“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
~ Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Has anyone ever been more descriptive than Dylan Thomas? I just introduced a friend to Thomas’s brilliant book-length poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales and as I was reading it aloud, I found myself falling in love with the language all over again.
My first introduction to it was most likely via a reading on KPFA or some NPR station, but the first encounter I remember is when I was eighteen or nineteen. A friend had gifted me with tickets to the Christmas Show at a winery in Los Gatos, so my mother and I went.
The room was freezing, the crowd dressed elegantly beneath their coats and hats. Gloved hands clutched cardboard cups of coffee, cocoa, mulled wine.
We sat on chairs arranged on risers, and watched the show – a combination of the Thomas piece, “The Little Match Girl,” excerpts from “Anne of Green Gables” and the “Little House…” books, and some original transitional bits – that should not have worked as a single coherent story, but somehow did.
At the time, Dylan Thomas’s Christmas contribution was the only part that I wasn’t already fond of, didn’t already have a connection with.
But how could I not be?
Has another poet captured December any more vividly – especially December in a small coastal town? I think not. Sure, Robert Frost wrote eloquently about snowy woods, and Lucy (Maud Montgomery) and Laura (Ingalls Wilder) both touched upon the winter holidays in their books, but for the most part, their language was plain, simple, matter-of-fact.
Thomas captures our imagination. Thomas’s December, Thomas’s Christmas is made of imagination, memory, and mulled wine. It’s cinnamon and chocolate, cigar smoke and scary perfume.
When Thomas writes, you can feel the chill wind, and hear the crunch of snow under your feet, even if you’re reading him in a cozy, warm, well-lit kitchen in suburban Texas.
It’s been an ordinary day, with a few special moments – cuddling dogs, sharing brownies and coffee with friends, making homemade chicken soup because all of us have the traces of a cold.
But the fifteen minutes I spent reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales were made of magic.
I hope this sort of magic never leaves me.
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