Literary Analysis of Dylan Thomas' "After the Funeral"
Dylan Thomas' "After the Funeral" is a tribute and elegy to Thomas' aunt Ann Jones with whom he shared a deep bond. The death of Aunt Jones left a profound impact on the poet. The poem "Fern-Hill" commemorates the happy moments he spent on Aunt Jones' farm. This particular poem stands apart from the other poems of Thomas: it is the only one that is associated with an individual while others deal with experiences or abstractions. The poem begins in the typical style of the elegy expressing contempt for the hypocritical mourners whose formal salutations of grief are depicted as "mule praises" and "brays". They appear like asses in their superficiality and shook they ass-like ears rendering the tragic situation a mockery. They walked "muffle-toed' in keeping with the atmosphere of the funeral. "Tap-tap" also refers to the sound of nails being hammered into the coffin.
The phrase 'tap happily' implies how the people were secretly happy that the tap was not for meant for them. The phrase "thick grave's foot" is utilized as a metaphor where the coffin is imagined to be the foot of the grave, for it serves the purpose of carrying dead bodies to their grave. 'Blinds down the lids' refers to the shutting of the coffin. It may also signify the veiling of the real emotions of the mourners by their phony tears. The black outfits meant for the funeral foreground their teeth:"teeth in black". They appear to have "spitted" their eyes with saliva to give the impression that they have been weeping intensely. Their sleeves appear to be drenched in tears-"salt ponds in their sleeves"-an exaggeration of their actions.
The sound of the spade in the early morning likely to wake a sleep, shakes a boy overcome with the feeling of desperation and desolation. The "phrase "slits his throat" has two meanings .One' it may signify the boy's emotional death. Secondly, it may indicate his vow to honour the remembrance of his late Aunt. Unlike the others who shed superficial tears he sheds dry leaves. The dry leaves points to his poetic output/elegies that has lost its sparkle as he has lost his major source of inspiration. The line:" That breaks one bone to light with a judgment clout" alludes to his failure in paying tribute to the noble traits of Aunt Jones in his judgemental fervour .The time at the present was dominated by tears and thistles."Thistles" a prickly bush, is emblematic of the death of the Aunt .The experience is concretized as a thistle as it intensely pained his heart. He is left in the room alone to encounter the 'stuffed fox and stale fern' that served as embellishments in his aunt's room. He stays for the sole purpose of commemorating her; he spends 'snivelling' hours of intense grief He calls her 'humped Ann" as she was a hunch-back bent over by age and torment:
In the snivelling hours with dead, humped Ann
Whose hodded, fountain heart once fell in puddles
Round the parched worlds of Wales and drowned each sun
(Though this for her is a monstrous image blindly
Her heart that was overflowing with the fountain of generosity was 'hooded' in modesty. She did not make an exhibition of her magnanimity."Water" is a symbol of generosity here; in comparison, the people around Wales seemed 'parched'. She also drowned the sun with her tremendous warmth and the radiance of her love.
Magnified out of praise; her death was a still drop;
She would not have me sinking in the holy
Flood of her heart's fame; she would lie dumb and deep
And need no druid of her broken body).
The poet states that he had praised her in a magnified manner: in an extravagant way that was in opposition to the simplicity that she practiced and embodied. She would not long for her selfless emotions to verge on fame. She would rather lie serenely deep in her grave and prefer a dignified silence, rather than having a poet(druid) ranting over her.
Though Ann Jones prefers to be left in peace, the speaker wants to act as a bard so that he can give vent to his woes. Her death has influenced him tremendously. He summons the sea to bemoan his Aunt's demise and extol her virtues. Her low-profile virtues will be voiced through the poem. Thereby her love will express its harmony like the choir .The bells of the brown chapel will hail her through its swinging, and salute and bless her spirit. The four crossing birds will descend in all four directions outlining the cross of Jesus Christ in the process. In appears that Christ has blessed Ann Jones in this manner. Her flesh was as meek and milky as milk. The poet implies that though it was milky, it was not a flamboyant white.
He likens the elegy to a piece of sculpture sculpted by a sculptor. The statue is carved from her memories in a room with a wet window. The window is a metaphor for the eyes as it is also a device to 'look through'. The poet therefore may refer to his moist eyes. The 'year' is prefixed with the adjective 'crooked' as it has deprived him of his beloved aunt. She was forever engaged in domestic chores-therefore her hands are termed as "scrubbed and sour."The only thing she takes with her to the grave or that which would serve some purpose in her after-life is her religious way of life. Her last whisper that was moist in her being still alive also comes across as something religious. Her mind was benumbed with intense suffering-"wits drilled hollow." Her face appeared to be like a clenched fist as the muscles were strained owing to the strain in the last moments of anguish.
"And sculptured Ann is seventy years of stone."
The line reflects the steadfastness in her way of life and her undeterred religious stance. It also refers to the clenched figure of his Aunt. As the sculpted statue heads sky-wards, it appears "cloud-sopped". The sculpted statue expressed her goodness through her carved out virtues. Her psalms and gestures will continue to haunt the poet till :
The stuffed lung of the fox twitch and cry Love
And the strutting fern lay seeds on the black sill.
It will continue to fill his thought-process till the poetic release is complete. It will impart the lesson of love to others till the stale fern regains life and sprouts again.
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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