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