A POEM should mean as well as be. The sound of Dylan Thomas's poems, especially when made palpable by his voice, never left the reader or listener in doubt about the existence of the poems. One heard with the hearing of the ear, but what of understanding? The questions I asked myself and the questions asked of me by my students compelled certain answers. Those answers are in this book. It is easy to talk above, below, or to the side of a poem. Fortunately for me I have students who do not believe in the tangentially prepositional approach to poetry. They insist on an odyssey into a poem to discover its meaning, to marvel at its magic, to hear its music. I have made that odyssey with them, aware of the root meaning of exegesis: to lead out.
Exegesis has its dangers: chief among them pedantry, weariness, and pretentiousness. I sought to avoid all three by keeping before me the examples of the late Professor John Livingston Lowes's graceful scholarship, Professor Cleanth Brooks's critical vitality, and Professor William York Tindall's critical astringency. Long ago it was Professor Tindall who taught me the creative process of explication.
I have been careful to remember the complaint of the Psalmist: "They laid to my charge things that I knew not." I have not ascribed to Dylan Thomas an erudition which he himself would have denied. When-