‘When All My Five and Country Senses See’ by Dylan Thomas is a two stanza poem that is separated into one set of ten lines and another set of four. The poem contains fourteen lines, meaning it can be considered as a sonnet. The rhyme scheme is interesting. There are moments where the poem contains perfect rhymes, such as in the concluding quatrain. Additionally, there are instances in which the lines end in half or slant rhymes. They almost rhyme, but do not quite make it there.
It is also important to note that this piece is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. Iambic pentameter is the most popular metrical pattern of verse and gives writing a distinct emphasis on particular words.
Thomas is known today for the obscurity of his verse. He was a strong proponent of what unrefined, highly visual language could bring to a work. It keeps a reader from settling on one final conclusion for a piece or an exacting interpretation. This is the case with ‘When All My Five and Country Senses See.’ It was written during what is now considered to be his “obscure” period and contains a variety of images that, while lovely for their own sake, do not contain a clear narrative or make a single emotional statement.
When considering an analysis of this piece it is important to take note of the title and what it is asking a reader to pay attention to. Thomas, and the speaker he created, are interested in the senses and what a close study of them can bring to one’s life. The speaker sets this way of living against one that is focused on cultivation. It is humankind against, and in relation to, their own senses.
Summary of When All My Five and Country Senses See
The poem begins with the speaker stating that at some point his senses are going to come alive and remain the more important way he understands the world. He will throw away contrived reasoning and attempts at cultivating his own life. When he makes this choice his new mindset will allow him to look at the world differently. He will see the way that love is treated, battered on the beach by its own words. Its language is burnt and disregarded.
Thomas concludes with his speaker describing how his heart has “witnesses” in all of love’s countries. He has been in love in a variety of different ways and when he strays from his path his heart will remain “sensual” and perhaps remind him of his purpose.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of When All My Five and Country Senses See
Lines 1- 5
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by utilizing the line that came to be the title of the poem. He refers to his own “five and country senses.” These are one in the same in this scenario. The speaker sees his human senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing as being “country.” This word is being used in an effort to simplify what the senses do and break them down to their base properties.
The speaker sees them as being wholly instinctual and basic to human existence. They also function to give one an immediate understanding of the world. One is closer to the physical properties of the earth because of their senses. This is something that is more relatable to the “country” than say a metropolis.
The speaker is referring to a time in the future he is looking forward to. “When” he gets there his senses will take over his mind. There will no longer be any need to consider “green thumbs,” or more simply, cultivate one’s experience. Life will be more interesting, vibrant, and meaningful without one’s reason-seeking mind attempting to alter one’s state of being.
The following lines engage with the speaker’s senses and ask a reader to explore their own. He speaks of the “halfmoon’s vegetable eye” and the,
Husk of young stars and handfull zodiac,
The stars are only “Husks” like the corn in the field and the “zodiac” is only in the “handfull.” In this case of these elements are coming together around an image of a cornfield. The speaker is relating the life of the crop to the survival of love. It is something that thrives off the products of the earth and needs to be protected from the frost, as corn does.
The speaker tells his reader that “The fingers” will “mark” or take note of how “Love…is pared and wintered.” It is degraded and cut to pieces by the “frost” that occurs outside amongst the instincts to cultivate and control.
In the next section of lines, the speaker refers again to the corn. This time he simply calls the corn “ears.” They “whisper” in the winds of the frosty day and are forced to stay still as “love” is “drummed” or moved away with the breeze. They are losing some crucial element that cannot exist amongst the overly cared for farmland.
The wind is able to pick the love up from the cornfield and carry it down to the “discordant,” or disorganized and disagreeing “beach.” There, it does not find any more peace. Love is “lashed” to the same of extremes it was subject to last time. It is battered about on the beach until it is reduced to “syllables.” Love is forced to speak when it should just be about feeling and experiencing. It cries out, perhaps in pain or anguish.
The next lines are more confusing in that love is said to “cry” because her,
[…]fond words are mended bitterly.
This is perhaps a reference to the creation of words around love and the unsatisfactory nature of them. The speaker returns to himself and his place in this narrative. Here, he states that when he looks upon love he sees how her breath is burnt “like a bush.” This language is still hard to pin-down, but the speaker is probably describing how the “language” of love is disregarded and set aside in favour of a more structured way of living.
In the final four lines of this sonnet, the speaker concludes with another reference to his own senses and emotions. He states that his,
[…] noble heart has witnesses
In all love’s countries,
These “witnesses” are located in the realms of love, wherever they may be. The speaker refers to them as “countries” but they are more likely simply different states of being in love. These various parts of the speaker are going to wake up when love is in distress. He will be reminded of love’s value and its necessary closeness to the senses.
In the final two lines, the speaker describes moments when “blind sleep” takes over the “spying senses.” At this time the heart, which should be muted, is “sensual.” It is still active, watching, ready for any emotion.