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Poem of the week: Three Harps by Vernon Watkins

This lyrical work by the Welsh poet is a fine elegy on the death of his close friend Dylan Thomas

The poem cannot live until it has been willing to die, Vernon Watkins declared in The Second Pressure on Poetry (Unicorn, X, Spring 1963, reproduced in The Prose of Vernon Watkins). In this weeks poem, Three Harps, he expresses the related idea that the poet, too, must go through death-like mourning to find his muse, his own harp of bone.

Three Harps first appeared in Cypress and Acacia (1959), Watkinss fifth collection and the first he published after the death of his friend, Dylan Thomas, in 1953. The trees symbolise opposites: the cypress symbolises mourning and the acacia symbolises life. The poem mentions yew, besides cypress, as tutelary, and alludes to the amber tears shed by the Heliades, Phaethons sisters who mourned their boy-racer brother so steadfastly they were turned into amber-weeping poplars. Three Harps is ultimately an elegy on the death of a brother-poet. In the centenary year of Thomass birth, there could not be a finer tribute.

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