Guest Author - Siobhain M Cullen
Inspirational short stories can make new writers want to rush out and write about what is around them, and Dylan Thomas A Child's Christmas In Wales is one of the most evocative of inspirational short stories or poetic prose pieces.
Sadly, cat lovers will not like this short story by Dylan Thomas, or rather they will not like the snowball ammunition threat posed to them by boys like Dylan Thomas out to make the most of the Christmas snowfall by seeking worthy targets. However, they, like many readers, may appreciate and enjoy the clarity, the color and the precision which poets can bring to the short story genre. Poetic elements in short story writing are illustrated well in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, and they are examined here.
The story opens as it closes, with peace, sleep and solitude as Thomas recalls lost Christmas voices and memories in the moments before sleep. He starts off with the narrative voice manfully enough, but within a few seconds he slides into a more poetic rhythmic delivery, waxing into long, lyrical lullaby lines and evocative images.
He speaks of “all the Christmases” that “roll down towards the two-tongued sea” and the “headlong” moon “bundling down the sky that was our street.” His description of the sea in winter (where these Christmases end up) leaves the reader in no doubt that it is a poet who speaks! The memories land at the “rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves.” Dylan Thomas, unlike writers who waste the image-rich treasury which the jagged coast of Wales and The West Country offers, here truly does it justice.
As if to keep himself on track (and many writers will be familiar with the pressing need to focus, focus, focus!) he abruptly changes tack and returns, or tries to return to the narrative – an anecdote of a pal’s Christmas Eve house fire. Even here, the poetic genius glistens like the snow he waits in with his pal, for cats! He describes the creatures as “sleek………horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling” which “slink and sidle” - making the words sound like the spitting itself. Hands in the socks that the poor (or the just-plain- disorganised) wear instead of gloves in snowy weather, they wait for their opportunity to “hurl snowballs at the green of their eyes.”
The handling of the action and of the dialogue that follows, displays not an inability to write narrative or drama, rather a struggle for supremacy between this and a drive to write poetry. The writing becomes staccato, even boasting a successful effort at humor, as the pal’s mother calls for the fire brigade. The young pals decide to ring all three services and also “Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires.” Here the writing successfully evokes the childhood narrative voices of children.
Soon, however, the poet is back with long, beautiful, lyrical, image-rich sentences which roll back the centuries with repetition of the words before, before, before….. to a time when snow came “shawling” and “drifted out of the arms and bodies of the trees.”
In places (as in his later piece “Under Milk Wood”) some may find the imagery overdone, heavy and clumsy as a snow-broken bough. There is even a danger that snow imagery such as “like a pure and grandfather moss” or flakes that “minutely-ivied” the walls may disrupt the fluency of the writing flow.
Indeed, even the imaginary children to whom Thomas appears to be telling the tale, seem to grow impatient with it’s spinning, telling him to “get back to the postmen.” Perhaps they are anxious to hear about the presents they used to bring!
However the precision and color of the images of the winter postmen are ‘must-haves,’ crunching up the paths, as they do, with their “sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses” and manfully “mittening on the doors” or knocking with “blue knuckles,” all the while “making ghosts with their breath.”
The children get their way eventually, and Thomas treats us to a spicy, colorful, glittering, scented patchwork of old-time Christmas presents including “engulfing mufflers, “balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes,” or ”bags of moist and many-colored jelly-babies,” a false nose, a conductor’s cap with ticket-punching machine (that must have been fun!) toffee, fudge, allsorts, humbugs and “butterwelsh for the Welsh!” and “troops of bright tin soldiers.”
After introductions to relatives who are home for Christmas, including brittle aunts that nobody wants, a lady who sings in the coal-yard like “a big-bosomed thrush” and several fat, stuffed uncles who snore before the Christmas Afternoon fire, Thomas winds down again into poetic prose to conclude his piece. The evening mellows with board games, music and bed.
After a busy sociable day colored with the activity and presence of other people, Thomas is again alone and his sentences lengthen once more in the “long, steady falling night.” He watches the smoke and the music rising from all the village chimneys through his bedroom window. The peace, solitude and near-spirituality of the poet prevails, as he says “some words to the close and holy darkness “ finishing…. “and then I slept.”