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Time In Thomas? Fern Hill And Cummings? Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town

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"Historically speaking,?time is lost; poetically speaking,?time is regained in

the act of visionary creation" (Crewe 400). Poetry allows for the capture of a

moment in time otherwise lost in the blink of an eye. British poet Dylan Thomas

and American poet E.E. Cummings have both been noted for the recurring themes of

passage of time in their poetry. In Thomas? "Fern Hill" and Cummings? "anyone

lived in a pretty how town," both modern poets utilize a juxtaposition of

paradoxes to express the irrevocable passage of time and the loss of innocence

attributed to it. While Thomas projects his mature feelings into a nostalgic

site of his childhood, Cummings takes a more detached approach by telling a

seemingly trivial, paradoxical story of "noone" and "anyone," which through

negation tells a universal life story.

"Fern Hill" is a personal account, Thomas? nostalgic revisit to a place where as

a child he had spent time with his aunt. Through this sentimental revisit, he

comes to realize the inevitable passage of time and a resulting loss of

innocence. The poem was actually triggered by his visits to Fern Hill as an

adult during a time of war. After Thomas?s hometown Swansea in Wales was bombed

by the Nazi air campaign against Great Britain, Thomas? parents moved out to

their cottage near the farm of Fernhill. "[Thomas?] visits to his parents during

the war triggered the memories of the happy Edenic times when he was young and

thoughts of war were still distant" (Miller 99). In this poem, he revisits both

his own childhood, and ,symbolically, the childhood and prewar innocence of his


"Anyone lived in a pretty how town," is less personal. A love story made trivial

through the use of "noone" and "anyone," this poem plays on words to negate the

existence of these lovers while concurrently emphasizing their existence not

only in this town, but in any other town. As individuals the lovers are ignored

by "mostpeople" whose routine lives reflect the passage of time. The only to

notice the lovers and stray their attention from life?s normal routine are the

children, who maintain their innocence, but who soon grow up and forget.

Cummings has been noted for this regular indulgence in the themes of "love,

birth, growth, dying, and their antithesis," (Wegner 48) as found not only in

this specific poem playing the parts of the cycle of time but also in many other

of his works.

The poem is expressing the concrete and paradoxically its opposite through a

play on pronouns. "Anyone lives in a pretty how town" is "the story of

mostpeople and individuals, simultaneously a joyous and sorrowful song" (Turco

93). The title?s ambiguity plays on the use of a "hypallage: rearrangement of

syntax - word order - in a sentence"(Turco 92). The title could be interpreted

as either "anyone lived in a pretty how town" or "anyone lived in how pretty a

town" or "how anyone lived in a pretty town." The "anyone" could be nobody in

particular or that particular person capable of love. As Robert Wegner writes,

"[a]s and adjective modifying town, [how] is a superbly descriptive word

suggesting in one touch the typical town where all values must conform to

accepted regular decorum and procedure, a town whose people operate on rigid and

mechanical formalities: a ?how town??With these two highly abstract words

Cummings establishes in the opening line two opposed responses to life; the

remainder of the poem dramatically juxtaposes these responses" (51). Although

Cummings? poem is not a direct story from his life, it can be adapted to be the

story of many people?s lives.

In "Fern Hill," rather than employing personal pronouns or other abstractions,

Thomas utilizes sound structure and linguistic texture to portray time?s

continuity and to "evoke a boy?s blissful participation in the textures, sounds,

forms, colors, and intensities of the natural world" (Miller 99). The "elaborate

stanza forms based on exact syllable counts" and repetition of certain lines and

images serve to dramatize the slow changes over time (Miller 99). Thomas

utilizes anaphora with the word "and," an ideal conjunction to express the

incremental changes occurring as time goes by. The poem itself begins with the

word "now," a definite time cue and is followed by several other time cues such

as "once," "all the sun long," "all the moon long," "so," before," and "then,"




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