Posts filed under ‘Dylan Thomas’

Ceremony after a Fire Raid

Dylan Thomas

Listen (the poet reads)


The grievers
Among the street burned to tireless death
A child of a few hours
With its kneading mouth
Charred on the black breast of the grave
The mother dug, and its arms full of fires.

With singing
Darkness kindled back into beginning
When the caught tongue nodded blind,
A star was broken
Into the centuries of the child
Myselves grieve now, and miracles cannot atone.

Us forgive
Your death that myselves the believers
May hold it in a great flood
Till the blood shall spurt,
And the dust shall sing like a bird
As the grains blow, as your death grows, through our heart.

Your dying
Child beyond cockcrow, by the fire-dwarfed
Street we chant the flying sea
In the body bereft.
Love is the last light spoken. Oh
Seed of sons in the loin of the black husk left.


I know not whether
Adam or Eve, the adorned holy bullock
Or the white ewe lamb
Or the chosen virgin
Laid in her snow
On the altar of London,
Was the first to die
In the cinder of the little skull,
O bride and bride groom
O Adam and Eve together
Lying in the lull
Under the sad breast of the headstone
White as the skeleton
Of the garden of Eden.

I know the legend
Of Adam and Eve is never for a second
Silent in my service
Over the dead infants
Over the one
Child who was priest and servants,
Word, singers, and tongue
In the cinder of the little skull,
Who was the serpent’s
Night fall and the fruit like a sun,
Man and woman undone,
Beginning crumbled back to darkness
Bare as the nurseries
Of the garden of wilderness.


Into the organpipes and steeples
Of the luminous cathedrals,
Into the weathercocks’ molten mouths
Rippling in twelve-winded circles,
Into the dead clock burning the hour
Over the urn of sabbaths
Over the whirling ditch of daybreak
Over the sun’s hovel and the slum of fire
And the golden pavements laid in requiems,
Into the bread in a wheatfield of flames,
Into the wine burning like brandy,
The masses of the sea
The masses of the sea under
The masses of the infant-bearing sea
Erupt, fountain, and enter to utter forever
Glory glory glory
The sundering ultimate kingdom of genesis’ thunder.

Who but Dylan Thomas could write a poem so visionary, so mercilessly vivid? Who but Dylan Thomas could write a line like “the golden pavement laid in requiems / Into the bread in a wheatfield of flames”?

Thomas’ Ceremony rises like a glorious phoenix from the ashes of World War II London – a bird of incredible beauty, but made entirely of fire – so that to let the smallest feather of an image touch you is to be singed forever. This is what Thomas does best – marries the formal to the raw intensity of pain, creating poems that sing as they suffer, converting language into hallucination. It would be easy to sterilise the horror of the Blitz by converting it into a formal rite, but there is nothing antiseptic about Thomas’s poem, it is awash in gore and flame, staying true to these elements even as it transfigures them.

This is the real Fire Sermon.


December 29, 2006 at 1:46 pm 3 comments

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

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.

March 31, 2006 at 6:14 am 12 comments