Image by Rollie McKenna

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

Dylan Thomas


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

Dylan Thomas


Poem introduction

To choose what I should read tonight I looked through seventy odd poems of mine and found that many are odd indeed and that some may be poems. And I decided not to choose those that strike me still as pretty peculiar but to stick to a few of the ones that do move a little way towards the state and destination I imagine I intended to be theirs when in small rooms in Wales, arrogantly and devotedly I began them. For I like to think that the poems most narrowly odd are among those I wrote earliest and that the later poems are wider and deeper, though time, if interested, may well prove me wrong and find that the reverse is true or that each statement is false. I do not remember, that is the point, the first impulse that pumped and shoved most of the earlier poems along and they're still too near to me with their vehement, beat-pounding, black and green rhythms like those of a very young policeman exploding, for me to see the written evidence of it. My interpretation of them, if that is not too weighty a word, just for reading them aloud and trying to give some idea of their sound and shape could only be a parroting of the say that I once had. And all that a reader aloud of his own poems can hope to do is to try to put across his own memory of the original impulses behind his poems, deepening maybe and if only for a moment, the inner meaning of the words on the printed pages. How I wish I could agree wholeheartedly with that, let alone hope to achieve it. But the danger, for what a reader aloud of his own poems so often does is to mawken or melodramatise them, making a single simple phrase break with the tears or throb with the terrors from which he deludes himself the phrase has been born. There is the other reader of course who manages by a studious flatness, semi-detachment and an almost condescending undersaying of his poems, to give the impression that what he really means is 'Great things, but my own'. That I belong to the very dangerous first group of readers will be only too clear.

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

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

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.


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