And Death Shall Have No Dominion
Poem Explication: And Death Has No Dominion
Since the publication of his first volume of poetry, Eighteen Poems, Dylan Thomas explored the relationship between life and death. The devastating effects of World War I, the crushing economic consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, and the self-described Great Depression shaped Dylan Thomas’s childhood and subject matter and caused him to cherish the delicate balance of life like few others, giving his unique perspective great influence when coupled with his flowing writing style. In his first published poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Dylan Thomas utilizes sound imagery, diction, and allusion among other poetic devices to convey a multitude of tones and bring across the theme that life has supremacy over death and is eternal.
The three stanzas are each poems of themselves, each holding a different message with the same theme. In this work, Thomas grasps the idea that “death shall have no dominion,” an allusion to Romans about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and explores its positive and negative implications (King James Version, Romans 6:9). The title bears the full meaning of the poem, with each subsequent line elaborating on its deep dynamics (Wilson). In the first stanza the speaker exudes a confident and grateful attitude towards eternal life concurrent with the traditional Christian views, using scansion, allusions, and word choice to do so. In Christianity the righteous dead are taken from the Earth and become one with the Holy Trinity, similar to the speaker’s comment, “ dead men naked they shall be one / [w]ith the man in the wind and the west moon.” The man in the wind that all worthy souls are fused with is a reference to the Holy Spirit as described in the book of John, “You hear [the wind’s] sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The “west moon” could be a reference to the saying “east of the sun and west of the moon,” which indicates a day or a full cycle, in this case a human returning to the dirt from whence he came and becoming one with God. Thomas then describes life after death, “[The dead] shall have stars at elbow and foot; / [t]hough they go mad they shall be sane, / [t]hough they sink though the sea they shall rise again, / [t]hough lovers be lost love shall not...” The repetitive sentence structure emphasizes the speaker’s awe and gratitude, with each line pounding in the same point in different and significant ways. The 5th line is straightforward; the dead will be one with the stars and the sky, the immortal realm. The book of Exodus reads “[t]hou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live,” an example of a running theme in the Bible that to truly know God is to know madness (Exodus 33:20). This idea is reflected in line 6, as the risen are gifted with the inherent sanity of omniscience and the madness induced by knowing God. The 7th introduces the conceit of the sea in the poem, which the holy rise out of and above. Finally, line 8 states that love, like life, transcends the weak clutches of death and persists throughout all time. This paradoxical quatrain communicates the inconceivable and incredible nature of post death in an almost reverent manner, causing the audience to stretch their imaginations and dwell on the complex topic. This section also marks a subtheme of the poem in the celebration of the divine purpose in all human and natural processes (Dylan Thomas Biography).The first stanza concludes with, “And death shall have no dominion,” in a strong, defiant truth in which the speaker proudly announces the power of the soul. Like the other two, it starts and concludes with that same line, giving it authority continually bringing out its full meaning. The rhyming pattern is largely irregular throughout the poem, though often couplets or triplets are linked by false...