Is “A Refusal to mourn the Death” a celebration of death or life? Explain.

In A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London, the poet blatantly refuses to mourn the death of a two-year child who was killed in an air-raid on the city of London during the Second World War. The untimely death of the child naturally evokes pity, draws tears, incurs the wrath of the sensitive and the sensible, incenses one, makes one curse the war – maniacs or those who create the war – hysteria which takes a heavy toll on human lives. But the poet finds it unnecessary to indulge in an elaborate expression of grief over this sad, heart-rending event of the child’s death in the war, ‘to go about the streets’ and howl and rend the skies with hapless cries. He deliberately refrains from all these. But this manic refusal of the poet should never make us think that the poet is an insensate and unfeeling creature. He refuses because he views the death of the child not as an isolated phenomenon but he views it however shocking, and heart-rending, from a pantheistic vision philosophical and biological point of view and also from the point of view of the cosmic process.

It is not that Thomas does not mourn, he mourns but says emphatically at the same time that he will postpone his mourning until the last moment of existence – both his existence and Existence itself, until the very end of creation, until the mankind-making, bird-beast-flower fathering darkness, the first chaos destroys everything.

The poet refuses to mourn for he firmly believes that the process of birth and death is a natural and a cosmic process and after death the human becomes one with the non-human, the microcosms merges with the macrocosm, life returns to its very source from which it started its journey and becomes reunited with it. The poet will certainly grieve over the death of the child till the last ray of light i.e. the source of life, fades into primeval darkness, till the rolling of the sea constantly battering the shores with all its roar and thunder is stilled at the hour of the doom. So the poet firmly resolves that until he himself returns to ‘the water bead’ and the ear of corn to the atom, to the nothingness that precedes our individual existence, he will cease from public grief and mourning.

The poet refuses to mourn for ‘he sees life as a continuous process, sees the workings of biology as a magical transformation producing unity out of identity, identity out of unity…” He finds consolation in the fact that the force which may be Shaw’s Life Force, or some mechanical process hungry to suck life in all its manifestations, or the process of time which spares none, or some elemental force that drives the flower and the tree to full burgeoning and then to death would destroy him also. But the poet soon realizes that such destruction is no destruction at all “but a guarantee of immortality, of perpetual life in a cosmic eternity: ‘And death shall have no domination.” So the poet determines to cease-mourning.

The poet further resolves not to mourn for mourning will distort or misrepresent the glory and majesty of her death. To mourn the death will amount to dent, taint the name of God, will mean committing an act of impiety. He refuses to let his art becomes propaganda. He will refrain from writing any elegy for elegies written so far and so long are full of commonplaces, stale and hackneyed words and phrases and also are full of “mule praises”. The poet vows that he will be the last person to indulge in such platitudes and philosophizing on the human act of dying.

Thomas finds no cause for mourning the untimely death of child for he believes that ‘life is passion and passion is suffering’, but had the child lived, it would have to endure evil that her innocent and youth did not know. The only one who remembers childhood as a time of peculiar radiance could write so.

In one way, this poem is an expression of a massive humility: In another, it is a gesture expressing what he can not feel or do – he cannot find that she is any more dead than he is, and so he cannot mourn her. She has merely ‘died out of childhood’ as he really wishes to.

Thomas does not grieve, on the contrary, he obtains consolation in the fact that “after the first there is no other”. What the poet wants to mean is that the child will not have to die again, as we who grow up to adulthood repeatedly die: first the child in us, then the young man or woman, one self after another. But this child, dying without the experience of the meanness of life, without having to watch the ‘brightness leak away’ will not repeatedly die like a full grown man or woman. The poet further consoles himself saying that death is not the end, but the beginning. It is the renewal of life. When one dies, one is born to a new life. Death is followed by resurrection. So after the first death, there is no other death.

Also read: Summary and critical appreciation of the poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Dylan Thomas