The Hand That Signed the Paper

by Dylan Thomas

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What does the phrase "Hands have no tears to flow" mean in Dylan Thomas's poem "The Hand That Signed The Paper"?

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The final line of the poem, that "Hands have no tears to flow," is an indictment of the kings who "count the dead but do not soften / The crusted wound [...]." The "hand that signed the paper" does so many awful things in this poem: it took down a city, increased taxes, added to the numbers of the dead, and cut a country in half. It "bred a fever" and allowed a famine to grow. In short, the hand — though it is just a normal hand, connected "to a sloping shoulder" — in simply signing a paper has committed many people to death and done another king "to death," without any apparent concern or compassion for these horribly affected others. The hand, here, seems to be used as a symbol for the person to whom it belongs; a hand does not feel sadness or pity or love, and nor does the person to whom this particular hand is connected. The final line is an intense criticism of the ruler who makes these life and death decisions for thousands and thousands of people without any real regard for the reality of their lives.

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