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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Unweaving Rainbows
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.

I don't suppose I'm the first person who, on reading the opening lines of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, has been inspired to check the Met. Office records. At any rate, I have joined their company, and can report that the Christmases of 1920 (when Thomas was six) and 1926 (when he was twelve) were both notable for the lack of snow in the Swansea area.

In December 1920, "abnormally mild weather [...] set in on the 18th and continued until the end of the year." The report adds that "rain was general on Boxing Day" - a nice echo of Joyce's "snow was general all over Ireland", I think. December 1926 too was unusual, this time for being "the driest December in the past 43 years": only about a quarter of average precipitation for the month fell in England and Wales. This is not a promising setting for six days and nights of continuous snow at the Thomas household.

So, full marks for an atmospheric evocation, Dylan, but bottom of the class for meteorology. This is why you should never write poetry without a licence.

"It is the odd fate of this thought to be the worse for being true," says Johnson about an image of Cowley's, and we can say that it's the chance of Thomas's commutative permutation of even numbers to be the better for being confabulated by time and memory.

Lovely post. First I regretted the truth's breaking in (cf. Frost's "Birches"), but then I loved your last sentence so much that my regret vanished.

Didn't the July weekend when Lewis Carroll and the three little Liddels went gliding in the summer's heat turn out to have been dreary and (as you English say) dull?

Thank you! Yes, I believe I heard something of the kind about that river trip. Had it been sunny I suppose the girls might not have needed a story, and Alice would have remained unwritten - so once again we must thank the English climate for its literature. (How much would the Brontës have written but for days when "There was no possibility of taking a walk"?)

Thomas's chiasmus is really there to charm us into childtime, of course, and to chalk a circle about its limits; but I was curious to see how much of confabulation it really had in it. Actually, I was almost as pleased at discovering "rain was general on Boxing Day". Especially since the line from the end of "The Dead", which stuck in my head because it used the same unusual locution, has a prescript: "Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland." Gabriel is of course remembering the earlier words of Mary Jane: "I read this morning in the newspapers that the snow is general all over Ireland." These days the BBC and others would certainly say "widespread" rather than "general", or else "There is snow across the country", but in pre-Corporation days perhaps the newspapers quoted the Met. Office directly, and Joyce was echoing their mildly technical usage.

Edited at 2014-12-27 05:40 pm (UTC)

to charm us into childtime, of course, and to chalk a circle about its limits

Love this.


(Deleted comment)
It does indeed!

Heh - I just realized that comment was an answer to yours on the other post...

Was there any year in his childhood when there was a heavy fall of snow like that? I remember a few such in my childhood, but I couldn't tell you with great accuracy how old I was. Old enough to slide down a hill in a roasting pan, that's all. (I think I was the one who lost my mother's roasting pan out sledding, but it might have been one of the other kids.)

There was a terrific earthquake in Seattle which I've always thought I remembered, but it turns out I was not quite two and a half at the time, so I probably just remember being told about my reaction. Oddly enough, my son was about two and a half when we had our next really big earthquake.

Was there any year in his childhood when there was a heavy fall of snow like that?

Good question! I checked, and the Decembers between 1920 and 1926 were all uneventful - but I can confirm that in 1927 (when he was an awkwardly disyllabic 13) snow really did fall for a good week, beginning on Christmas Eve.

The Dylan Thomas Society (I'm sure there must be one) shall hear of this.

Interesting - thank you!

The hottest summers of my life were the sixties. There were certainly some very hot summers in the sixties, but they weren't nearly as hot as my memory makes them. This is because my father decided to save money by having the hot water heated by the coal-burning stove and our whole house had heating all the time. One doesn't need a lovely warming stove when it's 35 degrees outside. When he and Mum decided to switch to gas in the 1970s the climate changed.

Now that's a microclimate!