Help me with a critical appreciation of "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A critical appreciation, also called a critical analysis, covers all the main points of a literary analysis. It will include the applicable literary/poetic elements of structure, theme, characters, mood, tone, narratorial voice, point of view, poetic persona, chronology. It will also include applicable literary/poetic techniques such as metaphor, irony, simile, personification, rhetorical word schemes, allusion, and other tropes.

eNotes' format is not suited for an entire critical appreciation, but I can get you started with some key points. The structure is three stanzas of nine lines each. The opening line is repeated as the closing line in each stanza: "And death shall have no dominion." None of the repetitions of the line have any variation from the first. The theme is conveyed in this repeated line: "Death does not hold power over humanity." This reflects the Modernist desire to reclaim humankind's alienated soul, alienated from humankind's own humanity and from nature that houses humans.

The rhyme scheme is very unusual. Though there may be room for discussion, there is a rhyme scheme; this is not an unrhymed poem. A distinctive feature is that each stanza has three couplets in the scheme. Each stanza begins and ends with an /a/ rhyme since each has the beginning and ending repetition. Though the rhymes of the other lines in each stanza are different from the preceding ones, for the sake of comparison, I'll use a simple abc designation for each stanza since all three have some differences:

  • Stanza 1: aabbcddca - aa bb dd couplets
  • Stanza 2: abbccddca - bb cc dd couplets
  • Stanza 3: abbcddeaa - bb dd aa couplets

The dominant poetic techniques Thomas uses are figures of speech and metaphor. Every image is built upon a figureĀ  of speech that has a non-literal meaning that conveys the sense of Thomas's message. Most figures of speech are built upon an underlying metaphor. An example is: "They shall have stars at elbow and foot ...." The metaphor compares dying to transcending. The figure of speech, "stars at elbow and foot," signifies the blissful condition of heavenly transcendence.

In addition, personification (specifically, pathetic fallacy) plays a large role: an element of nature is given a human identity and human characteristics. Examples are "man in the wind" and "may a flower no more / Lift its head to the blows of the rain ...." In the first, "wind" is humanized. In the second, both "flower" and "rain" are humanized. With this start, you can explore some of the other poetic elements and techniques Thomas uses.

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