Though he lived only 39 years, his life ending abruptly in November 1953, Dylan Thomas was a prolific poet, beginning at the age of 8 years old. Thomas wrote over half of his poems during his teen years, already having had several published. He went on to have his first book of collected poems 18 Poems published at the age of 20. Thomas’s style has been described as ‘visionary’ and ‘musical’, often inspired by Romantic poetry, making his poems a joy to read. His better known poems are still widely enjoyed today. The following list highlights some of his more widely recognized poems.
Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night – Written in 1947 during a time when Thomas and his family were living in Florence, Italy, this villanelle was written for Thomas’s father, who at the time was going blind and dying. In this poem he is telling his father that though death is inevitable he should fight with everything he has left to live on as long as he can until he can fight no more. This poem is considered to be Thomas’s best and certainly is the most well-known of the many he wrote, and was first published in 1951, just 2 years before his own death.
And Death Shall Have No Dominion – Written in 1933 when Thomas was 17 years old, this poem shares an omniscient view of life and death, taking the reader to the conclusion that life doesn’t in fact end when the heart stops beating. The repetition of the title as the first and last lines of each of the 9 line stanzas punches home Thomas’s entire point of the poem, that though the body may no longer be ‘alive’ the soul of man lives on. The line ‘and death shall have no dominion’ is very like the biblical line ‘death no longer has dominion over him’, referring to Jesus Christ.
Fern Hill – Written in 1945, Thomas writes nostalgically of his childhood visits to the farm of his aunt. Using stunning imagery to whisk the reader away to a much-loved land, where Thomas would run and play in the grass, surrounded by trees and streams, cows grazing in the meadows. He speaks of being carefree and incredibly happy to be able to soak up every ounce of enjoyment he could wring from the day before falling asleep to the sound of owls, the star-filled sky being the last thing he saw through his window before his eyes closed.
A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London – Written during WWII, Thomas was accused of being heartless by some after reading this poem. While on the surface it appeared that Thomas felt that the child was not worthy of mourning the opposite was true, only Thomas felt that it was extremely difficult to put into words the lamenting of the senseless killing of one child during a bombing raid in London, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were being put to death by the Germans.
Poem in October – Written on or about Thomas’s 30th birthday, this poem speaks of his impressions of his surroundings while out walking in the seaside village of Laugharne, where he and his wife lived in near poverty. His ability to paint an image with words allows readers to feel as if they are walking alongside Thomas, and experiencing the same things he himself was at the time. Thomas seemed to recognize that turning 30 was a monumental achievement. Little did he know that he had only 9 more years of life ahead of him.
In My Craft or Sullen Art – Written about himself and his reasons for writing, Thomas explains that he must write his poetry for the common people and for lovers, for everyone needs to be loved. He expresses his need to write without monetary gain being his purpose, which is surprising given that he hoped to make a living from his writing.
Considering that a great many of Dylan Thomas’s poems were written when he was but a teenager with what many would consider a distinct lack of life experience, his ability to express himself in words was remarkable, evidenced by all of the poems listed above.