the speaker’s deep connection to nature and the joy he experienced in his youth. Through the lens of nostalgia, the speaker laments the loss of this innocence but finds solace in the ability to preserve these memories through art. The contrast between the vibrant memories of childhood and the sobering realities of adulthood highlights the bittersweet nature of growing up.

Questions and Answers for “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas

Comprehension Questions

Q: What is the primary setting of the poem “Fern Hill”?
A: The primary setting of the poem is Fern Hill, a rural farm where the speaker spent his childhood. The setting is depicted as an idyllic and natural landscape filled with apple trees, hayfields, and starlit nights.

Q: How does the speaker describe his childhood in the poem?
A: The speaker describes his childhood as carefree, joyful, and deeply connected to nature. He reminisces about playing in the fields, feeling like a prince of the apple towns, and being in harmony with his surroundings.

Q: What does the phrase “green and golden” signify in the context of the poem?
A: The phrase “green and golden” symbolizes the vitality and richness of the speaker’s childhood. “Green” represents youth and innocence, while “golden” suggests the preciousness and glory of those early years.

Analysis Questions

Q: How does Dylan Thomas personify time in “Fern Hill”?
A: Time is personified in the poem as both a gentle guide and a relentless force. During the speaker’s childhood, time is depicted as kind and merciful, allowing him to enjoy his carefree days. However, time also brings the inevitability of growing up and the loss of innocence.

Q: What role does nature play in the poem?
A: Nature plays a central role in the poem, serving as both a setting and a source of joy for the speaker. The vivid descriptions of the natural landscape highlight the speaker’s deep connection to his environment and emphasize the harmony and wonder he experienced as a child.

Q: How does the poem convey the theme of the loss of innocence?
A: The poem conveys the theme of the loss of innocence through the speaker’s transition from a carefree child to an aware adult. This shift is depicted as a fall from grace, similar to Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden. The joyful memories of childhood are contrasted with the regret and melancholy of adulthood.

Interpretation Questions

Q: What might the “shadow of my hand” symbolize in the poem?
A: The “shadow of my hand” likely symbolizes the encroaching presence of adulthood and its responsibilities. It introduces a negative or unpleasant element, suggesting that the carefree days of childhood are being overshadowed by the awareness and burdens of growing up.

Q: How does the speaker’s tone change throughout the poem?
A: The speaker’s tone changes from joyful and ecstatic to nostalgic and melancholic. Initially, the poem captures the exuberance and freedom of childhood, but as it progresses, a sense of sadness and regret emerges as the speaker acknowledges the loss of innocence and the passage of time.

Q: What significance does the poem place on memory and art?
A: The poem places significant importance on memory and art as means of capturing and preserving the joys of childhood. Despite the inevitable passage of time and the loss of innocence, the speaker finds hope in the ability to immortalize his memories through poetry, suggesting that the joy of youth can be recaptured, even if briefly, through creative expression.

Application Questions

Q: How might the themes of “Fern Hill” resonate with readers today?
A: The themes of “Fern Hill,” such as the joy of childhood, the harmony with nature, and the inevitable loss of innocence, are universal and timeless. Readers today can relate to the nostalgic longing for the simplicity and happiness of their own childhoods and the bittersweet realization that those days are irretrievably lost.

Q: In what ways can the poem “Fern Hill” be seen as a celebration of life?
A: The poem can be seen as a celebration of life through its vivid depictions of the speaker’s joyful and carefree childhood. The lush, natural imagery and the exuberant tone highlight the beauty and wonder of the world, reminding readers of the preciousness of their own experiences and memories.

Q: How can educators use “Fern Hill” to teach about the use of imagery in poetry?
A: Educators can use “Fern Hill” to teach about imagery by analyzing how Dylan Thomas uses descriptive language to create vivid pictures of the natural world and the speaker’s experiences. Students can explore how the imagery enhances the emotional impact of the poem and conveys its themes of joy, innocence, and the passage of time. By examining specific examples from the text, students can gain a deeper understanding of the power of imagery in poetry.

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