"And Death Shall Have No Dominion"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In stanza XLII of "Adonais," Shelley says of the dead Keats: "He is made one with Nature;" his voice is to be heard in the song of the nightingale; his presence is felt "in darkness and in light." In the Epistle to the Romans (6:9) St. Paul says, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." Using an echo of the words of St. Paul and combining the ideas of the two above-quoted passages, Thomas' poem proclaims that the real enemy is not Death but Life: that, once dead, men become part of nature and immortal. They will, as Shelley said of Keats, become a part of the Platonic Eternal; or as Thomas puts it, "Though lovers be lost love shall not"–in which line he was merely paraphrasing Rupert Brooke: "Instead of lovers, Love shall be." As is usual with Dylan Thomas, this poem is developed through a series of violent and often obscure images. The first stanza reads:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
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;
And death shall have no dominion.