In his poem, Written for a Personal Epitath, Dylan Thomas begins his epitaph with the observation that he is “feeding the worm”. This is a commonplace, going back at least to Hamlet
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A
certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at
him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We
fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves
for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is
but variable service—two dishes but to one table.
That’s the end. (4.3.19-28)
Thomas avoids the obvious cliche but makes the point. He then turns to a question, “Who I blame”: blame for the fact of his death. He repeats the question in line 6, “Who do I blame?” He does state he has been “laid down/At last by time”. Again an allusion to Shakespeare: in Sonnet 19 he refers to “Devouring time”. In Sonnet 16, time is “bloody time”.
It is interesting how Thomas describes the place of death, “under the earth with girl and thief”: sex and violence.
So whom does Thomas blame?
Mother I blame
Whose loving crime
Molded my form
Within her womb,
Who gave me life and then the grave,
Mother I blame.
Her love and effort gave birth to death:
Here is her labour’s end,
Dead limb and mind,
All love and sweat
Gone now to rot.
There is a very physical aspect to his creation, “love and sweat”. There was work and desire which brought forth the poet: and to what end? “Dead limb and mind.”
“Labour” is a useful pun: both effort and the time of giving birth.
One thing to note about these lines is the scansion: HERE is HER LABour’s END/DEAD LIMB and MIND/ALL LOVE and SWEAT/GONE NOW to ROT
The accumulation of accented syllables makes the going very slow, and with the subject matter, very solemn.
The poem then ends with an unrhymed couplet, which drags the reader into his despair:
I am man’s reply to every question,
His aim and destination.
This blank despair makes sense of Thomas’ famous poem, Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night. Death is a blank, pointless end. There is nothing beyond current existence. There is no basis for hope. It is an interesting position, because Thomas also seems life as a power which works through all living things. Yet there is no merger of “life” with in his thought, as there often is in this often pagan pantheism. There is no god, thus, there is no perpetuation. There is a chemical process, called “life” which we have — and which we cling to (for some reason), but there is no point.