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The elements of modernism in Thomas's "Fern Hill"

Dylan Thomas is undoubtedly one of the leading modern poets in English literature. His poems contain some of the basic features of modernism. Though he was not directly related to modern literary movements like surrealism, expressionism or imagist movement, his poetry reflects many of the vital elements of those new trends. In the Fem Hill" his portrayal of the childhood symbolizes an inward journey a modern poet through the corridor of memory for a paradise far from of the decay and degeneration of the contemporary world. Both thematically and structurally this poem can claim to be the representative modern poem.

Modernism  involves a deliberate and radical break with the traditional bases of western culture. The traditional structures of society held by religion, morality and conventional values are being questioned in modern literature. Especially after the First World War man's faith in traditional society and institutions was totally jolted. T. S. Eliot has portrayed in his poems 'the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history'. Dylan Thomas has not been openly critical of his age. However, his poems convey the central features of the new type of poetry. Even in his treatment- of religion Dylan has brought out new ideas. For example, in the picture of childhood we find the religious connotation in the following lines: And the Sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams.

When Sunday came the boy heard the ringing of the church bells which mixed with the sound of the water flowed over the pebbles of the streams. The combination of church bells and streams imply that the divine glory mingled with the innocent joys of childhood made the childhood holier. This touch of religion is more pagan than Christian. Here we notice his attempt to create personal myths out of the old religious terms. Treatment of faith in this manner is an element of modernism.

Dylan Thomas is modern because of his poetic technique. In his 'Fern Hill' he has experimented with different forms, words and images. He gives newness to the much used phrases as in 'below a time", "happy as the grass was green' or 'all the sun long'. In the same way he gives new shape to the stanzas challenging all traditional stanza forms. In "Fem Hill" the stanzas have the shape of flying birds that imitates the flying imagination of the boy. All these are examples of experimentalism which is another feature of modernism.

Apparent obscurity is another feature of modern poetry. In fact, modern poems have so many levels of meanings that sometimes they appear almost incomprehensible. "Fern Hill" also seems obscure because of the elements of surrealism and personal fantasy. Here owls, Thomas gives a surrealistic description of child's fantasies which are unchained by the values of adulthood. The boy's fantasies about nights, night jars and horses presented in a way that seems obscure This is because Thomas takes his style near to the thinking of a child. Things exist only for 'him' and when he is unconscious they do not exist at all. Consequently, it has become obscure, one of the main features of modernism.

Still another feature of modernism is expressionism that we find in "Fern Hill". Expressionism is a movement or tendency that strives to express subjective feelings and emotions rather than to depict reality or nature objectively. In this poem Dylan Thomas has tried to present an emotional experience in its most compelling form. He is not concerned with reality as it appears but with its inner nature and with the emotions dormant in it. To achieve these ends, the childhood in "Fern Hill" is abundantly exaggerated, magnified, or otherwise altered in order to stress the emotional experience in its most intense and concentrated form. In this poem in true expressionistic manner the poet has brought out the uncommon vigour, energy, warmth and vitality of childhood.

As a modern poet Dylan Thomas has combined most of the basic features of modernism. In the 'Fern Hill' we find his finest craftsmanship in the blending of expressionism, experimental images. surrealism, creation of personal myths and unconventional word choice These modern elements have perfected his magic of poetic skill in the "Fern Hill".


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