For «the love of Man and in praise of God»: onanism and religiosity under the lens of the eroicomic in the young Dylan Thomas

Alfredo Palomba


Both the spheres of the religious and the corporal in Dylan Thomas’s poetry, especially in the poems of the first collection, 18 Poems (1934), are very much linked together, suggesting a sort of ‘body religiousness’, according with a declaration of the poet which opens the Collected Poems (1953): they’re poems written «for the love of Man», rife with a spirituality which originates deeply from the flesh, we could say from the things’ core, «and in praise of God», that God and that Christ who are as one with the Man, and wouldn’t be holy at all if not considered in their granitic terrenity, as a communion of body, animality and earth. The Lord, the Savior, even the devil are always present as symbols, metaphors: «whether praised or dismissed, – writes W. Y. Tindall – God and Christ are always around in Thomas’ poetry […] as metaphors for nature, poet, and their creative powers» (W. Y. Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to Dylan Thomas (1962), New York, Syracuse University Press, 1996, p. 8). In the poem My hero bares his nerves both of the spheres cooperate under a gloomy, ironic lens; young Thomas, barely a twenty-year-old when 18 Poemscame out, describes the masturbatory act with peremptory, eroicomic tones (the «hero», indeed, having been identified with the erected penis) connected to various themes of his early poetics: sin, sex, fertility, writing  poetry, here sarcastically associated to onanism. Mystic and blaspheme is the conclusive evocation of Christ, «the hunger’s emperor» (D. Thomas, Poesie e racconti, cit. p. 21), crucified between the two thiefs, alluding to the orgasm as the maximum tension before the death which makes the body parched. Only water – a mockingly toilet, cistern water – can, as the River Jordan, flush away the poet’s sin and relieve the Savior’s sacrifice.     



Dylan Thomas; Onanism; Religiosity; Eroicomic; Poetry

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