Can you explain "Windshake of sailshaped ears," "hymning heads," "Argument of hewn voice," and "black sill" in the poem "After the Funeral" by Dylan Thomas?

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An analysis of “After the Funeral (In Memory Of Ann Jones)” might best begin with a reading of “Fern Hill,” another poem by Dylan Thomas, in which the poet recalls his early life and vacations spent at a farm owned by his aunt, Ann Jones. Understanding the speaker’s early life, which was filled with joy and happiness, as seen through the eyes of a child helps to put things into perspective.

“After the Funeral” is a mournful poem that purports to reflect on the life of Ann Jones, who was very close to Thomas. Her death has an intense impact on the poet, and he delivers this poetic elegy to expose the hypocrisy of the mourners who attend the funeral and shed superficial tears. He begins the poem by likening the expressions of grief by the mourners to the sounds or “brays” of a mule and mocks their appearances by comparing their ears to those of asses:

After the funeral, mule praises, brays,
Windshake of sailshaped ears, muffle-toed tap
Tap happily of one peg in the thick
Grave's foot...

Ann Jones was a quiet and reserved lady, and he misses her terribly. He wants everyone to know what a wonderful person she was to him and how virtuous she was to others. In order to honor her memory and praise her spirit, he compares the love she shared during her lifetime to the harmonious ringing of church bells and the singing of the choir:

But I, Ann's bard on a raised hearth, call all
The seas to service that her wood-tongud virtue
Babble like a bellbuoy over the hymning heads,
Bow down the walls of the ferned and foxy woods
That her love sing and swing through a brown chapel,
Blees her bent spirit with four, crossing birds.

Thomas compares his praise for his aunt’s life and the memories he shares with the mourners to the work of a sculptor. He carves the picture of her goodness in stone, which has been “hewn” or cut and shaped into a sculpture:

And sculptured Ann is seventy years of stone.
These cloud-sopped, marble hands, this monumental
Argument of the hewn voice, gesture and psalm
Storm me forever over her grave until
The stuffed lung of the fox twitch and cry Love
And the strutting fern lay seeds on the black sill.

Ann Jones’s journey is over. The metaphoric sculpture of her life is now still, like a stuffed fox or ferns in a pot on a window sill.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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