BRAVING STORMS: John Foy on “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London”

John FoyYes, in the midst of those dreadful downpours, the floral fireworks may seem long in coming…and yet don’t the ingenuity and endurance that get us through life’s toughest tornadoes always make for the best stories?!


“A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” – Here, again, a storm of grief, this time over a young girl who perishes in the firebombing of London during WWII. The poet, Dylan Thomas, doesn’t know the girl who has been incinerated and buried in the rubble. He claims that he will refuse to mourn her death, and on one level he does. If you accept just the denotational gloss, he says that never—until the apocalyptic end of time—will he mourn the child’s death. Such is his “mighty vaunt,” as Seamus Heaney has called it, uttered in “death-defying strains,” but the music of his words is very clearly the orchestration of a monumental sadness. The sorrow is in the syntax. This is the tortured, hyper-dramatic grammar of a voice that is keening operatically.

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.

Dylan Thomas (1914–1953)


~~~John Foy is the author of Techne’s Clearinghouse (Zoo Press/University of Nebraska Press). His poems are featured in the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, and he has appeared widely in journals, including Poetry, The New Yorker, The New Criterion, Parnassus, American Arts Quarterly, The Raintown Review and many others, with poems forthcoming in The Hudson Review, The Village Voice and The Yale Review. He has also published extensively online and has been a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry website. His essays and reviews have appeared in Parnassus, The New Criterion, Contemporary Poetry Review, The Dark Horse(in Scotland) and other publications, both print and on line. He lives in New York and helps to curate an uptown reading series in Manhattan. You can visit him at

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