One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. –Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Are the Christmases we imagine that we remember really the Christmases we had? Was there always snow; did we really go caroling in the crisp night air; did we sit down together in the warmth of our loving families to bright and tantalizing feasts of turkey and dressing and three different kinds of pie; did we truly have gifts wrapped in shining paper and ribbon piled halfway to the ceiling around the glimmering, glistening, twinkling Christmas tree? Or have we seen too many films and television shows and simply assimilated their Dickensian pictures of Christmas into our own fading recollections?
Probably a little of both. But listening to Dylan Thomas read A Child’s Christmas in Wales, I could have sworn that I truly experienced a snowy Welsh Christmas myself. As the title of this CD from Harper Audio says, here Thomas reads his famed Christmas story along with five of his other works: “Fern Hill,” “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “In the White Giant’s Thigh,” “Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait,” and “Ceremony After a Fire Raid.”
A Child’s Christmas has always been one of my favorite pieces, but reading it on the page, even reading it aloud, is nothing — nothing — like hearing it read by Dylan Thomas himself. Though this recording was made in 1952, I had never heard the reading until the 50th anniversary CD release this past year. Thomas had a booming, rich, dramatic voice and used it to enormous advantage… as he speaks from the past I can feel myself in the deep snow throwing snowballs at the neighborhood cats; I can see the flush on the cheeks of tippling Aunt Hannah as she imbibes the parsnip wine; I can hear the rumbling snore of the uncles snoozing before the fire after Christmas dinner.
And who hasn’t been compelled to read “Do Not Go Gentle” at some point during their school years? I remember it included in poetry or lit classes every year from eighth grade until my freshman year of college.
And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
An amazing and touching poem, yet I had grown bored with this particular piece — until I heard the author himself speak his own words with such ringing passion and power. Each of the poems that round out this disc are equally well done. As a veteran attendee of far too many mediocre poetry readings, I’ll be the first to say that very few poets (including myself) manage to read their own work as beautifully and theatrically as Thomas does here without a trace of self-consciousness or embarrassment. He was a master.
This is a powerful and moving CD and I highly recommend adding this to your traditional Christmas activities. Lean back, close your eyes, and let Dylan Thomas give you the Christmas Day that you always wished you had lived.
Find this CD and other Thomas recordings here.