A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London Poem by Dylan Thomas Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“A refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” is a poem by Dylan Thomas, written in the 20th century. The poem focuses on the tragic death of London’s daughter caused by fire and the morning that all the citizens go through. The poet strongly refuses to lament on this loss by exploring the concept of Spirituality. 

About the Poet 

Dylan Thomas was a Welsh writer and poet who was mostly known for the vivid imagery and the imaginative use of language in his poetry. His poems involve themes of Life and Death, Nature, and Complex human emotions.  


Dylan Thomas refuses the fact that the poem is an elegy, but it is a sombre poem about someone’s death and therefore still stands as an elegy. This irony is intentional by the poet. The poetic form is of sestets, there are four sestets.   

Summary and Analysis 

Stanza One 

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


The speaker of the poem refuses to mourn for the loss of a child, not until mankind including birds, beasts, and flowers are all fathered by darkness and break the last light in silence of a still hour when the tumbling sea is harnessed. 


The title of the poem describes the intention of the poem and works as the first line for opening the poem. The speaker expresses his  refusal to mourn over the death of a child that was caused by the fire in London. 

The speaker will never mourn over it until all of mankind is wiped out, including birds, beasts, and flowers. All living entities will be fathered by humbling darkness. This “humbling darkness” is referred to as death. 

When death fathers all the living forms on Earth and the silence takes over at the break of the last dawn and the tumbling sea is finally harnessed at the still hour, that is the time when the poet will lament over the child’s death.

The poet in the first stanza is describing the ceaseless cycle of death. According to the poet, the entire human race might come to an end one day and that is when he will grieve over people’s death, instead of mourning while he is alive along with fellow humans. 

Stanza Two 

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 speaker talks about returning to the Zion of the water bead and the synagogue of the ear of corn. Both of these mentions are biblical references. He compares two possibilities of either praying or mourning.


In the second stanza of the poem, the poet makes use of two significant biblical references. First is the “Zion of water bead”, the speaker of the poem mentions returning to the Zion of water bead. Zion, the holy biblical city of Israel where God lived among the civilization with the people. The speaker says that he must enter the world again.

The synagogue was a substitute temple of Jerusalem built in Babylon on the mount of Zion. Bothe the phrases of “water bead” and “synagogue of the ear of corn” are sacramental images which suggest that the poet takes death as a sacred truth which repeats as the cycle of life and death. Death returns to nature. 

In the next lines the poet talks about praying to the shadow of the divine sound and compares it to mourning over someone’s death. The line “sow my salt seed” refers to crying. The poet wants to convey that mourning for someone’s death is futile and unproductive and the soul is in fact imperishable and takes a new form, returning to nature. The last line is alluded to the valley of shadow of death from Psalm 23. 

Stanza Three 

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.


The speaker refuses to mourn for the majesty and burning of the child’s death. The next line refers to one of the 10 commandments of the bible, I shall not murder. The humanity leaving as she died, and left being a grave truth. He does not want to disrespect the order of nature by mourning through this poem. 


In this stanza, the poet for the first time mentions the child. According to the poet, the majesty and burning of the child’s death was glorious and bright and therefore he refuses to mourn. In the next line, he refers to one of the ten commandments of the Bible that states, “I shall not murder”. 

This suggests that the poet thinks this was possibly a fire caused by humans and not nature. Although death is natural, murder is not. He continues this by adding that the humanity of her goes with a grave truth. Humanity died with the child and left behind the grave truth, that is the fire. 

In the next lines, the poet does not want to disrespect this cycle of life and death by lamenting over someone’s death. It also refers to the crucifixion of Christ.  And therefore, this poem is not an Elegy of innocence and youth, as the title suggests it is a refusal to mourn the death, by fire, of a child in London. 

Stanza Four 

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


The child who died in the fire is referred to as London’s daughter who lies deep in the ground in her grave. Surrounded by the long earthly friends that lay next to her. Reuniting with mother Earth. But after this bodily death, there is no other death for the girl. 


The speaker starts the stanza by referring to the others who also died in the fire that are already buried deep into the Earth. The child later joins them and is referred to as “London’s daughter” because everyone was saddened by the child’s death and their sympathy lies with her. 

In the next line, the poet says she is surrounded by long friends. This can be the never-dying nature that she is surrounded with, deep under the soil there are other living creatures that are her long friends. It may also reflect the others that are buried around her being the long friends. 

“The grains beyond age” are the layers of Earth, and Earth is referred to as the mother with dark veins. She is finally reunited with her mother and returned to nature. The next line states that she secretly lies next to the unmouring water of the riding waves of Thames. As the river Thames has no clue of her death, and her death does not impact nature. 

The last line of the poem states that “after the first death, there is no other”. This suggests that the first death, that is physical death, the body that died and lies in her grave. But although she is not physically alive, she is still spiritually wandering around in nature. 

Her body has also united with nature and entered the never-ending cycle of life and death. But the soul never dies and therefore the poet says that there is no other death than the body. This might also be the reason for the poet to not mourn over the death of this child as her soul is still alive and well-united with nature.