And Death Shall Have No Dominion Analysis

Dylan Thomas

The Poem

“And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is a poem in three nine-line stanzas of sprung rhythm. Each of the stanzas begins and ends with the title line, which echoes Romans 6:9 from the King James translation of the Christian New Testament: “Death hath no more dominion.” The title and the refrain give the theme of the poem—resurrection—and introduce its characteristic rhythm and solemn tone.

The poem is built on repetition, and not merely of the title. Once the meaning of the first line is grasped, the entire poem is understood. Each of the intervening lines and images is simply another way of saying that the life force is immortal—that people’s bodies may die but their spirits live on in the world.

The speaker of the poem is a grand and disembodied voice. There is no particular representative intended; there is no character whose words these are taken to be. The poem is an oratory; it is truth spoken out of the air.

The first stanza deals with the dead, who shall be made whole again at the end of time. The unity and wholeness of the universe is hinted at by an arresting rearrangement of elements that Dylan Thomas creates in the third line: “the man in the wind and the west moon.” Man in the moon, man in the wind, west wind, west moon—it does not matter how the parts are arranged because all is one.

When dead men reach the final reckoning, therefore, even though their bodies are gone, “they shall have...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Forms and Devices

As is often the case with Thomas’s poetry, much of the power of this poem comes from the sound of it. It should be read aloud to be fully appreciated. “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is one of his poems that Thomas himself chose to record. When one listens to the poem, one is immediately struck by its rhythm. Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term “sprung rhythm” to describe his own poetry in which the rhythm is based not on metrical feet, but simply on the number of stressed syllables in a line. The term is apt here. Two different readers reciting this poem are likely to stress different syllables within any given line, yet both readers will create the same effect of wavelike rhythm—strong, regular, and insistent.

Thomas creates this powerful rhythm by the careful selection of words and the crafting of lines. Nearly all of the words in the poem are monosyllabic and contain explosive consonants that create a sharp separation between words.

One line from the first stanza demonstrates this: “When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone.” The combinations of consonants make it nearly impossible to elide words in this line. In “picked clean,” the two hard k sounds demand to be sounded separately; in “clean bones gone,” each of the three words begins with an explosive consonant, and the repetition of the n creates the effect of stress and echo. The line must be read slowly, distinctly, and...

(The entire section is 469 words.)