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Fern Hill | Study Guide

Dylan Thomas

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Fern Hill | Plot Summary & Analysis



Carefree Nature of Childhood

The first three stanzas of the poem are dedicated to depicting the sort of joys and carefree abandon children feel when they are young and untouched by the cares of the world. Thomas draws from his days at his aunt's farm at Fern Hill because these were some of the most idyllic memories he has. Childhood is a time when the young feel empowered, immortal, and capable of such great things. The poem suggests that childhood is the best time of life because the knowledge of death and corruption has not yet crept into their existence. Time is personified and initially acts as a benevolent caretaker in the first three stanzas.

The Changing Nature of Time

The last three stanzas of the poem offer the reader a more sobering view of childhood than that shown in the poem's beginning. This perspective depicts the end of childhood and the movement toward the reality of life. As a contrast to the first three stanzas, the last three stanzas depict Time as a cruel master leading the child out of paradise.


"Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas is written in six stanzas. The first three stanzas depict the poet's experiences on his aunt's farm and the carefree nature of being young and innocent. The last three stanzas are a bittersweet commentary on the loss of innocence and the toil of having to grow up.

Stanza 1–3

The speaker describes his blissful delight when he was a child out in nature. The speaker describes a very picturesque and pastoral setting and says he was the "prince of the apple towns" and the world of that farm was his dominion. He says he was "famous among the barns" and that he and the animals peacefully coexisted. Time did not mean anything to him. The speaker says, "Time let me hail and climb / golden in the heydays of his eyes." In this instance Time is a playmate and cheerful companion. In Stanza 2 the speaker states that "Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means." He was without care and his happiness was immeasurable when he was young and innocent.

The fantasy that the child engaged in while on the farm aids the paradise state implied by the speaker. It is a timeless experience without any hint of loss, decay, or sadness. In Stanza 3 the speaker expounds on the wonders that seem so large and lovely when one is a child. He describes "the hay fields as high as a house, the tunes from the chimneys." At night when he would ride "to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away." However, at the end of Stanza 3 the child's symbolic sleep ends in a flashing light in the dark. This flash is the light of awareness and signals the loss of paradise, freedom, and innocent bliss.

Stanzas 4–6

The waking child in Stanza 4 is symbolic of wakening into maturity. Like Adam and Eve, the child awakens after "the fall," or maturity, to a new world. Adam and Eve are people depicted in the Christian Bible. In the story of Genesis they are exiled from the Garden of Eden because they broke faith with God and their innocence was removed. The adult world is not as carefree as that of childhood and the speaker experiences a sense of regret and loss as he moves from one to the other. Time has betrayed him. This betrayal is indicated by the placing of the cock on his shoulder. A cock is another name for a rooster and is an allusion to the betrayal of Jesus (5 BCE–33 CE) in the Christian faith. A rooster crows when Jesus is betrayed in the Bible. When the child awakens, he declares that it was like "Adam and maiden, / The sky gathered again." At this point in his life, the farm moves forward without him. He imagines "the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable." The speaker recalls with a stinging sense of regret and intense nostalgia that he was "in the sun born over and over / I ran my heedless ways" when he was young.

The child has an awareness he never had before because he is now growing up. The fantasies he once engaged in as easily as breathing are difficult. He laments that "the children green and golden / Follow him out of grace." The use of the word "grace" indicates a fall from grace or innocence and suggests he has moved from a state of perfect union to an awareness of reality. The embrace of reality brings with it regret and a loss of freedom. The poem does not end on this sad note. The speaker suggests that it is possible to regain some of that peaceful freedom of childhood through creativity and thus Time does not erase everything. The speaker writes, "I should hear him fly with the high fields / And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land." He suggests that the loss of youth to time and reality can be recaptured in the same type of joy that comes from creating art.

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