‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ by Dylan Thomas is a complex poem that uses an extended metaphor to speak about the themes of time, life, and love.
The poem takes the reader through a number of scenarios in which the speaker compares himself to other forms of life. He speaks about a power in his body that moves his blood but that also moves the water in rivers and stirs quicksand. It is a force that has the ability to destroy life and to remake it. Throughout the text he uses a refrain: “And I am dumb,” to express his inability to communicate with these other elements of the world and convey to them the nature of time. But, in the end, he admits that that nature is impossible to understand.
Explore The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ by Dylan Thomas is a five stanza poem that’s separated into four sets of five lines, known as quintains and one final couplet (a set of two lines). The majority of these lines follow a pattern of iambic pentameter. This means that there are five sets of two beats per line. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed.
In regards to the rhyme scheme, the pattern is even looser. They follow, vaguely, the pattens of ABABA, but there are numerous instances in which this is broken. Several of these end rhymes are only half-rhymes. For instance, “destroyer” and “fever” in the first stanza.
You can read the full poem here.
Thomas makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fuse” and “flower” and “force” in the first line of the first stanza or “mouthing” and “mine” in lines two and three of the second stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples in this poem, for instance, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In this poem, Thomas personifies time as a force with hands, and later on, with lips. It has the power to give life and to destroy life.
In the first stanza of ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. He describes how a “force” moves through the “green fuse,” or stem, of flowers. It powers, or “drives,” the flower. Form just this first line the tone is serious but the content suggests something positive. This “force,” whatever it may be, makes flowers live.
In the next lines, he adds that it both “drives” his own “green age” and “blasts the roots of trees”. It makes him young, “green,” and powerful but in the end, also destroy him. At the same time, it has a similar influence on the plants. There is a comparison growing between natural imagery and the speaker. He appears to be just as impacted by the force as the rest of nature is.
In the next two lines, he adds that he is “dumb,” or unable to speak to the “crooked rose”. He is unable to communicate with the flowers to tell them that they are controlled by the same force. The same “wintry fever” moves through both of them. At this point in the poem, there might be several possible interpretations one could have in regards to what this force is. Time should be among them.
In the second stanza, the speaker returns to the force, telling the reader that it “drives the water through the rocks” just as it “Drives my red blood”. The force, as a metaphor for time, creates and destroys. It moves one’s blood to power their youth but inevitably also moves them towards death.
Just as the speaker was unable to communicate his interconnectedness to the flower, he is also unable to speak to the mountain spring.
The third stanza brings several more positives and negatives into the picture. The speaker describes how “the hand,” a visual image of the force, moves the “water in the pool”. But, at the same time, it stirs “the quicksand” too. It controls life and death.
The “shroud” mentioned in the third line is s reference to the sail of a ship, something positive and powerful, but also to a cloth wrapped around a body after death. Thomas does not allow the reader to go along for long without return to the darker side of time and life.
In the final two lines of this stanza, he adds that he is “dumb to tell the hanging man,” or a man who has been hanged/executed that the “lime” that covers a dead body is made of the same material as the body itself. The speaker, who is living, is part of the dead and the dead are part of him. He is alluding again to the larger circle of life and power of interconnectivity that runs through all things on earth.
In the final five-line stanza the force is personified once more. It now has “lips” that drink from the fountain of time. It is leech-like, sucking the water that falls to the ground as love. That love once landed is the “fallen blood”. Love, rather than water, is coming from the fountain. It is a new source of life on earth. It is sucked up by time. A reader should be reminded of the references to water, youth, and vitality in the second stanza. These are reflected in the fourth stanza.
The “her” the speaker refers to in the third line is time itself. Time needs the power and vitality of water in order to exist. After the refrain in this stanza the speaker says that he can’t tell the wind about time’s power. Here, he is speaking about the entire universe, its creation, its solidity but also its ephemeral nature. He is alluding to how there is no true beginning or end in the universe. Time is as complex and unknowable as the universe itself.
The fifth stanza uses the refrain ‘And I am dumb” for the last time. The couplet refers to the “lover’s tomb”. Love, as the fourth stanza asserted, is one of the life-sustaining elements that time needs. It is a representation of life. In this instance, love is dead. It is in a tomb, reminding the reader of time’s ability to destroy everything.