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Dylan Thomas

Fern Hill

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1945

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Summary and Study Guide


“Fern Hill” is a poem by renowned 20th-century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It was published in his collection, Deaths and Entrances (1946) and reprinted in his Collected Poems (1952). “Fern Hill” is one of Thomas’s most famous and popular poems and marks the more accessible style the poet adopted during the final phase of his career. In highly lyrical language, Thomas reminisces about the happy summer days he spent as a child at his aunt’s farm. He felt in complete harmony with his natural surroundings and it seemed as if his joy would never end. A tinge of melancholy, however, appears toward the end of the poem. As an adult looking back, the poet knows what he did not know as a child: Those idyllic, joyful days could not last forever. Due to the relentless march of time, they are gone and will never return, although the memory of them remains sweet.

Poet Biography

Poet, short story writer, and dramatist Dylan Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, in Swansea, South Wales. He was the second child of D. J. Thomas, who taught English at Swansea Grammar School, and Florence Williams. Thomas was educated at Swansea Grammar School from 1925 to 1931. He did not excel at school but extensively read in his father’s library, becoming familiar with a wide range of English literature.

After leaving school, Thomas worked as an apprentice reporter with the South Wales Daily Post, but his heart was not in the job. Thomas wanted to be a poet and it was poetry to which he devoted most of his serious attention. Beginning in 1933, he published poems in literary magazines and in December 1934, after moving to London, his first collection, 18 Poems, was published. This was followed in 1936 by Twenty-Five Poems. These collections made an impact on the literary world, although critics and readers were divided as to their merits. The poems were packed with dense and startling imagery and seemed to have a profundity about them, but they were also obscure and hard to decipher.

Meanwhile, Thomas was cultivating an image of the bohemian poet. He heavily drank in London pubs and kept people entertained with his storytelling. Thomas also met Caitlin Macnamara in 1936 and they married a year later; they had three children. Thomas’s third book, The Map of Love, followed in 1939 and contained 16 poems and seven short stories. The following year, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog—a collection of short stories based on his childhood and youth in Swansea—was published.

Thomas avoided military service in World War II after a medical examination showed the poor condition of his lungs. He spent the war years in London writing scenarios for documentary films. In 1946, he published his fourth collection of poetry, Deaths and Entrances, which included “Fern Hill.” Many of the poems in this collection were written in a more lucid style than his earlier work. After the war Thomas often worked for the BBC, reading his own work, and giving talks on the radio. He became a well-known, popular figure. In 1949, he and his family moved to Laugharne, a village in northern Wales, in which they lived in the Boat House on the edge of a cliff.

In 1950, at the invitation of the poet John Malcolm Brinnin, Thomas made the first of four visits to the United States, where his readings were extremely popular (“Fern Hill” was a poem he most often read); however, he also became notorious for his excessive drinking and vulgar behavior. In 1952, Thomas published six poems in In Country Sleep, and also his Collected Poems, 1934–52. During his third visit to America in 1953, his radio play Under Milk Wood received its first performances. When the play was broadcast by the BBC in January 1954, it was enthusiastically received by critics and public alike. However, by that time Thomas was no longer alive. His fourth visit to the United States began in October 1953 but took a tragic turn. Thomas had been unwell for weeks, and he died of pneumonia in a New York City hospital on November 9.

Poem Text

Thomas, Dylan. “Fern Hill.” 1946. Poets.org.


The poem consists of six, nine-lined stanzas. In Stanza 1, the speaker remembers the happy summer days he spent as a child at his aunt’s farm. He recalls starry nights in the valley (“dingle” Line 3) in which the farm stood, and the many apple trees in the orchard around the house.

In Stanza 2, the speaker recalls how carefree he was in that time. He loved the barn and the yard and regarded the farm as home. He enjoyed playing and it seemed those days would never end. In the third stanza, he remembers the tall hay fields and how he would fall sleep listening to the hooting of the owls. All night long he heard the calls of the nightjars—a nocturnal bird.

In Stanza 4, when he wakes, there is morning dew and the sound of the cock crowing. It was a kind of paradise. Stanza 5 continues the evocation of an idyllic childhood, but the last three lines acknowledge that it could not last forever.

Stanza 6 describes the workings of time. The speaker did not realize it at the time, but now he knows that the joys of childhood had to end.