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And Death Shall Have No Dominion -- Dylan Thomas

Guest poem sent in by Linda Roberts
(Poem #1486) And Death Shall Have No Dominion
 And death shall have no dominion.
 Dead men naked they shall be one
 With the man in the wind and the west moon;
 When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
 They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
 Though they go mad they shall be sane,
 Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
 Though lovers be lost love shall not;
 And death shall have no dominion.

 And death shall have no dominion.
 Under the windings of the sea
 They lying long shall not die windily;
 Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
 Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
 Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
 And the unicorn evils run them through;
 Split all ends up they shan't crack;
 And death shall have no dominion.

 And death shall have no dominion.
 No more may gulls cry at their ears
 Or waves break loud on the seashores;
 Where blew a flower may a flower no more
 Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
 Though they be mad and dead as nails,
 Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
 Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
 And death shall have no dominion.
-- Dylan Thomas
I checked the archives for this poem and was rather surprised not to find
it. I find it interesting, not only as one of that subset of poems that defy
death, much like Donne's "Death be not proud" (Poem #796) but also for the
interesting form used. It's not a villanelle or a rondeau. I'll admit my
ignorance and ask that if someone knows the name of this form I'd like to
learn it.

As a recent widow I find myself remembering odd bits of poetry dealing with
death. While this may sound morbid, I usually find it fairly comforting -
especially such lines as "though lovers be lost, love shall not."


39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

lpaganin said...

Actually, death has all dominion--contrary to Thomas's opposite claim in
this poem. All great art admits the finality (the all-encompassing dominion)
of death. I wish that death had no dominion--that it couldn't destroy all
lives (and poets). But it does. Thomas's poem (however well-written) isn't
insightful; it isn't true: It denies the finality of death. His poem offers
us a typical religiosity: "We'll all survive--in some form--after we are
dead," he writes. No: Only memories of us will (and memories of us aren't
exactly us.) -- Dustin Smith (My favorite poet: Elizabeth Bishop--who
never would have written this sort of wishful-thinker's rant against the
inevitable. Read her poems--on this site, under "B"!)

Bob Willison said...

you miss the whole point of this poem. Read Thomas' other works and you'll
see. Death only becomes Lord, using the Latin derivative, if one doesn't
believe in Jesus as Savior.

Ari y Henry said...

Hi friends,
sometime ago a friend of mine gave me this wonderful poem. I have read it
thousend times but english is not my mothertonge so I am not able to
understand the full meaning. Could someone of you deliver me a good
translation into spanish???. Thank you very much.

C Horton said...

Just as the chemicals that have to come together and create all from the smallest to the largest, death does not have dominion; they all live on. Even if this rock we call Earth was to be split into millions of bits, those forces that created all in the first place will live. Dominion over life is only a bleak way to look at some sort of end.

Anonymous said...

Really? Not one person posting here has the slightest idea of the most basic and obvious meaning of this, and you think it has something to do with religion?

Anonymous said...

^ to each his own.

Anonymous said...

Can someone tell me what this poem is about? I'm confused...

WA Ross said...

Dylan Thomas himself said he was a Christian. In fact, he said, "These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damn fool if they weren't."

The phrase "Death shall have no dominion" comes from Romans 6:9. Of course this poem has to do with religion.

Anonymous said...

It s not a religious poem. Thomas is believed to have been an atheist in a time when stating so would isolate him and desocialize him. Many great men in that time professed a believe in god when in fact none such believe existed.
This entire poem is a great example of how Thomas found a way to express just that; why do we need religion to appreciate that death may be the end of individuals but never the end of life and love in general nor of memories. Death does not make a lived life meaningless and thus shall have no dominion.

Lloydesign said...

We try to define great works of art and presume our own interpretations of them are absolute. But great works of art by their very nature defy definition. What makes them great is that their interpretations are manifold and all have validity except for the obviously absurd.

Art and science, existence and non existence are different pointers to the same immutable truths: that, that is grave and constant in human experience.

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Anonymous said...

death has no dominion.

death has no meaning. It, like many things, is just a cycle. Though they sink they shall rise again.

There are so many meta-'whores' throughout this piece that only Thomas knows their true meaning. Although, the longer I live the more I find that his phrases have a personal and implied meaning. Existence, change, death, regret, and love are all very personal and change with our growth as a human being. Thomas understood this, and exploited it throughout his career.

Anonymous said...

All of the above readings seem to have some merit, except where they insist on one reading over another, which is the tired old curse of dogma. I will soon be reading this at the funeral of a dear friend, as a Buddhist, because I love its sheer power. It belongs to no-one, least of all the narrow and dogmatic. And ideology shall have no dominion.

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Kris said...

Perhaps where some fall down in their attempt to interpret this poem is the assumption that one is either Christian or atheist, or that the meaning of a poem can fit only those categories.

Whatever Thomas believed, he seems to suggest here a belief in the continuance of some part of the self or soul. If not, he might be speaking of the molecular existence of all things. What makes this poem great is that it resonates with so many different readers. That, surely, is the mark of great poetry.

Kris said...

Perhaps where some fall down in their attempt to interpret this poem is the assumption that one is either Christian or atheist, or that the meaning of a poem can fit only those categories.

Whatever Thomas believed, he seems to suggest here a belief in the continuance of some part of the self or soul. If not, he might be speaking of the molecular existence of all things. What makes this poem great is that it resonates with so many different readers. That, surely, is the mark of great poetry.

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