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The first line of Dylan Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" echoes the poetry of some of the greatest writers of all time: that Death (personified here as a thing attempting to control or have "sovereign authority") shall not have dominion. The first line sets the tone of the poem. The title comes from Romans 6:9:
Death hath no more dominion...
Thomas does not see that man shall cease to exist with death, but that naked, he shall be of the same essence as "the man in the wind and the west moon..."
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
While the physical remains of man—the bones—shall be picked clean, and even when those bones are gone, man will be one with nature, with "stars at elbow and foot." With these lovely images, one is comforted to believe that Death is not final, nor does it destroy us, but man merges with nature, and nature is made up of beautiful things, such as heavenly bodies and the wind—wind, strong in its own right, not subject to devastation—as is often implied with death.
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot...
Through a series of paradoxes, Thomas notes that some things will change:
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...
These lines indicate to me that while death may occur, it will not conquer: on the other side of the veil that separates this life and the next, insanity, the loss of love and drowning will not defeat one's soul. On the other side, sanity will prevail, those who have "fallen" will rise, and love will remain.
And the most important line repeated again for emphasis, ends the first stanza and also begins the second stanza...
And death shall have no dominion.
Next follows a list of the ways "bodies" may die:
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...
The poet speaks of lying at the bottom of the ocean, being tortured on racks that rip sinew from bone or on the wheel; he writes of the spirit losing faith at the direst of moments—snapping like something dry and brittle; and, even run through, as if by a sword, death will not defeat man. Through all of these horrible ways a man is robbed of life, death still will not be the conqueror, the winner: man will live on.
The last stanza speaks to me of the end of the world, of life as we know it:
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...
There may come a time when all men are gone from the face of the earth. Sea gulls will no longer cry over the breaking waves; flowers will no longer grow—perhaps rain will no longer fall, but even when the sun "breaks down," death will not win.
God is not mentioned in the poem, but "echoes of the language of the King James Bible " are present, and the theme of resurrection is clear:
...they shall rise again...
So while Thomas avoids outright mention of God, leaning more toward nature, he asserts that man becomes something else after death, that even death cannot reach. In this transition, it is made clear that "death" is not, ultimately, in control.
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