Monday, June 10, 2019

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914—1953) is the best known of all Welsh poets. He grew up in a Wales that had undergone an evangelical revival in 1904—1905 that had transformed the entire culture. His father was an atheist who nevertheless constantly ranted against God, while his mother was a devoted nonconformist chapel-goer.

I have long wondered about including a post about Dylan Thomas here, although I doubt he was truly a Christian. Even so, he was so God-haunted, so influenced by the Bible and hymns, and he wrote so many poems which clearly express a Christian faith, that I decided — at the very least — he speaks profoundly of faith in God.

In his book Dylan Thomas; Dog Among the Fairies, Henry Treece concludes that in Thomas's poem "Vision and Prayer" — "The poet has openly accepted God's love and has rejoiced in his acceptance. . . . This poem ends in a burst of confessional self-abnegation very reminiscent of Francis Thompson's ‘Hound of Heaven’." Treece also says, "his successive poems have testified . . . to his acceptance of religion and his need for prayer."

Many would disagree, even though, one of his closest friends, the poet Vernon Watkins, was clearly a Christian — and Dylan Thomas’s favourite poem, was John Milton’s “On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Perhaps what this most proves is how difficult it is for us to truly understand another human being.

Dylan Thomas’s drunkenness and immoral behaviour was enough to keep him from receiving a plaque in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. This absence was amended in 1982 when US President Jimmy Carter remarked to the Dean, “You put him in here. And I will pray for him.”

The following poem was one that Vernon Watkins convince Thomas to include in his collection Twenty Five Poems.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashore;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.