We left me sitting in the Portland Central Library, book opened to the Dylan Thomas poem, totally stumped. Where was the teacher to explain what it meant? Where were the rhymes? What were all these strange references to Zion and sackcloth? I didn’t know how to begin.
I grabbed a dictionary, hoping that it would help. It didn’t. Mr. Sanders had said we had the capability of understanding what we would read among the poems available. I wasn’t so sure, but I was, if nothing else, diligent. I would sit there until I made some sense of this strange writing. I read it over and over. Finally I was able to figure out the sentence structure of the writing. Before I had been guided by line length and rhyme, but those weren’t helping here. I determined that the title was a clue: he wasn’t going to mourn the death of the child. But why not? And as I read on, I gathered that he wasn’t going to mourn for a very, very long time. I.E. probably never. Whew!
Still, why wasn’t he? Didn’t he care? Didn’t he believe John Donne’s famous thought that any death diminishes us all? Apparently not, as far as I could tell. The poem now actually had me upset. That was something new, since in my experience poems were to be memorized, not felt! And my distress actually answered my question. Basically, as far as I could tell that afternoon, he was telling me that after the first human died, death was a fact of life. And that got to me, more than a romantic elegiac ode to the one particular child would have done. I thought of the human predicament, and of my own mortality, and I was silent.