Dylan Thomas – The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower


This poem explores the connections and differences between the natural world and humanity. In balenced stanzas engineered to ephasize antithesis, and in complex syntax that brings alive the movement and vitality of nature; we are shown a paradox that is at the heart of this poem; that despite the patterns of our existance running parallel to those of nature, we feel ourselves detached and different to the world around us.

Dominating the poem is a portrayal of nature that overwhelms the reader with its vitality. An effect created through descriptions loaded with connotations and expressive syntax, this is marked from the first line. A word that stands out here is ‘fuse’, meant to describe the root or stalk of a plant. It carries a connotation of electricity, pulsing energy, as well as likening roots to the wires they ressemble. This brings to mind an image of nature connected by a unifying force, and begins the poem’s preoccupation with ‘connections’ more generally.

The inverted syntax in the first line linguistically recreates what’s being described, as the sense is literally drawn through ‘the green fuse’ to pass from ‘The force’ to ‘the flower’ at the end of the line. After the ceasura in line 2, the word ‘that’ creates an ambiguity (of Empson’s 2nd type I think) that allows the first 3 lines of the stanza to be read in a number of different ways. ‘That’ might refer to the same force that ‘drives the flower’, or a different, opposing ‘force of death’, rather than of life. Taking a slight pause after ‘flower’ at the end of the line break, we get a list that culminates in ‘my destroyer’. The result is an indivisible unit of sense, where ‘destroyer’ refers back to ‘the force’, thereby mimicking the ‘driving’ flower with an idea that drives through the stanza, popping out in the exact centre. The ambiguity around the ceasura allows us to keep both a listing effect and an antithesis in mind, where a list might show an accumulating, flowing ‘force’, simultaneously with an antithesis that juxtaposes the ‘force of life’ with a ‘force of death’. It is a grammatical construction repeated through the first 3 stanzas, giving an overall sense of Thomas’ natural world as bristling with energy – energy created by the alternative meanings playing off each other.

The second half of each stanza presents us with a troubling admission from the speaker; despite the strength and energy with which the bond between the speaker and nature is felt, he is unable to communicate accross it. We might see in the ambiguous syntax discussed a blurring of defenition with regard to the ‘force’ that connects us with nature. In this sense, the speaker is ‘dumb’ – he is unable to articulate this connection clearly. We notice that this inability to speak takes in the speaker’s own ‘veins’ in stanza 2. This might show how, although we are able to appreciate our connection to this ‘force’ (seen simultaneously as a kind of universal life-inspiring energy, and as the ageing power of time) on an intellectual level, we cannot comprehend it fully within ourselves (within our veins).

At the third stanza, descriptions of nature cede to more abstract imagary, pertaining to sickness and mortality. The first line is an allusion to Biblical curative waters, which are contrasted against the image of a ship signifying death. The phrase ‘shroud sail’ brings to mind Tennyson’s ‘Break Break Break’, where ships stand for the progress between death and an afterlife. This idea is picked up in stanza 4, where the ‘wind’ driving the boat is beyond the communication of the speaker – suggesting an uncertainty and a powerlessness regarding his fate after death.

Towards the end of the poem, these abstract images become increasingly enmeshed. The ‘fountain head’, we imagine the source of water in Stanzas 2 and 3, is ‘leeched’ by time, suggesting a weakening of the force that ‘drives the water through the rocks’. Yet this weakening has a curative effect, it can ‘calm her sores’. Consequently, the final half-rhymed couplet (perhaps echoing a Shakespearean Sonnet, without the air of certainty) remains enigmatic, as the crooked worm (we assume another epithet for ‘leeching’ time) might be having a positive or a negative effect. It seems to be eating at the speaker’s ‘sheet’ a reference back to the ‘shroud sail’ on the boat that represents a passage to an afterlife. We notice that everything referenced here has multiple names, giving a sense of confusion and doubt to the final few lines.

In this confusion, one can draw many alternative readings from the final lines. The one that sticks out is that the longer time keeps the speaker alive (through the curative effect of leeching, or the medicinal waters of the pool) and connected to the pulsing natural forces of stanzas 1 and 2, the more the ‘worm’ eats at the figurative ship, causing the path to an afterlife to become increasingly uncertain.

This reading would tie in with the acute conciousness of death throughout the poem, as well as an atmosphere of uncertainty and isolation, showing the poem to be charting a loss or lack of faith. Coupled with this dark and morbid meaning, however, is an exhuberance of language and a vitality of description which suggest a strong element of hope.

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5 thoughts on “Dylan Thomas – The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

  1. Oh God. Do you know I read the poem and completely misinterpreted the theme? I wrote on essay about it is probably about a lover who has murdered his beloved. I have written it with proof and things. Would you like to have a look?
    Can you give me tips on how to identify the main theme of a poem better?

    • That sounds really interesting, and certainly isn’t a misreading if you can evidence it – its a difficult poem and meant to be so, you kind of have to feel your way, that’s certainly what I did writing this one. Yeah, I’d genuinely like to read that – could you send it to me or put a link here if its on internet?

      Haha I’m not sure I’m qualified to pronounce on that. If themes aren’t forthcoming then I tend to ask myself how does the poem make me feel – if you’re confused or feel like you’re missing the point then perhaps that feeling is the point. Certainly true in Robert Frost – Directive which I wrote on recently.

  2. Nice account of a great classic in twentieth century English literature. Its hard not to be reminded of another great mystic form the preceding century in the concluding last lines of the poem: “O rose thou art sick, the invisible worm, that flies in the night, in the howling storm, has found out thy bed of crimson joy, and his dark secret love does thy life destroy”..

  3. Yes, the ‘crooked rose’ did remind me also of Blake’s ‘sick rose’. The same, ‘worm’ eating away at the life of the bud…or the poet…
    Nice analysis.

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