This poem is a blatantly a sexual one, its underlying meaning though is one of religious conscience. In the opening stanza Thomas says that he could believe in sexual love and not fear the religious morality revolving around it: If I were tickled by the rub of love, A rooking girl who stole me for her side, Broke through her straws, breaking my bandaged string, If the red tickle as the cattle calve Still set to scratch a laughter from my lung, I would not fear the apple nor the flood Nor the bad blood of spring.Order now
In these lines Thomas talks about taking a girls virginity; ‘Broke through her straws, breaking my bandaged string/ If the red tickle as the cattle calve’. He goes onto say that he would discard the religious morality to enjoy himself and to indulge in a world of sexual intimacy; ‘Still set to scratch a laughter from my lung/ I would not fear the apple nor the flood’. Thomas was raised in a religious house, being taught at a young age that sexual desires were sins along with anything that had to do with them; this is why Thomas writes about the subject like he does.
As seen in the third stanza when he refers to ‘the devil in the loin’: I would not fear the muscling-in of love If I were tickled by the urchin hungers Rehearsing heat upon a raw-edged nerve. I would not fear the devil in the loin Nor the outspoken grave. Here Thomas talks about masturbation ‘the devil in the loin’, referring to his penis, and how his connection to nature is stronger than his connection with religion (because he is not afraid). “The phrase ‘the devil in the loin’, again associates the ideas of sex and sin, while ‘the outspoken grave’, everywhere announcing its victory”(John Ackerman p89)
Thomas’s sexual thought is surrounded by the guilt of religion as seen in the previous poems, here in the poem called ‘Twenty-four Years’ we see the introduction of a new weariness of sexuality; death. “Thomas immerses himself in the ‘Freudian’ theme of the all-pervasive sexuality of existence and the implacable death drive that is the maggot within it. “(encyclopedia of poetic analysis) Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes. (Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour. ) In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun. Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun, With my red veins full of money, In the final direction of the elementary town I advance as long as forever is. In this short but powerful poem, Thomas puts forth to the reader the thought that birth is just the beginning of death. The character in the poem is twenty-four and is reflecting back on his birthday, seeing it not as a celebration but as a murderous act; ‘Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour’, this line talks of life as nothing but a ‘walk to the grave’.
The thought that when one is born they walk through life awaiting to die at any moment, and life is nothing but this, one can see evidence of this in the lines; ‘Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun’ and ‘I advance as long as forever is’. As one can see from reading the poems of Dylan Thomas he was, one could say ‘obsessed’ with death. Death along with nature were intertwined themes reflecting each other throughout his works. “Thomas places birth and death at the poles of his vision. His viewpoint is at once individual and universal – ‘I’ is also, and without transition, ‘man’ and man is microcosmic.
The individual birth, therefore, abuts immediately upon the cosmic genesis death, upon cosmic catastrophe. Seen thus absolutely, however, birth and death are instantaneous; time is, equally, timeless; so that human life is mortal and immortal, flesh has its ghostly counterpart; though the relationship of each in enigmatic” (encyclopedia of poetic analysis). In April of 1936 Thomas met a girl by the name of Caitlin Macnamara, the two began living together after five consecutive days drinking companionship, and within a year the two were married.
The couples first child; Llewelyn Edouard, was born on January 30th, 1939, and during this time Thomas had started to record radio broadcasts over the BBC which got him recognized as a highly acclaimed poet in the United States. In 1946 Thomas published ‘Deaths and Entrances’, this book exploded Thomas’s national popularity, leading to his first tour to the US in 1950. The intertwined relationship between birth and death is seen heavily in the poem ‘Twenty-Four Years’ where the phenomenon of life is celebrated through sexuality.
Furthermore this relationship is seen in the poem ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’, which was published in 1936, in 25 Poems, where liberation from death is not through religion, since ‘Faith in their hands shall snap in two’, but through nature (Ackerman 89). Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion. In this passage we see Thomas’s strong belief in man being unified with nature.
In these lines we understand that though people may seem to be dead ‘though they sink through the sea’ they will ‘rise again’ meaning that they will live on through their original womb; the earth. Also the reference to spirit being separate from the body ‘though lovers be lost love shall not’ is seen in this line where the reader is to understand that eternal life exists in all of us and death is just the continuation of mortal life through nature, as seen in the last stanza of the poem ‘light Breaks Where No Sun Shines’ where we see poetic symbolism of spirit living on through nature:
Light breaks on secret lots, On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain; When logics die, The secret of the soil grows through the eye, And blood jumps in the sun; Above the waste allotments the dawn halts. On the contrary, the poem ‘Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night’ written in 1951 for his dieing father, shows Thomas’s anger toward death: Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
In the first line of the poem Thomas is protesting death saying that one should ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’, fight to stay alive until the very end, this interpretation taken from the title/first line of the poem where the phrase ‘good night’ is used as a symbol for death. The death of his father was a traumatizing experience for Thomas, and when an already heavy drinker took even more comfort with his lips to the bottle.
Thomas eventually died of this comfort when on November 9th, 1953, Thomas died of an alcohol-induced coma at the age of 39. 1 John Ackerman, A Dylan Thomas Companion, p76 2 Thomas, Collected Letters, p. 39.