And Death Shall Have No Dominion by Dylan Thomas

And Death Shall Have No Dominion is a three stanza poem written by Dylan Thomas and published in May of 1933 in New England Weekly. The poem has no unifying rhyme scheme but through its use of a refrain, and lyrical uses of language, it is clear that Thomas wrote this poem as an homage to the era of Romanticism in which these elements where in peak use. The title, “Death Shall Have No Dominion” comes from Romans the sixth book of the New Testament Bible. The line is used in reference to the resurrection of Christ and the lack of control that death truly has. You can read the full poem here.

 

Summary of And Death Shall Have No Dominion

This piece is a magical look at the ways in which death controls mankind and the fact at the even though it is powerful, it cannot control everything. Mankind has the power to stand up against any of the evils of death, and become unified through their moving to the next world. Death does not divide but brings together equally all those that lived apart. The second half of the poem focuses on brave and strong men standing up against the power of death and not breaking even through torture and the destruction of beautiful things.

 

And Death Shall Have No Dominion Analysis

First Stanza

This piece begins with the first repetition of the title line. This line, “And death shall have no dominion” runs throughout this poem like a refrain. It appears at the beginning and the ending of each stanza, as well as serving as the title. It is important to understand that this phrase is used to assert that, no matter the circumstances, “death shall have no dominion.” Death is not all powerful as it is sometimes made out to be.

The second line of this point presents one of the ways in which death is not all powerful. It does not divide men as they die, but brings them together. All of these, “dead men naked shall be one.” Death will bring them together, all men from all walks of life. IN the following lines the speaker begins using more magical imagery. The man “in the wind” and the man in “the west moon” shall be among those that are united. This type of imagery is common in Thomas’ work.

It is important throughout the reading of this piece to remember the refrain of the poem and remind oneself what point Thomas is trying to make. Mentally inserting the title of this piece before the fourth line of this stanza can help keep the poem in context. “Death shall have no domain…

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

Death’s lack of control is not temporary, it is everlasting. Even when it has taken a man, cleaned his bones, and destroyed the clean bones, still it will not have total control. These men that are less than bones will still

…have stars at elbow and foot;

They will all be together in the next world, whatever that may be, and united in their new common state.

The next three lines each begin with a “though” statement. It is after these lines that the reader may again want to remember the title/refrain of this poem. The first of these lines is a contrasting statement, that even when one of these men is mad he is actually sane, because each will experience the same world. If everyone is insane, no one is.

The second “though”statement makes another clear reference to death, and this time to resurrection, a distinctly religious image that should not be overlooked. Men will “sink through the sea” and “they shall rise again.” Lastly, the final “though” statement is to do with emotional death, even though death may bring an end to a specific love, it cannot end love in its entirety. This stanza ends, as do the following two, with the opening line, “And death shall have no dominion.”

 

Second Stanza

The second stanza of the poem begins another repetition of the refrain, and then with another reference to the sea. The sea is described as being “winding,” its layers of water are twisting around one another and within the water are those “lying long,” (use of alliteration here with the double ‘l’ sound). The bodies of dead men are stretched out under the water, and appear long in limb. They are said to have not died “windily,” they did not have long drawn out deaths, but met it perhaps in an instant. There is a perfect end rhyme at the end of lines 11 and 12 with “windily” and “sea.”

The fourth line of the poem introduces another way to meet death that is much more painful, through torture and agony.

Twisting on racks when sinews give way,

Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;

The rack and the wheel reference two different medieval torture devices, and even though these men’s lives are ending horribly, they do not break. This idea is continued throughout the rest of this stanza. Their “faith” may in their hand, “snap in two” and the “unicorn evils” of the world may “run them through” but they will not break. These men are having their faith taken from them and meeting every kind of evil, but still they are strong and death does not take everything from them.

 

Third Stanza

In the last stanza of this piece, after the repetition of the refrain, Thomas’ speaker goes through a few elements of life that these men will no longer experience. The sea is brought into the poem once more at this point as it is made clear these men will never again hear a seagull “cry at their ears” or hear the waves break “on the seashore.” These experience that many take for granted are gone forever and this loss is emphasized with the next line as the speaker emphasizes the loss by saying

Where blew a flower may a flower no more

Life its head to the blows of the rain;

Never again will beautiful things be as they were for these men, but just like these flowers, they are lifting their heads to the rain.

The last four lines conclude this poem and reinforce the idea of death being unable to break mankind.

The men are dead as nails and death, with its hammer” destroys beautiful things like daisies or the sun. Still it shall not have dominion over mankind. Man can resist all that death can come up with.

 

About Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas was born on the 27th of October in 1914 in Swansea, Glamorgan (now Swansea, Wales). Thomas did badly in school as a young boy, paying no attention to the subjects he was not interested in. Even though his performance was bad, he did edit and contribute poetry and prose to the school newspaper. He began writing at a very early age and had a notable knowledge of English poetry in general. It is generally acknowledge that Thomas had completed the majority of his poetic works by the time he was 21.

His first book, 18 Poems, was published in 1934. It was through this collection that his original voice first began to influence English poetry. He published Twenty-Five Poems in 1936, and The Map of Love in 1939. The originality of his work lay in the inventive combination of religious teachings and sexual imagery, a product of his Welsh upbringing. Throughout his time living in London, Thomas became well known among literary circles, married, and had three children. Although well known, the Thomas family did not have much money. Thomas worked at the BBC as a scriptwriter but took in very little income. He continued to write throughout his troubles with money and his developing problems with alcohol and published Death and Entrances in 1946.

In the early 50’s his drinking got worse as he began exhaustive touring around America. Although his work was well received and his career appeared to be at a high point, his marriage was falling apart and he died in New York City in 1953 from possible alcohol-related pneumonia.

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  • Avatar Kerry Bindon says:

    I get goose bumps reading this elegiac and beautiful poem and it’s timeless spirit rest in peace Prince of poesy

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      It’s lovely isn’t it?

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