Because of his almost obsessive preoccupation with death, each birthday was a milestone that called for a celebration, and on several occasions Thomas composed a poem that expresses his sense of where he stood as a man and an artist. “Twenty-four Years” is his earliest significant version of this celebratory mode, and it is full of both the exuberance of early manhood and his already familiar feeling that death was imminent. As Paul Ferris describes it, the poem is like an abrupt telegram in which a density of texture leads to a compactness that makes each line and image bristle with evocative power. The pattern of the poem is based on the oppositional tension that Thomas believed made a poem noteworthy, and the intermixture of life-enhancing and death-haunted declarations generates the tremendous energy that drives the poem (and the poet) on a journey toward “forever.”
The first two lines are self-enclosed assertions of the poet’s condition at the moment of creation. Thomas summarizes his life initially by epitomizing its somber qualities and stresses their importance by citing them as a constant source of sadness. Next, struggling to control his fears, he inserts as a chorus/comment the injunction to “bury the dead” so that their shade will not overwhelm everything else. There is a biblical echo in the second line as well, a suggestion that the prospect of death requires sympathy and compassion for a common human dread. Then, in a dynamic...
(The entire section is 584 words.)