Fern Hill

Fern Hill Dylan Thomas and Christianity

Critics initially considered Thomas the antithesis of a Christian poet—his writing was predominantly secular, not to mention influenced by surrealism and Freud, and his lifestyle of heavy drinking and numerous extramarital affairs was hardly that of a pious man. Later critics, however, have argued with this consensus. Aneirin Talfan Davies, a Welsh friend of Thomas, contends that “it is only a misunderstanding of the role and function of the poet's vocation which could lead us to believe that a poet’s public (or private) misdemeanors invalidate, in any real way, his poetic statements.”

Thomas received mixed religious messages as a child; his mother was a devout Christian but his father was an atheist who abhorred any form of religion. As an adult, he wasn’t particularly religious, but nonetheless sprinkled Christian imagery and allusions throughout his work. Indeed, Thomas himself once wrote that his poems were written “for the love of Man and in praise of God” and said that he hoped to craft “poems in praise of God’s world by a man who doesn’t believe in God.”

John Goodby proposes that Thomas took on a “metaphorised form of Christianity, in which Christianity is mined for structures, symbols and exempla” in the same manner as Marx and Freud commonly are. “He was fascinated with faith and the rhetoric of faith, and felt, like Blake, that rationalism easily became presumptuous: however much the phenomena of the universe are explained, the universe itself can never be wholly explained,” writes Goodby. In this manner, despite his conflicted personal feelings regarding Christianity, the religion remained a major influence on Thomas’s work. Thomas Saunders writes of an “oddity” in Thomas’s work: “though he was heir to the Welsh puritan tradition, it is the sacramental side of Christianity which appears to have appealed to him the most.” The symbols and rituals of Christianity resonated with Thomas, even if the abstentious lifestyle his mother followed did not.