Close reading exercise: Dylan Thomas

  1. Carefully read the poem “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” by Dylan Thomas.
  2. Describe how this text ‘works.’ Don’t take into account anything but the text itself (author biography, affective response, etc.): examine only evidence offered by the text itself.
    1. Look for patterns: repetitions, contradictions, similarities.
    2. Identify devices:
      • Images: symbols, metaphors
      • Formal elements: Rhyme/rhythm, meter
      • Point of view
      • Setting, characterization plot
      • Ambiguities
      • Paradoxes
      • Examples of irony 
      • Tensions: e.g. between denotation/connotation
  3. Based on these findings, describe the text’s structure and how it achieves its unity and meaning. Try to determine the text’s overall theme.

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.