“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age” writes Dylan Thomas. The same force that makes a plant grow flows within me and makes me alive. To be young is to feel close to creation, to nature, to the source. And “my youth is bent” by the same force. A poetic genius, as all young people are, Thomas can sense the force of nature move through him, and change him. He knows it’s not entirely him who acts when he writes, when he laughs and sings, but something that acts through him.
Getting older, such thoughts take a more macabre turn. I am here just for a moment, a single lifetime, as an individual, then the “clay” that I am made of returns to nature and I am again just part of that force. But this is a strange use of “just”, to say you are “just” a part of everything, once again at the centre of the creative force of the universe, as if that were something that would limit you. The macabre, looked at in the correct light, brings back those youthful vigorous sentiments again: it’s not that we’re going to die but that we’re already dead, because death is a part of life, and from the beginning it’s just a journey back to the creative centre. It’s just easier to remember this when you’re young, because you so recently came into the world as an individual that you can almost remember what you went through to get here, how you became limited to this single form, and what a varied and limitless expanse you left behind when you entered the world.
And “left behind” is misleading too, as if death were something to yearn to return to. No: remembering what it was not to be born, life itself can be opened up a crack to let in that dream of chaos and the void, that richness and boundlessness, to open up the real possibilities of life.
Rilke has his own green fuse: he has our dreams drawing their force from the “giant stem” of the living human body, from the “sap” of the life we have been living in the daylight hours; and these dreams flower like orchids, and wither and fade the same way upon waking.
Dreams, ephemeral, are to the human body what those same bodies are to nature: flowers that spring up, bloom, fade, and die.
You are nature dreaming. When you remember this you recall that knowledge of youth, that life is eternal. You’re not going anywhere. The whole of nature is lived through you, immanently, and nothing can ever be lost.
(I’ve been reading “The Dreamer” in the Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland; and “The force that through the green fuse” in the Collected Poems: 1934-1953 of Dylan Thomas.)