Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Hand That Signed the Paper by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

For the full text of this poem, readers can go to the link below:


(Above are the first two stanzas (an extract) of a four-stanza poem, because one of our ever- alert readers has pointed out to us that copyright laws in the UK differ from New Zealand and extend a further 20 years after the author's death. Dylan Thomas died in 1953 so his copyright extends to 2023. As editor, I apologise for this transgression to our readers, fellow contributors, the heirs of Dylan Thomas and the ghosts of Dylan and his wife, Caitlin. Editor: Andrew M. Bell)

When I was a callow youth of 15, I was a boarder at Sacred Heart College in Auckland. My fifth-form English teacher was a man named Brother Roger, a big, solid man with no-nonsense black-rimmed spectacles and a purplish hue to his chin and cheeks because he was rumoured to shave twice a day. Brother Roger loved his subject and he loved the beauty and power of language and he ignited my life-long love of poetry by introducing our class to some wonderful poets. Through him, I discovered the Romantic poets, the War poets, modern American poets and many of the luminaries of twentieth-century poetry.

The poem above by Dylan Thomas, published in 1936, (here reproduced from The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 3rd Edition) has stayed with me since the day Brother Roger brought it to my attention. It illustrated to me that poetry can make profound statements about life and the human condition with brevity and conciseness. Poetry can make us think and perhaps lead us to new insights.

I believe there has never been a time in human history when there was no conflict occurring somewhere in the world. Dylan Thomas wrote this with the Nazi spectre growing in Europe, but its subject will, sadly, be ever pertinent. The documentary maker, Michael Moore, asked US Congressmen if they had sons fighting in Iraq. None of them did. Theirs were the "hands" that signed the paper that sent many young, poor, uneducated, black, white and Hispanic men to their deaths.

Feel free to search out other wonderful poems by Dylan Thomas. For more Tuesday Poems, click on the Tuesday Poets in the sidebar.

This week's editor is Christchurch writer Andrew M Bell whose poetry, screenplays, fiction and non-fiction have been published and broadcast in NZ, Australia, Israel, US and the UK.  You can find his poems here


lillyanne said...

Andrew, I have to tell you that I believe you're wrong: Dylan Thomas's work is NOT in the public domain. He's a British writer and in the UK copyright lasts for the life plus 70 years.

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks for that Belinda, and what a shame. Here in NZ it is 50 years. We'll know next time. I have alerted Andrew and he will make some changes to the post so the whole poem isn't displayed.

A lovely post too Andrew - as much for the commentary as the poem.

Ben Hur said...

Thank you, lillyanne, for pointing out the error of my ways. Mea culpa.

The integrity of the Tuesday Poem blog website is very important to me (as I am sure it is to my fellow contributors) and I would never, knowingly, bring it into any disrepute.

Attribution of authorship is core to our values as writers and I am pleased you gave me the opportunity to rectify this error.

lillyanne said...

The problem is the confusions and absurdities of international differences in copyright law, which act like a tripwire to the unwary (and an unending living for copyright lawyers). What makes it even harder for the likes of us, is that no one country seems to understand the others' differences. I'm pretty sure that you could get permission for Dylan Thomas, though, if you asked.

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