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Fern Hill | Study Guide

Dylan Thomas

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Fern Hill | Context


Wales in the 1930s

Wales in the 1930s was not a great place to be economically speaking. The coal industry made up a good part of the country's economy and exports of this product dropped so significantly by the 1930s that unemployment numbers were at 42 percent. Wales was considered one of the world's poorest countries. Almost every industry suffered in the Great Depression (1929–33). Many farmers did not make as much as people who were receiving unemployment benefits. Many people could not afford to live in Wales any longer. This economic strife contributed to the many times Thomas and his family left and returned to Wales throughout his lifetime. This turbulent time in his life made him long for the peaceful days of his childhood when there was no war and he ran carefree on his aunt's farm named Fern Hill.

World War II

In some regards the onset of World War II (1939–45) benefited Wales enormously. The coal industry began to produce at record levels again and men who had been out of work enlisted as soldiers. As the war progressed, many of the families in Wales took in evacuees from neighboring countries. Wales had taken in nearly four million people by the end of the war. Swansea was bombed which reminded the Welsh that they were not too far out of the range of the German air force. During this time those who were not able to fight due to health considerations found other ways to assist. Some worked as journalists while others helped create care packages to send to the troops. Thomas did not qualify to fight as a soldier because of his asthma. He did find a way to serve by working for the Ministry of Information. Thomas wrote scripts and helped to create documentaries about the ongoing war effort. These were shown in the cinemas right before the feature show was aired. It was during World War II that Thomas wrote "Fern Hill." The poem depicts an idyllic return to childhood and the inevitability of maturity and loss of innocence. It would be published in 1945 shortly after the war was over.

Conscientious Objectors

Thomas was a conscientious objector at the onset of World War II (1939–45). A person who decides not to bear arms, fight in the armed forces, or accept military training is called a "conscientious objector." Many people who choose to declare as conscientious objectors consider themselves pacifists and reject military service as a matter of principle. He changed his mind after his friends began to sign up. However, he was rejected because of his health. Thomas later did his part for the war effort by working for the Ministry of Information. Thomas wrote scripts for war movies and newsreels and made radio announcements. During World War II, Thomas wrote "Fern Hill" while serving the war effort in a nonviolent capacity. The poem reflects a desire to return to the innocence of childhood.

Postwar America

America did not have to focus on rebuilding in comparison to many European countries after World War II. As a result of the war, America found itself experiencing an economic boom. Everyone was able to find a job, more families were able to purchase a car, and other countries looked to the United States for material support in their rebuilding efforts. Many artists of the time enjoyed patronage from wealthy American families who elevated them to celebrity status. This was the case for Thomas. His poem "Fern Hill" and the collection they appeared in were noticed by many wealthy patrons, including the socialite Margaret Taylor. She was the first wife of noted historian and broadcaster A.J.P. Taylor (1906–90). Though Thomas drank away most of the money he received, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle when he traveled to America.

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