A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London Themes
by Dylan Thomas

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Thomas’s poetry has an almost revelatory power, in which meaning is experienced in the act of either creating or re-creating (that is, reading) the poem. The sound, rhythm, and visual impact, as well as psychological force, of the words have a transforming effect on the imagination. The violent shifts of perspective that the poem achieves help make one receptive to its visionary, ultimately healing power.

Thomas’s concern with the creative process is evidenced in his own description of his “dialectical” method:An image must be born and die in another; and any sequence of my images must be a sequence of creations, recreations, destructions, contradictions.Out of the inevitable conflict of imagesI try to make that momentary peace which is a poem.

The poet’s struggle is that of the creative imagination attempting to name the unnamable—that is, the mysteries of existence. The poem confounds contradictory images of life and death, sacred and profane, human and nonhuman, and the one and the many in an attempt to capture the inexhaustible fecundity and resilience of life. It climaxes in a statement which is itself a paradox: Death is final and yet is not, ultimately, definitive.

The poem’s vision of the protean unity of all things transforms grief into wonder. This insight is affirmed both by ancient belief that life has eternal regenerative power and by scientific theory that matter can never be destroyed but only transmuted—into energy.