Dylan Thomas’s “The Hand That Signed the Paper” consists of four quatrains that deride the cruel impersonality and wholesale destructiveness of modern politics and warfare. It is a universal war protest poem that expresses profound contempt for political leaders as a whole. They exhibit an absence of true feeling for their fellow human beings in their self-interested and pitiless handling of international conflicts and disputes. The poem scorns these irresponsible and coolly malevolent figures who have arrogantly set themselves up as the ultimate authorities over life and death.
The first stanza catalogs how the simple signing of a document sets off a chain of disastrous and irreversible effects. They include the utter annihilation of a city, the taxing to death of a conquered people, the doubling of the worldwide death toll, the splitting up or demarcation of a country, and even the execution of a seemingly invulnerable king. The perpetrator of these calamitous measures is not some mythical monster or demon, but an ordinary human.
The second stanza mocks the “mighty hand” that is responsible for these prodigious outcomes. It leads to a shoulder like any other hand, the poet nonchalantly notes. Also, it is subject to arthritis, like anybody else’s, with its joints becoming “cramped” by chalklike calcium. Furthermore, the instrument of this devastation is not some awesome weapon but, as the poet glibly remarks, a mere...
(The entire section is 446 words.)