19 pages 38 minutes read

Dylan Thomas

I See the Boys of Summer

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1939

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Summary and Study Guide


“I see the boys of summer” is an early poem by notable Welsh writer Dylan Thomas. The poem was first published in Thomas’s debut collection, Eighteen Poems, in 1934 and was well-received by critics, although it didn’t find much commercial success at the time. Emotional and evocative, “I see the boys of summer” takes inspiration from Romanticism, an aesthetic movement beginning in the late 18th century. While not as iconic as Thomas’s most famous poems, such as “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion,” “I see the boys of summer” serves as another example of the poet’s vivid use of language to question man’s purpose and ruminate on the cyclical nature of life and death.

Poet Biography

Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 in Swansea, Wales. Thomas started writing in his youth and was publishing by his teens. His first collection, Eighteen Poems, was published when he was 20 years old. Even at a young age, Dylan used his work to address topics such as death, industrialization, and identity—themes which would continue to drive his work for his entire life. Although he enjoyed critical success during his lifetime, Thomas struggled with money and providing for his family. To supplement his income, he worked for the BBC in various capacities, including recording radio broadcasts. Later, he went on reading tours in the United States. Thomas drank heavily throughout his life. He struggled to stay out of debt and was notorious for his rambunctious public readings, becoming known as a brilliant but damaged artist. He died in New York City in 1953, at the age of 39, caused by numerous medical complications from alcoholism.

Thomas came to prominence during the Modernist era, a large aesthetic movement encouraging formal and philosophical experimentation across various artistic forms. Many of his notable contemporaries, such as American writers like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, strayed away from realism and preestablished poetic styles. At the same time, famous English poets like W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender often used their work to highlight social and political issues of the time. Thomas, however, never aligned with the popular aesthetic movements of his era. His work more clearly resembles the Romanticism of the previous centuries, with an emphasis on an individual’s subjective, emotional experience. Despite his different artistic approach to poetry compared to many of his contemporaries, Thomas was nonetheless admired by other artists and corresponded with many of the distinguished creators of his time.

Poem Text


I see the boys of summer in their ruin

Lay the gold tithings barren,

Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils;

There in their heat the winter floods

Of frozen loves they fetch their girls,

And drown the cargoed apples in their tides.

These boys of light are curdlers in their folly,

Sour the boiling honey;

The jacks of frost they finger in the hives;

There in the sun the frigid threads

Of doubt and dark they feed their nerves;

The signal moon is zero in their voids.

I see the summer children in their mothers

Split up the brawned womb’s weathers,

Divide the night and day with fairy thumbs;

There in the deep with quartered shades

Of sun and moon they paint their dams

As sunlight paints the shelling of their heads.

I see that from these boys shall men of nothing

Stature by seedy shifting,

Or lame the air with leaping from its heats;

There from their hearts the dogdayed pulse

Of love and light bursts in their throats.

O see the pulse of summer in the ice.


But seasons must be challenged or they totter

Into a chiming quarter

Where, punctual as death, we ring the stars;

There, in his night, the black-tongued bells

The sleepy man of winter pulls,

Nor blows back moon-and-midnight as she blows.

We are the dark derniers let us summon

Death from a summer woman,

A muscling life from lovers in their cramp

From the fair dead who flush the sea

The bright-eyed worm on Davy’s lamp

And from the planted womb the man of straw.

We summer boys in this four-winded spinning,

Green of the seaweeds’ iron,

Hold up the noisy sea and drop her birds,

Pick the world’s ball of wave and froth

To choke the deserts with her tides,

And comb the county gardens for a wreath.

In spring we cross our foreheads with the holly,

Heigh ho the blood and berry,

And nail the merry squires to the trees;

Here love’s damp muscle dries and dies

Here break a kiss in no love’s quarry,

O see the poles of promise in the boys.


I see you boys of summer in your ruin.

Man in his maggot’s barren.

And boys are full and foreign to the pouch.

I am the man your father was.

We are the sons of flint and pitch.

O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

Thomas, Dylan. “I see the boys of summer.” 1939. Academy of American Poets.


A single narrator watches boys in the summertime. The boys are ruinous creatures, barreling through life. They deplete offerings, worsen the weather, look for girls while baring cold hearts, and they drown stored apples. The boys are a manifestation of decay. They sour honey, bring the cold, channel the darkness. The narrator foresees that the boys will become meaningless men. Still, the memories of what the boys consumed in their summer days is within them. Love and light reside in them, a beat of summer in their icy frames.

The perspective shifts to a plural voice. Summer can’t remain forever—all seasons must end. Each season must lead to the next, distinct and timely, like the arrival of death at the end of life. The narrators imagine winter as a sleepy man pulling black-tongued bells, embracing the moon and darkness. The narrators are dark, the last of their kind. They want to summon death from a summer woman, pull a baby from two lovers intertwined, channel the dead thrown out to sea, plant new seeds so men can harvest again. The narrators are the summer boys, spinning through the four seasons, traversing the earth. They can dominate the earth, hold up the sea, move the world’s water and place it over deserts, and harvest future gardens to create wreaths. In the spring the boys will use holly to mark their foreheads with crosses. They’ll celebrate the abundance of fruit, but sadness will come too. Love will dry up and die. And yet, the boys are full of promise.

A single narrator speaks again. The narrator sees the boys of summer standing in ruin. Now men, they’re in a barren place full of maggots, but as boys they are full of ideas and promise. The narrator is a man too, like the boys’ fathers. The plural voice speaks again: they are the sons of stone and tools. The boys go on. The seasons change. Life turns to death. Everything intertwined, kissing.