And Death Shall Have No Dominion

by Dylan Thomas

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Themes and Meanings

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The central issue in this poem is the nature of resurrection and, therefore, the essential nature of the life force being resurrected. By using echoes of the Christian Bible throughout the poem, Thomas demands that his views be seen in contrast to the Christian tradition in which he was reared.

Thomas has often been referred to as a pantheist. The word “pantheism” comes from the Greek pan, meaning all, and theos, meaning God. In other words, God and the universe are one, or God and nature are one. Although it is unlikely that Thomas ever used the term to describe himself, pantheism does seem to capture much of his system of belief. This idea is demonstrated in this poem as well as others, including “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” and “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.”

When Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans that “death hath no more dominion,” he meant that those who had chosen salvation would not suffer eternal damnation and spiritual death. Instead, they would be resurrected on the Day of Judgment and given new spiritual bodies.

Thomas makes it clear from the beginning that he sees things differently. When he states (and restates) that “death shall have no dominion,” he carefully and deliberately leaves out the word “more.” For Thomas, it is not a matter of death ceasing to have power—death has never been the end of life.

When people die, the poem says, their spirits live on. The issue of bodies is moot. When people die their spirits may next inhabit a flower (“Heads of the characters hammer through daisies”) or something else, but their spirits will continue to live.

Faith, Thomas says in stanza 2, has nothing to do with it. Some may lose their faith (“Faith in their hands shall snap in two”) as a result of the suffering inherent in life. Perhaps like Thomas they might turn away from the traditional faith of their childhood toward something else. Whatever they decide about God and the universe, their life force will not die because it is not the nature of this force to die.

Thomas does not use biblical echoes in “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower,” even though its theme is similar to “And Death Shall Have No Dominion.” If the essential message of the former poem is that human life and death are simply part of the natural cycle, then “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” takes this message one step further.

The use of biblical language forces the reader to juxtapose the two systems of belief. “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is not only an oratory celebrating a pantheistic view—it is also an overt rejection of Christian beliefs.

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