A refusal to mourn the Death, by Fire, of a child in London

March 31, 2006 at 6:14 am 10 comments

Dylan Thomas

Listen (the poet reads)

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

You ask for Dylan Thomas, I give you Dylan Thomas. Thomas is the acme of lyrical intensity – the poet who most perfectly marries rhythm of language to complexity of image (though, if we're going by pure sound, there's always Hopkins, of course).

A Refusal to Mourn is, to my mind, one of Thomas's finest poems. It's a complex idea, but Thomas manages it exquisitely, finding that pitch-perfect balance between indignation and sorrow, between denial and heartbreak, between the tortured and the elegaic. There's a deep sense of hurt here, a sense of shocked innocence, of being awakened by pain into a new and more hazardous world. Children should not have to die, but once we recognise that they will, and that there is nothing all our love can do to protect them, then we are left with no consolation but that of granting them the dignity of their deaths. "After the first death, there is no other." Thomas writes. It's always seemed to me that that is a double-edged line. On the one hand, it's a return to a belief in the hereafter, to a blessed faith in the justice of the after life. But it's also, to me, a statement of resignation, of the realisation that after the blow of that first loss has worn off, nothing else will ever feel that raw again.

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Entry filed under: Dylan Thomas, English. Tags: .

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d Raat aadhi kheench kar meri hatheli

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. J. Alfred Prufrock  |  April 3, 2006 at 5:36 am

    And that voice, my friend, that Welsh euphony married to Irish whiskey.

    I have a 90 minute cassette of him reciting his poems (including this one). Any favourites? Could try to digitise and mail.

    J.A.P.

    Reply
    • 2. Jim Newcombe  |  May 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

      I don’t believe he did a recording of The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives the Flower, did he?

      Reply
  • 3. Falstaff  |  April 5, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    J.A.P: Been meaning to get back to you on your offer – as a matter of fact the Under Milk Wood site that the post links to also has a bunch of other Thomas poems online – including Fern Hill, Altarwise by owl-light, The force that…, etc. Awesome stuff. So not sure it’s worth your digitising and mailing. Where did you get the cassette from though? Very envious.

    Reply
  • [...] reads the poem here and here. Extend This Post Reach This was written by admin. Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007, at [...]

    Reply
  • 5. Rina  |  March 23, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Thomas has used many religious references in this poem most of these referencing from Genesis in the Biblical texts and of the Father and of the Son. This tells us of Thomas’s background and how much of a religious man he was. Thomas using strong connotations of religion has obviously taken into account that heaven is linked to death. He however does not portray God in an omnibenevolent light. He portrays him in a negative and serious light, Thomas may be trying to get the point across that God although perfect can never be understood by humans.

    Reply
  • [...] reads the poem here and [...]

    Reply
  • 7. Jim Newcombe  |  May 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    “The poet who most perfectly marries rhythm of language to complexity of image”? – this is a mighty and a vague claim, ortherwise I agree with what you say. He doesn;t have the intellectual control of Hopkins (whom you compare him to) and some of his poetry is, to be honest, ambiguous and misty. At his best he’s superb, but he doesn’t measue up to Blake, Yeats, Donne, Dickinson and others

    Reply
  • 8. Eunan  |  September 16, 2010 at 5:30 am

    The last comment also contains ‘a mighty and vague claim’ – ‘his poetry is, to be honest, ambiguous and misty. At his best he’s superb, but he doesn’t measue up to Blake, Yeats, Donne, Dickinson and others’.

    If you are going to challenge others to support their opinions with clearly supported reference, you may well need to keep a drop of that medicine for yourself!

    Reply
  • 9. Mr. E  |  September 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    What IS this?

    *reads poem*

    What IS this?

    Reply
  • 10. James Harris  |  March 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    You have understood this poem very well, I think. I think the last stanza of it much more gripping than the rest though.

    Reply

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