By Victoria Richards
Oh, to be “young and easy under the apple boughs / About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green”. Dylan Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” opens like a conjuror, evoking a long-forgotten vision of lazy, summer days, heady with sun; “daisies and barley” marking the trail to a farmhouse idyll — “like a wanderer white with the dew”.
We may have spent the recent summer under social distancing restrictions in sticky heat, but the second English lockdown came on the cusp of winter. I am shivering as I gather a blanket around me at my writing desk. I try not to put the heating on when I am alone in the house during the day, but it can feel cold and stark at the window seat, gazing out at the trees in the forest, bereft of leaves.
I seek solace in poetry — my own, other people’s — when I am feeling blue and I now find myself turning to the lyrical and emotional comfort of Thomas. The Swansea-born writer is perhaps best known for his sombre villanelle “Do not go gentle into that good night" (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light”), but I want to be reminded of softer, warmer days so I select a poem from his Deaths and Entrances collection, which was published in 1946. There, I find my sanctuary in “Fern Hill”.
Thomas’s vision of contentment is “all shining”, it is “Adam and maiden” — and it is this sense of glittering promise that draws me in. “All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay / Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys”. I can smell the sweet tang of horse manure in the fields; my nose itches with grass pollen. I can hear the lazy, drunk droning of bees. I am transported into Thomas’s halcyon summer, one where the narrator has nothing to do but to take in “the gay house / Under the new made clouds”.
I want a “gay house” of my own, so I am crossing the Welsh border to Gwehelog near Usk in Monmouthshire, where this stunning six-bedroom home, listed at £1.1m, looks out over eight acres of gardens, including an orchard and four paddocks for me to imagine “the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable”. From the glass windows of the fully fitted outside office, overlooking the fields, I will write my own odes to harmony.
If I am aching to escape Britain and tackle a renovation project, I will head for this six-bedroom 17th-century French farmhouse in Draillant, on the market for €1.39m, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Built in 1629, it sits between Lake Geneva and the Alps, making it the perfect spot for lyrical daydreaming. From the interior courtyard, “in the sun born over and over”, I will run “my heedless ways”.
In Thomas’s poem, the narrator is “happy as the heart was long”. I fancy that in these fantasy idylls, I know exactly what they mean.
Photographs: Kathy deWitt/Alamy; Francis Reiss/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Fine & Country; Evian Immobilier Sotheby's International Realty