The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

By Sean Carroll | July 18, 2011 6:51 pm

By Dylan Thomas. I was led there by a quote from Annie Dillard, which in turn I found in a book about thermodynamics.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

  • Al Cibiades

    Rage! Rage! Rage against the dying of the light….

    a great poet was he.

  • dilefante

    “Break in the sun till the sun breaks down…”

    Besides reading this poem (and the one Al Cibiades quotes), I highly recommend googling for the audio of Thomas reciting them.

  • Pingback: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower « In the Dark()

  • hollister uk

    The truth is, there is no better time than right now.

  • Tevin

    I read this poem in high school and it drove me insane. I was convinced then that all poems had one meaning and that everything could be interpreted and figured out. I asked my English teacher, first, what she thought it ‘meant’ and when her take on the poem was not definitive I asked my other favorite teachers what they thought and … suffice to say, nobody gave me the answer I wanted.

    I think this is the first piece of art I ever truly wrestled with. Predictably, my interpretation and reading changes as I change; I guess now I’ll have to think about it in the light of thermodynamics!

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it really brought back some great memories.

  • Terris Linenbach

    Most poetry consists of pretty words that say nothing important. This is no exception.

  • Al Cibiades

    Terris: So sad that you cannot see the power and beauty and vision there revealed…

  • Dr. Morbius

    I’ve read this twice now and still have no clue what he’s talking about. Sections of It almost sound like random words stuck together. I’ve read “Do not go gentle into that good night” and it’s brilliant but this … not so much.

  • Joel Grant

    @Morbius – This is actually one of his more comprehensible poems. One of his poems has an image of a fetus tracking the passage of time by painting night and day on the lining of the womb.

    In this poem he is just pointing out that time (one of Sean’s areas of study) affects everyone and everything. The flower’s life force is like the poet’s life force; that which causes streams to dry up cause the poet to age and die. And so on.

    The idea that the first spark of life (conception) marks the first move towards death was one of his recurring themes.

    But he really was obsessed with words and carefully chose the most intense ways of expressing his thoughts. That he is difficult is obvious, but when it comes to random-sounding words, this poem is a piker compared to many of his others. His “Collected Poems” number only about 91 or so, you could read them all in a couple of hours, but spend a very long time trying to wrestle them to ground.

  • Chris Winter

    A magnificent poem and, as others have said, one with layers to it. I only ever saw the first verse before; but that really resonated with me.

    “Nuestras vidas son los ríos, que van a dar en el mar,
    que es el morir.”

    “Did ya ever stand and shiver
    Just because you were lookin’ at a river?”
    – Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

  • John R Ramsden

    It’s been said that science strives to express subtleties simply, and poetry commonplaces elaborately.

    But this seems to be in a third category, where a concept (life) elusive in both science and poetry is expressed allusively.

  • Kevin Runnels

    Communication is so dependent upon so many things like culture and context; we can barely understand each other. In poetry, when you can step into the mind of someone else and “see” what they are expressing and understand how they are communicating and “think” in a way that you have not thought before, it can take your breath away.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


See More

Collapse bottom bar