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Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower: An Explication

The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 1
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever. 5

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks. 10

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime. 15

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars. 20

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm. 22

1933- Dylan Thomas

"The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" is a poem about the cycle of life. Creation naturally flows into destruction and back to creation again. Everything that is alive must eventually die and something will be born to take its place. This poem is made up of four five-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme of ababa. The meter for this poem is iambic decasyllabic. The construction of the poem is easy to understand but some of the imagery is far more difficult to interpret. "[Thomas's] early poems deploy a strange fusion of archetypal Christian symbolism with biological or bodily and sometimes industrial imagery" (Christie). These combinations of imagery make the poetry open to many interpretations. That fact will be acknowledged many times in this explication.

Line one introduces us to the focus of the poem. "The force" is explained no further than by detailing what it does. And in this line the force is presented in its role as creator. It "drives" the flower; or, it makes the flower grow and bloom. Also contained within this first line is the first instance of another very important element of the poem; unusual or unlikely word combinations are abundant in this poem (and many of Thomas's works). The "green fuse" is just the first; it is made up of "green" that usually symbolizes life, spring and renewal as well as "fuse," which is a timing device for a bomb, an item of mass destruction. The "green fuse" most likely refers to the stem of the flower.

Line two of this poem also contains an interesting word pairing. "Green age": green with its connotations described above and age with its implied meaning of being old. If Thomas had used years instead of age this word mismatch would not exist. These word mismatchings are part of Thomas’s unique and sometimes confusing imagery. This line also introduces the destructive nature of "the force." Not only does the force drive the flower and the poet but it also "blasts the roots of trees." Here is the first instance of the underlying circle of life theme in this poem. Here "the force" that caused he flowers to bloom in line one now kills the trees; this completes the cycle of life and death.

Because line three breaks away from the decasyllabic structure of the other lines it has special emphasis. Each stanza’s third line displays this characteristic. Line three is used to tie the poet’s fate to that of the tree. The speaker will die just like the tree. This is another instance of the circle of life theme.

Every stanza contains some variation of line four. "And I am dumb to" opens every fourth line in each of the five line stanzas as well as the first line of the couplet. "Dumb" could be interpreted two ways; it could mean unable to speak (for physical or emotional reasons) or it could mean that the speaker was lacking in intelligence to explain what he feels. Crooked rose is another interesting combination of words. A rose, a thing of beauty, is described as crooked. This description seems to destroy the beauty of the rose. One of the possible interpretations of this is that a "crooked rose" is one that is fully in bloom. Fully opened roses tend to bend just below the flower from the weight of the full bloom. This could also be a reference to rose bushes, which are far more scraggly and bent than long-stemmed roses; they also have many more thorns.

The final line of the first stanza is the poets attempt to tell the crooked rose what the poet felt unable to tell in the fourth line. Here the unlikely pairing of "wintry" and "fever" could be interpreted many ways. A broad reading would be that "wintry fever" is a reference to the force. Since both "the force" and "wintry fever" seem to be alluding to the control of nature/time this seems to be the most fitting explanation. Because the speaker "is bent by the same wintry fever" it is as if he is saying that he has fully bloomed; his flower is fully opened. The sexual implication here is that the speaker is now ready to develop a relationship to produce offspring like the fully opened flower.

The second stanza follows the same pattern as the first. But now "the focus changes from the relationship between man and the biological world to man and the geological world" (Gale). This is evident in the imagery used. Stanza one has "the flower," "the roots of trees," and " the crooked rose" while the second stanza has "the rocks," "the mouthing stream," and "the mountain spring." The sixth and seventh lines once again demonstrate the creative and destructive nature of the force. Here the force is driving water through a rock; this image is a very strong Old Testament reference to Moses drawing water from a rock in the desert. The drying of the mouthing stream is the destructive element of this stanza. The "mouthing" stream is not easily interpreted. The probable meaning is one obtained by using "mouthing" as a gerund. If that is done, there is a babbling brook image. Leon Malinofsky has another interpretation of these lines in his paraphrasing of "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower." He interprets the lines as, "The same divine force, that erodes the rocks away/Is in me and in my blood; that force that dries the generative streams/Dries my blood, ages me." Malinofsky sees the "mouthing streams" as the "generative" or creative energy.

"Turns mine to wax" in the eighth line is emphasized because of its lack of the decasyllabic format. Here again the poet is saying that he will suffer the same fate as nature. The "mine" is most likely the poet’s blood and it being turned to wax is implying the embalmer’s handiwork.
Lines nine and ten follow the same pattern set in the first stanza. The poet is unable for emotional reasons to tell his veins that he gets his life from the same place as nature. "Mouth in [line 10] takes on an almost vampirish quality, as it sucks life away, the water from the stream, the blood from the speaker’s veins" (Gale). The speaker could also be talking about himself sucking the water from the mountain spring. "Yet I cannot convince myself viscerally that this is so./That my reason and energy are those of nature, on the mountain spring" (Malinofsky). One picture that could be taken form this line is one of a man suckling from the breast of mother earth or from the highly religious symbol of the rock that Moses struck.

