Explication: I Dreamed My Genesis by Dylan Thomas

 

 

I dreamed my genesis in sweat of sleep, breaking

Through the rotating shell, strong

As motor muscle on the drill, driving

Through vision and the girdered nerve.

 –

From limbs that had the measure of the worm, shuffled

Off from the creasing flesh, filed

Through all the irons in the grass, metal

Of suns in the man-melting night.

Heir to the scalding veins that hold love’s drop, costly

A creature in my bones I

Rounded my globe of heritage, journey

In bottom gear through night-geared man.

I dreamed my genesis and died again, shrapnel

Rammed in the marching heart, hole

In the stitched wound and clotted wind, muzzled

Death on the mouth that ate the gas.

 –

Sharp in my second death I marked the hills, harvest

Of hemlock and the blades, rust

My blood upon the tempered dead, forcing

My second struggling from the grass.

 –

And power was contagious in my birth, second

Rise of the skeleton and

Rerobing of the naked ghost. Manhood

Spat up from the resuffered pain.

I dreamed my genesis in sweat of death, fallen

Twice in the feeding sea, grown

Stale of Adam’s brine until, vision

Of new man strength, I seek the sun.

——–

 

 

 

The most consistent thread in Dylan Thomas’ work is a yearning to return or be transported to a place of youth and innocence. Thomas politicizes the world because he is never content nor accepting of the standards and norms that most adults adhere to, quite frankly his poems are a mockery of the real world. Thomas prefers the ideal. “I Dream My Genesis” is Thomas grappling with re-envisioning his beginning in the thick of a restless night. Thomas’ life story is consistently retold as one of carelessness, drunkenness and irresponsibility despite his incredible gifting and talent. Many critics seem to believe his poems exhibit a sort of drunken stupor, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. I find myself in both beliefs that some of his poems have depth and some seem to me a bit rushed.

However, hearing Thomas recite his poems, I am pressed to believe maybe the poems I do not understand have a depth I cannot quite grasp, at least not until I understand the poet more intimately. Taking into account Thomas’ history; his inability to hold a job, to stay sober, there is something the poet is running from or processing through. And though poetry is a great escape for many, maybe it was not enough of an escape for Thomas. I also ask myself, “where does he want to escape to?” The answer I believe is, to his childhood, or at least a place of purity, of innocence. This drive is what creates such a force in Thomas’ words and makes his poetry so bombastic, yearning, ethereal and youthful. His poems can be personified as a child skipping through nature, chomping at the bit to see over a new horizon. It is as if the poem could fly him away and the more forceful the language the higher he is projected. This is also clearly seen in his poem, “Poem in October”,  where Thomas reflects on his childhood, stating, “his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.” The child’s heart was Thomas’s own heart, even as a man, this heart was inescapable and fantastically fascinated with repainting the world and marveling at nature.

This fascination with repainting the world and returning to innocence is what “I Dreamed My Genesis” is all about.  This is what we see in lines 1 and 2 of the first stanza, it is this “breaking through the rotating shell”, the shell is his body similar to the shell of a bullet. Thomas in this dream-like state is similar to a bullet in the chamber, he is yearning to be propelled, ‘rotating’ as the bullet spins, so he spins in his sleep, and metaphorically piercing into the reality of his dream. This dream we speak of where he re-imagines his beginning, where he questions what life would be like if he had not lost his innocence. This dream where he repeatedly envisions what life would be like if he could choose the circumstance that shaped him. But he couldn’t.

To dream of his genesis is his only temporary escape, just as alcohol was his temporary escape. He ties the two states together, the state of dreaming in sleep and the state of dreaming while intoxicated , “I dreamed my genesis in sweat of death, fallen Twice in the feeding sea.” This phrase “I dreamed my genesis in sweat of death” is in the first stanza to mean an actual dream at night and in the last stanza where it refers to drunkenness. As one may sweat from being overly inebriated, this feeding sea is the sea of drunkenness where Thomas is tossed back and forth by the waves of his decisions. Thomas is tossed past the point of regret, in this “feeding sea”, this sea that further perpetuates and recycles his habit. This sea and state of drunkenness that he has lingered in so long his consciousness has grown stale and shrivelled, just like the skin shrivels after hours in salt water. The definition of brine is water saturated by salt. Hence, Thomas realizes he has sort of grown stale in this sea of drunkenness, which he has Adam to blame for. This is “Adam’s brine”, Adam who sinned in the garden in Genesis and brought upon the fall of man.

