The poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London by Dylan Thomas has apparently a quite simple sense. This is confirmed even in the very title of the poem. The sense seems straight and clear. It is all about the poet’s strong reluctance to mourn the death of a child (a girl) of a fire during an air-raid in London. The occasion is sad and painful and calls for an open expression of grief. But the poet resolves to do nothing of that sort, to write no elegy on it at all. Of course, he has his own reasons for this refusal. These reasons, though nothing plain, form the main content of the poem. Through such reasons, rather obscure, is communicated the poet’s contention, philosophical and spiritual, which constitutes the central theme or main argument of the poem.
The poet refuses to mourn the premature and dismal death of the child during an air-raid. He is opposed to any formal, conventional mode of mourning. He refuses to have recourse to what he considers to be a propaganda. So he discards the age-old customs of a loud lamentation, shedding tears, wearing the sackcloth (the dress of mourning), and writing an elegy to mark the occasion. To him, this is inappropriate to the solemnity of the situation and to the rhythm of birth and death as a cosmic process.
The poet makes a philosophical appraisement of death and life, as viewed from a spiritual angle. Death is darkenss and silence and makes an individual human being one with non-individual, non-human elements. In death, man becomes one with the elemental objects around him. The microcosm merges with the macrocosm. Life on earth ends only to be restored to its original source and the process continues. The cosmic drift from life to death and from death to life is continuous and eternal. Death, therefore, occasions no mourning, for this is no extinction, but rather re-starting of the operation.
The girl, burnt to death by the London air-raid, ceases to be an individual killed awfully. She has become rather a part of those who have died since the creation, such as Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ and all other beings, eminent or ordinary. The dead child is, thus, no microcosm, but rather the part of the macrocosm. She is with all those, dead or alive, animate or inanimate. Like all created things—man and nature, bird and beast, sand and water-are fathered or created by God, all are equally sacred and holy. The dead child is not all alone only in the dark cave of death, but also in the dark womb of life in the grand company of the diverse manifestations of cosmic creativity.
Death is a part of the cosmic process, along with life, as both originate in darkness and culminate in darkness, too, so the burnt child of the air-raid is not dead, but alive in death, along with sand and grain and water. Her death is majestic and leads to life eternal, and hence any mourning or elegiac celebration of this is merely formal and liable to despoil its dignity. After all, death is nothing low or dismal, but one with life. Indeed, the two are equally secret and sacred in the glorious cosmic process that pervades eternally.