January 8, 2014

Giving Death Its Due

Carl Trueman in First Things writes Dylan Thomas and Giving Death Its Due

Thomas was indeed a remarkable talent. At age nineteen, he penned the magnificent and defiant ‘And death shall have no dominion.’ The imagery and the simple power of the form are stunning; that it was written by a man yet to reach adulthood is a source of envy to those of us who are mere mortal……And yet, for all of the maturity of the poetry, the sentiment is unmistakably that of a young man: The defiance of death has that naive, exultant quality, reveling in the fact that death may take the body but it cannot break the soul.
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Thomas wrote perhaps his most famous poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ His father was dying and, touched by mortality in a way that becomes unavoidable as one ages, Thomas’s defiance here is somewhat different.  In this poem, death does have a certain dominion. The only response is to rage, rage against the dying of the light.  Faced with the reality of death, there is no romantic heroism left beyond that offered by the ultimately impotent shaking of a fist before the coming silent darkness.
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 Dylan Thomas

Finally, when Thomas himself died, one of the unfinished poems he left behind was ‘Elegy,’ a gloomy reflection upon his father’s death which begins with the haunting lines:

Too proud to die, broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away
A cold kind brave in his narrow pride

There is no hint of triumph here and no defiant anger either. Just a feeling of resignation. His attitude to death has altered.
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Thomas closed ‘Elegy’ with the moving—and in my experience truthful lines—about his dead father: ‘Until I die he will not leave my side.’ These were perhaps the last lines he ever wrote. After all, one does not ‘come to terms’ with a beloved father’s death; one simply learns to live in the bleak presence of his absence.
Posted by Jill Fallon at January 8, 2014 10:43 AM | Permalink