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Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Wilde, Martha Haller
Dylan Thomas: the elemental poet,   pp. 57-64 PDF (2.7 MB)


Page 60

 60 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters [Vol. 44 
Time is bearing another son. 
Kill Time! She turns in her pain! 
The oak is felled in the acorn 
And the hawk in the egg kills the wren. 
There is nothing more basic than the dust unto dust theme. "The corpse's
lover," "cadaverous gravels," "Man was Cadaver's masker
. . ." "time's maggot,"
"Death hairy heeled," meat on bones, marrow, and winding sheets
become "the
atlas-eater with a jaw for news (in fact death is "all metaphors")
," "the
meat eating sun," and "the last Samson of your Zodiac." The
emphasis on the
Elizabethan or Gothic physical obsession with death has been exchanged for
a less traditional kind of imagery. 
 Death as a personal experience continues to haunt the poet, but he reaches
out also to others. By 1939 Thomas can write "In Memory of Ann Jones,"
his
feelings about the death of another person. "The Tombstone told when
she
died" finds him again exploring his relationship to an older dead woman.
"The Refusal to Mourn" for a child killed in an air raid, "The
Conversation
of Prayers," "Ceremony After Air Raid," and "Among those
Killed was a Man
Aged a Hundred" objectify the problem of death, from which the poet
even
here cannot disassociate himself. 
 There is a development away from black pessimism as the poet matures. Death
is always the destroyer; time is always at his back, but the poet can cry
that "Death Shall Have No Dominion" for life itself goes on. Like
the birthday
poems, "Holy Spring" blesses and clings to life despite death's
shadow. Thomas
wrote "Unluckily for Death" and finally that bold but controlled
defiance
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close
of day, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
Like Yeats, he refused to acquiesce, and like a seventeenth century counterpart,
he wanted to gather his rosebuds while he might. 
 The lyric poet whose concern is bluntly sex and death must on the other
side of the coin, then, sing love songs. The melancholic is balanced by the
sanguine humor. Again the technique of correspondence between microcosm and
macrocosm serves him. John Donne's countryside of the female body is approximated
by the elements that make the "waters . . . green knots . . . (and)
tides"
of "Where Once the Waters of your Face." The sexual imagery of
"Light Breaks
Where No Sun Shines" may be understood by similar elemental correspondence
plus a Freudian candle 


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