‘In My Craft Or Sullen Art’ by Dylan Thomas was published in 1952 in the volume, Collected Poems, 1934-1952. It details Thomas’ wishes for his own legacy within its twenty lines.
The poem does not follow a consistent pattern of rhyme but does utilize the same end sounds throughout the text. A few of these moments appear within the second, sixth, and thirteenth lines which all end with the “-ight” sound.
Within the first lines of this piece, Thomas introduces the image of lovers sharing their grief. This tableau is mentioned again in the final lines. By framing the poem in this way the poet is outlining how he would have one feel when reading the text.
Summary of In My Craft Or Sullen Art
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is only able to create at certain time periods. These fall during the “still night” when the moon is the only thing commanding the sky. It is also a time when lovers “lie abed” and speak of their grief. The image of the lovers is important and will return in the final lines.
He goes on to state that it is not his goal through writing to make a great name for himself. Ambition is not something he is interested in. Nor, he states, is building up his own ego. He writes so that he might express the inner workings of his own heart, and that of others.
In the final sets of lines, he goes on to describe who he does and doesn’t write for. Those he is interested in speaking to are “lovers” who have true, real lives. They experience joys and upsets. He does not care to write for the dead, or for the “proud man” who might try to control him.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of In My Craft Or Sullen Art
In my craft or sullen art
With all their griefs in their arms,
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker, who is generally considered to be Thomas himself, sets up a long description of what it is like to work at his “craft.” There are a number of different, very complex emotions involved and Thomas lays them out as integral pieces of what it means for him to be a writer.
The first lines refer to Thomas’ craft as a “sullen art.” It is not something done with joy or unending enthusiasm but in something of a stupor. He must be in a certain frame of mind to be successful in his artistic endeavors. Thomas must also work during a particular time of day— “in the still night.” It is in the hours in that the “moon” is the only thing “rag[ing]” in the sky he is able to create.
The hours of his practice correspond with the time that lovers spend in bed together sharing their “griefs in” one another’s “arms.” It is clear from these lines that Thomas aligns his work with deep emotional experiences. He wants the words he writes to stem from the happenings of night and the darker allure that brings.
I labour by singing light
Of their most secret heart.
In the next set of lines the speaker goes on to describe what exactly it is that he does during these hours. It is at the same time as the moon is raging in the sky that the speaker is “singing light.” His work is a “labour” that is not completed with “ambition or bread” in mind.
Thomas goes on to state that he does not write as a way to sell himself. His words are not “struts” or attempts at charming the world. He writes for much more meaningful reasons, those of one’s “most secret heart.” His words stem from a place that is generally unreachable and undefinable. He gives expression to his own, and other’s needs and desires.
Not for the proud man apart
With their nightingales and psalms
In the second half of the poem, the speaker turns away from the details of his writing to those he writes for, his general audience, and the listeners of this particular piece. He begins as he has previously by stating what he is not doing.
His writing is not created for the “proud man” who is “apart” from the rest of the world. “Nor,” he states, is it for “the towering dead.” Thomas has no desire to write for or about the dead. He does not believe this will accomplish anything worthwhile.
His works are crafted with a specific type of person, or people, in mind. They will not be foolish, rich, or beyond the reach of his pen. The readers must be real people, living tangible, joyous, and sometimes difficult lives.
But for the lovers, their arms
Nor heed my craft or art.
In the last four lines, the speaker changes directions and informs his readers who it is he is writing for. His words are devoted to those he considers to be “lovers.” There is no additional definition regarding who he does not count as “lovers,” aside from the fact that any who take comfort from one another are those he is speaking to.
These people will have a greater emotional capacity and ability to embrace the world and its history. While their arms stretch around one another, they will also spread out to encompass the earth and all of its grief. It is almost as if these lovers are taking on the cares of the world, and all its “ages,” or past years, just as Thomas is embracing them through his writing.
In the last two lines, Thomas says that his ideal reader is someone who does not “praise” him or pay his “wages.” He does not want to write for someone he feels beholden to. The perfect reader is someone who does not “heed” or pays great attention to his “craft or art.” They must be an unmoved passerby, someone who does not devote their whole existence to literature but has a real-life of their own outside of Thomas’ writing.