This Genesis before Adam sinned is the longing of human existence, the dream that influences all other dreams, the dream inside of every heart that draws mankind to virtue and vice. The paradox of Thomas’ drunkenness is that even at the end of his spells of intoxication he seems to see more of this other world, this Genesis he is yearning for despite the natural consequences that come with the state and habit of drunkenness. For when he is fallen and “stale of Adam’s brine”, whatever sorrow or self-reflection he experiences paints “vision of a new man”. This new man is a man of innocence, Adam before the fall, a younger Dylan before he is spotted and stained by a world of sin. He longs for a Dylan that does not know the atrocities of war, a Dylan that doesn’t have to spit up “from resuffered pain”  passed down through his lineage. For he is both an Heir of Adam’s sin and and the sins of his own heritage.

Thomas is forced to dream and dream again, “I dreamed my genesis and died again.” Stanza 4 is a portrait of war, as the entire poem itself is about a fight, a fight to dream, to re-imagine oneself as a purer being. Through dreams he is burrowing into memories and fantasy to find a better self as the worm burrows in stanza 2. I believe the images of war are also Thomas’ regret of not being able to go off to war. Maybe his drinking was also the result of a sort of survivor’s guilt, for I could only imagine how many of his comrades of childhood may have lost their lives in WWII. Swansea, his hometown lied in ruins after a blitz by Nazi forces, thus he is surrounded by war externally and internally, to dream is to escape.

Thomas not only re-imagines and romanticizes about a return to Genesis but he questions what a second life would have been for himself had he went off to war? In stanza 5, “sharp in my second death I marked the hills…forcing my second struggling from the grass.” Thomas is consistently using language of resurgence, in stanza 2 and 5 we are given this image of the ‘worm’ burrowing and resurfacing. Thomas envisions himself through dreams and drunkenness, wondering how his reality would have been if he were buried in a life or war, he questions how he would “struggle from the grass.” He questions if he would emerge  the same man from war as he is now. He tells us in line 21, “And power was contagious in my birth”, he cannot escape this aspect of his personality, he cannot separate himself from his birth. The reason he so forcefully commands language is the same reason he so forcefully consumed alcohol, because “power was contagious in his birth.” He could not escape the need to command something, to control a thing, he chose language, or language chose him. Nonetheless, he cannot escape his “globe of heritage”, this inherent/biological microcosm he is enclosed in.

Thomas consistently used the word ‘suck’ in many of his poems, a word I believe he is fascinated with consciously and subconsciously. I would like to believe ‘suck’ has a double meaning that consistently ties him to his infancy. As an innocent infant to suck on the breast or baby bottle as one is held in a mother’s arms, and to suck on the bottle as an adult in a pub, not cradled nor caressed, simply lulled out of consciousness. I believe drinking was just as much if not more of a return to innocence for Thomas, as it was an escape from his troubles. Power to Thomas is the “Rise of the skeleton”, the “Rerobing of the naked ghost.” This skeleton is receiving life again, given power to rise and rerobe from its nakedness. The nakedness is glory lost as Adam lost the glory of God in the garden which served as his covering and clothing.

Adam only realized he was naked after he had sinned and lost God’s clothing of glory and light. Thomas is using biblical language to describe being naked, without power in this war to live, to be alive, to have power is a self-generating and cyclical process. Power was contagious and it led him on a path to find it, to possess it no matter what. He was resurrected when he felt the power in his oratory skills, he was rerobed in glory when he stood before a crowd or microphone. “Manhood spat up from the resuffered pain”, he was a product of power, he had consumed it, it was a part of him. He had consumed too much of it actually, and the alcohol was simply a continuation of the action. Power propelled him into the desire for more power at the bottom of the bottle in hopes to retain his innocence, to return to an equilibrium of living, to re-imagine a, “vision of a new man.” This strength, this power of purity, this simplicity is the the light that leads him forward to his end- through the means of war, struggle and dreams of Genesis.  

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