Dylan Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"

Updated on October 14, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dylan Thomas

Source

Introduction and Text of "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"

From the King James Version of the Judeo-Christian scripture, Romans 6:9, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (my emphasis).

In Dylan Thomas' poem, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," the speaker employs that sentiment in his title and five other repetitions as a refrain. The three novtets—9-line stanzas—seek to demonstrate the efficacy of that a claim that death shall not have any control over the human soul. While the quotation from Romans specifically focused on the advanced state of consciousness of the Christ, Who rose above death's grasp, the speaker of Thomas' poem muses on the possibilities of the human soul as it conquers death.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man 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.

Thomas reading his poem, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"

Commentary

In this poem, the speaker is dramatizing the truth that death cannot conquer the soul.

First Novtet: Death and the Physical Encasement

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man 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.

The "dead man" is "naked," because he has lost the clothing of the physical body. The soul alone becomes "one / With the man in the wind and the west moon." As the soul leaves the body, it exists from the East, or spiritual eye in the forehead, and thus figuratively it meets the entity that is in the west or the "west moon."

Again, dramatically referring to loss of the physical encasement—"bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone"—the speaker declares metaphorically that the free soul will rise to the heavens and "have stars at elbow and foot." All infirmity that the human in physical form might have suffered will be set right, "Though they go mad they shall be sane."

While the soul will leave behind many of its earth-inherited maladies, many will be forgotten in preparation for its next incarnation, alluded to by "Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again." The deceased will have left behind lovers from the previous incarnation, but he will not leave behind "love" itself. Death will have no power over "love," despite the power it has over physical bodies.

Second Novtet: Nothing Can Kill the Soul

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.

The soul cannot be destroyed by the forces that can maim and kill the physical body; thus, even those who drown in the ocean, whose bodies are never recovered from the briny deep, shall not taste of death of their soul. Those who are tortured by enemies in war "shall not break."

No matter how severe the punishment to the physical encasement, the faith of the soul will remain with that soul, though it "snap in two" in the bodily incarnation. Despite being impaled on the evils of this world, the soul of the victim "shan't crack," because "death shall have no dominion."

Third Novtet: Creating a Belief System Overcoming Sorrow

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.

The soul of the individual who has left his body will no longer be agitated by earthly sounds. Like the soul of a flower that grew and was beaten down by rain but whose soul rose again, human souls will rise "though they be mad and dead as nails."

Their soul will depart the frail bodily encasements as "characters hammer through daisies." The strength of the human soul is greater than all material level entities, including the sun; the soul's power may "break the sun till the sun breaks down," for the soul is not dominated by death.

The important refrain, "and death shall have no dominion," keeps the poem's gravity centered on the truth of its declaration; the speaker of the poem who may even be completely unaware that his claims are entirely accurate surely takes comfort in the belief system that his words set forth.

Favorite Dylan Thomas Poem

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Questions & Answers

  • Does Dylan Thomas' poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" use any figurative language?

    Yes, this poem employs a number of figurative devices. The title is an allusion to KJV Romans 6:9. The controlling metaphor is the personification of "death" as the failed dominator. The metaphor of the location "East" represents the location of the brain through which the soul exits at departure from the physical encasement. "Bones picked clean" metaphorically represents the free soul. "Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again" is an allusion to reincarnation.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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