Comparing Loss in Thomas’s Fern Hill and Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality
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Loss of Childhood in Thomas’ Fern Hill and Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Through the use of nature and time, Dylan Thomas’s "Fern Hill" and William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” both address the agonizing loss of childhood. While Wordsworth recognizes that wisdom and experience recompense this loss(Poetry Criticism 370), Thomas views "life after childhood as bondage"(Viswanathan 286).
As “Fern Hill” progresses, Thomas’s attitude towards childhood changes from one of happiness and fulfillment to sadness and loss. In the first five stanzas of "Fern Hill," Thomas uses nature as a pleasing memory of childhood, but in the last stanza his memories of nature during childhood reveal what he has lost. In this last stanza, Thomas, instead of reveling in the memory of childhood, can conjure only pain. The metamorphosis of the words "green" and "gold" through his poem, ranging in connotation from freshness to decay, helps to convey Thomas’s perceived loss of innocence and insouciance. Thomas initially personifies Time as "Golden" in line 5; time views Thomas as "prince of the apple towns," (line 6) worthy of the riches nature has to offer. Thomas again refers to "green and golden" in line 10: "green and carefree…" to describe himself as young and blessed. The ironic statement: "green and golden I was huntsman…calves sang to my horn,"(line 15) demonstrates the power childhood gives him. A horn traditionally "sings" to another object, but Thomas’s calves sing to his horn demonstrating that childhood bestows power unattainable at any other stage of life. Thomas as an adult lacks power to do the unexpected because childhood’s magic can no longer create these kinds of illusions. The power of childhood imag...
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...ord "sang" suggests that Thomas ultimately accepts adulthood, even though he does so reluctantly. Thus, while Thomas seems to make "a hell out of heaven"(Paradise Lost line 255), Wordsworth is able to regress to childhood in his mind and heart and still maintain adult reason and rationality. Wordsworth’s new found knowledge and understanding of mortality will no longer allow his fear of mortality and adulthood to impede him from "living."
Although Thomas and Wordsworth are both sorrowful at the loss of childhood, Wordsworth’s ability to recognize the rewards of adulthood-- knowledge, experience, and a philosophical mind larger than any child’s-- makes his poem more of a guide to living than Thomas’s. Thomas, in his regretful acceptance of age, feels "old at being young"; Wordsworth, on the other hand, enlightens the reader on how to feel "young at being old."