Dylan Thomas and Religion
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The twentieth century saw a growing use of technological warfare which led some to fear that civilisation itself was at risk. The two world wars also raised the question of whether the existence of a Christian God had any relevance. This affected the way writers employed religious ideas, imagery, and language. Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) was an Anglo-Welsh poet who sought to trace his roots in a bewildered literary and spiritual landscape. In this paper, I shall explore the role religious language and belief played in this quest. In order to illustrate how Thomas’s handling of religion developed across time, I shall discuss two collections which he published either side of World War Two: Twenty-Five Poems (TFP) (1936) and Deaths and Entrances (D&E) (1946). Since religious poetry expresses itself through the form of a poem as well as its theme (as I shall explain shortly), I will apply the methodology of close-reading to selected poems from these collections, namely: “I, in my Intricate Image” and “Altarwise by Owl-Light” from TFP; and “The Conversation of Prayers” and “Fern Hill” from D&E. These poems introduce and conclude their respective collections, and are thus of vital importance, since they put forward and sum up formal and thematic features that run throughout the collection to which they belong. In keeping with their position in each collection, they also explore in depth the crucial theme of beginnings (the search for roots) and ends and they award this theme a clear religious dimension through several references to Genesis and the Gospels.