18 pages 36 minutes read

Dylan Thomas

All That I Owe the Fellows of the Grave

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1933

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “All That I Owe the Fellows of the Grave”

The opening lines’ assertion of debt to the dead seemingly promises some moribund meditation on every mortal’s fatal portion to the cosmos—a debt that can not be settled. However, rather than surrender to the debt, the speaker flips that perception to suggest that the more expansive a person’s ancestry, the more vibrantly alive the person should feel: I am flesh and blood and bound to die, yes! Part of an ever-resilient organic universe, the speaker finds in his inevitably death-bound body a cause to celebrate the now. He enjoins himself to engage the hunger of the flesh, to relish the intricacies of the heart—not because but despite that he must die.

In his proposed logic for acknowledging death, the speaker rejects by omission the idea of a soul. His mortal incarnation is his ancestral legacy. His radiant sense of human oneness and consanguinity is unfettered to an individual soul that will, after bodily death, be subjected to the hard-eyed scrutiny of some divine bookkeeper: “O all I owe is all the flesh inherits” (Line 5). Far from occasioning despair, his mortality opens him up to a bracing epiphany that he is one with everyone.