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The Hand That Signed The Paper -- Dylan Thomas

Carrying on with the theme:
(Poem #1035) The Hand That Signed The Paper
 The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
 Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
 Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
 These five kings did a king to death.

 The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
 The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
 A goose's quill has put an end to murder
 That put an end to talk.

 The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
 And famine grew, and locusts came;
 Great is the hand that holds dominion over
 Man by a scribbled name.

 The five kings count the dead but do not soften
 The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
 A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
 Hands have no tears to flow.
-- Dylan Thomas
 From "Twenty Five Poems", 1936.

 I've always liked the density of Dylan Thomas' work. His early and
middle-period poems are wonderfully impenetrable masses of high-flown
rhetoric: pretentious, perhaps, in their almost wilful obfuscation, but also
possessed of an undeniable power [1]. His later poems are air and fire to
his original earth and water; while equally dense in their use of allusion
and illusion, they trip lightly off the tongue, beguiling the senses while
stirring the heart [2].

 Unfortunately, today's poem falls in neither category, and I have to
confess that it's not one of my favourites. There are occasions when
simplicity is power, but there are also times when it betokens, well, a lack
of depth. There's nothing _technically_ wrong with "The Hand That Signed The
Paper"; the basic conceit is well thought of and well executed (if not
terribly original); the verse is straightforward and competent. But it
remains just that - verse: great poetry it isn't.

Or is that just me?

thomas.

[1] The "Altarwise by Owl-light" sonnet sequence is a stunning example: I
love the poems, but I haven't the faintest idea what they mean. See
Poem #405 on the Minstrels website.

[2] "Fern Hill", "Poem in October" and "After the Funeral" come to mind.

[Minstrels Links]

Dylan Thomas:
Poem #14, Prologue
Poem #38, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Poem #58, The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower
Poem #138, Fern Hill
Poem #225, Poem In October
Poem #270, Under Milk Wood
Poem #335, After the Funeral (In memory of Ann Jones)
Poem #405, Altarwise by Owl-Light (Stanzas I - IV)
Poem #476, In my craft or sullen art
Poem #568, Especially when the October Wind

31 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

rodrigo said...

i think that he is an assh...go to hell menn

BraJo8 said...

I think the poem is about the abuse of power over others. Clearly the five
kings in power abused it to get what they wanted. However, it does not say
whether or not they believed they were doing the right thing, whether they were
intentionally trying to harm someone, or whether they simply were only trying to
please themselves.

jtichenor said...

This is a mighty poem, more relevant today than ever, when half of
America cannot see and cannot mourn the simple action of its President
to launch a needless war and kill a hundred thousand people for a whim.
One must let Thomas' poem sink in without too much thought. Hands
cannot cry.

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Anonymous said...

perhaps [or not]this could be any treaty signed that left no hope for the future but reminds one of the atrocities that made it necessary.the five kings are the five fingers.perhaps [or not]he was inspired by the treaty of versaille or some other historical event.

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Anonymous said...

who was his intended audience?

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