Original poem reprinted online here: "In My Craft or Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas
Originally read: January 30, 2013
More information about the Poet: Dylan Thomas
After rereading this again and again, I think about the title. I think the title cuts multiple ways, but these two ways stick out for me. There could be a separation between "My Craft" or "Sullen Art"; or, there one could define the other, "My Craft" = "Sullen Art. The poem could actually be read both ways since the first stanza and the last stanza address the same issue of art and readership, but in different perspectives.
In the first stanza, the speaker compares his/her night activities to those of "lovers"; however, the focus here is on the lovers and the line cuts from scene to contexts, "And the lovers lie abed / With all their griefs in their arms, I labour by singing light" not that this is the longest line in the poem and sticks out pretty awkwardly; yet, this is the crux of the first stanza.
First, as a reader, the turn of the lovers is different but not entirely unexpected -- lovers do indeed fight. The contrast though is interesting -- why did the speaker have to insert him/herself into the line, so much so that it sticks out? The speaker is "singing light" which, probably, is a contrasting device to foil out the griefs which the speaker further details as:
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
The list of what the intent of the light is tries sounds similar to vows as the speaker tries to exemplify and purify his/her work -- "My Craft."
The second stanza focuses more on the speakers downfall or desires past the pure. The first two lines continues on the trend of why the speaker writes, but this line, "On these spindrift pages" focuses the reader to the physical -- not the philosophical ars poetical artifice. It's like writing, "in reality" in a sense. And if the focus is in the "real" then the speaker realizes his/her projection of lovers as one full of grief can be altered, "But for the lovers, their arms / Round the griefs of the ages,"
No matter how hard the speaker tries to step into the scene of the "lovers" (another way to look at lovers is the circle jerk status quo) -- the speaker cannot bring his/her "purity" in -- or rather self.
The last two lines are not a question, but a statement, "Who [lovers] pay no praise or wages / Nor heed my craft or art." So here the poem turns to "Sullen Art," but note the end combines the two ideas "craft or art" -- that given the choice lovers won't choose either or, and rather stick to themselves with their own griefs, their own loves.