While the first three lines of the third stanza follow the same pattern as the first two stanzas’ the remaining two lines of this stanza stray from the established pattern. The rhyme scheme also shifts to ababc. In line 11 it is no longer an arbitrary force that is causing the action it is now embodied in "the hand that whirls the pool." This use of hand seems to indicate the hand of God as it is used in many Bible passages. This could also be a reference to the angle who stirs the water of the pool of Bethesda to make it curative in John 5:1-4 (Abrams 2279). This religious reference fits with the type of imagery Thomas employed and was probably his intent.

If lines 12 and 13 were strictly following the pattern established in the earlier stanzas, they would showcase the destructive nature of the hand. And, if "hauls my shroud sail" is seen in a destructive way--symbolizing the death of the speaker--then this stanza does follow the creation-destruction pattern. Another way to interpret "hauls my shroud sail" is as a reference to death. Another way to see this line is to remember the wonder felt when a strong gust of wind hits you and makes your clothes flutter and fly around you. This is a possible interpretation because so much of the is stanza breaks the pattern it is likely that the non-decasyllabic line will not be the destructive force affecting the speaker like the pattern set in the other stanzas.
Lines 14 and 15 stray drastically from the established pattern. The hanging man is brought in and there was no previous reference to a hanging man earlier in the stanza. The significance of the lime being made from the speaker’s clay is unclear. The lime pit is where the bodies from a hanging execution were disposed but there is no immediate relationship to the themes of the poem. It is even unclear whether the "hanging man" is the executioner, the executed or both.

The fourth stanza also strays dramatically from the pattern set in the first two stanzas. No longer happy to talk about the effects of time or "the force" the speaker now talks about time itself. Line 16 presents a grotesque image of time as a leech. But "leech is an archaic term for doctors, and a loss of blood may be beneficial" (Maud 175). This use of "leech" is another example of Thomas’s imagery. "Much of this stanza is more easily felt than defined" (Gale). The imagery becomes so unclear that interpretation becomes difficult if not impossible.

In lines 17 and 18 it is very difficult to find one interpretation. It is unclear who the "her" is. It is also unclear as to whether the blood is from birth, death or a sexual encounter. The ambiguities of these images make it difficult to pin down a meaning. Lines 19 and 20 are very similar in their use of non-specific images and multiple interpretations. The images are so open to interpretation that to address all the possibilities would take time and space beyond the bounds of this paper. One possible interpretation is that these lines are another reference to the circle of life. Time has "ticked" or measured/counted a heaven, a permanent fixture, around he stars that will eventually die and are born.

The closing couplet is intended to complete the cycle of creation and destruction. The speaker is unable to tell "the lover’s tomb" in this couplet. The lover’s tomb could be an allusion to the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. It could also be a reference to Thomas's lover’s tomb (although there is no historical support for this). The sheet is either a death shroud or a sail on a ship. The crooked worm could be the worm that is supposed to eat a corpse or it could be a phallic symbol. Either way it fits into the cycle of life, death and birth.

"The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" is a wonderful poem. Although some of the intended meaning of the imagery is lost because of the intensely personal nature of the writing, it actually makes the poem appeal to a wider audience who can interpret the personal images personally. "Thomas fully intended his images to be understood. Unfortunately for the reader, the intensely personal nature of many of his metaphors makes this difficult" (Gale). I don't know if it is that unfortunate. For instance, if there was a definite interpretation that said line 13 ("Hauls my shroud sail") represented death, this poem would be a lot less hopeful.

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., et al, Eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2. 6th
ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.

Christie, William. "Dylan Thomas, Poet." 30 Oct. 1998. www.pcug.org.au/~wwhatman/dtpoet.html, 19 April 1999.

Gale Research, 1997; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition: Merriam-
Webster Inc. 1994 http://www.galenet.com (13 Apr. 1998).

Malinofsky, Leon. "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower:
Paraphrased." 15 Oct. 1995. www.crocker.com/~lwm/theforce.html, 18 April 1999.

Maud, Ralph. Entrances to Dylan Thomas’s Poetry. University of Pittsburgh Press:

Thomas Dylan. "The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower." The Norton
Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2. 6th ed. Eds. Abrams, M.H., et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993. 2279-2280.

1 comment:

arya said...

Thank you SO much! I first read the poem and thought it was hopeless to understand it. Your short essay on it has helped incredibly.