The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower Themes
by Dylan Thomas

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The primary theme of this poem is the mysterious paradoxical “force,” puzzling in its unity of nature, life, and humans. It is a unity between nature and humans, between the individual poet and all other human beings. It is a unity that ties together all things living and dead and that culminates in love. The unity is also that of creation and destruction, however, and in that sense, it is sobering and painful. In addition, the unity is incommunicable. Growth and death, creation and destruction, the blooming of the merest flower, the tumbling of large trees, the law-abiding citizen, the hanging man, and the man who hangs him—all are bound into one by the poem with its complex pattern of interlocking paradoxes, oxymorons, and puns.

Thomas reiterates his comment of incommunicability at the end of each stanza and in the poem’s two-line coda: “And I am dumb to tell.” He is “dumb” because, in slang occasionally characteristic of Thomas’s love of play with language, it is stupid for him to talk to roses or to the veins in his own body or to the hanged man. He knows and the readers know these cannot hear and do not understand. He is also dumb in the literal sense, unable to speak, as a poet is constantly frustrated by words in trying to articulate feelings. So the deep, painful irony of the poem is that, though he is bound to the total physical universe, he is unable to express this unity, except by writing this poem, placing the “crooked worm” of his finger on the sheet of paper on his desk.

The “crooked worm” of the last line ironically unites with the paradoxical echo of the line from the first stanza, the “crooked rose,” a traditional image of beauty and romance from medieval and romantic poetry. Roses and worms thus go together; they are part of the same unity, even though one is usually identified with beauty and love, and the other with ugliness and death. The rose is literally crooked, bent by the same force (life-death) as the poet: Roses grow in spurts, and each spurt tends to bend the stem slightly. The worm is also crooked because it is alive: It is wriggling to move. Therefore, though “crooked” also suggests cheating and something amiss, it is finally a sign of life and vitality, as is the poem that the poet’s crooked finger writes.


(Poetry for Students)

Cycle of Life
"The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" describes the cycle of birth and death. It is one of several poems by Thomas which explores this pattern; in fact, the pattern provides such a consistent theme throughout his work that some critics have categorized this group as process poems. As the poem opens, the speaker presents the creative and destructive forces in life and nature. In the first two stanzas, Thomas clearly indicates that birth and blight are simply aspects of one continuum. The opening lines of these stanzas make this evident to the reader. The same force creates the flower, the child, the mountain spring, the circulatory system. However, the force which brings life also brings death. The force which "drives the flower" is also the force which "blasts the roots," killing the tree.

This process, although in more complex form, occurs in the third stanza as well. However, the contrast between life and death imagery is less clear. The destructive elements seem more dominant. In place of the unmistakable positive images in the first stanzas, the whirling water hints at a whirlpool; it is followed by quicksand, another destructive element. Yet the poem continues to indicate that out of death comes conception. Consider the stanza's final line, "How of my clay is made the hangman's lime." Although the initial impact of the phrase may be negative, upon reflection, it demonstrates the cycle in practice. Man is born, dies, is buried and then joined with nature as dust or clay. This clay is used to create the pit where the hangman buries his corpses. The lime, a cleansing agent, soon reduces the corpse to bone, then dust or earth or...

(The entire section is 1,298 words.)