So folks in biblical days were getting at the same idea as Thomas, claiming that since Christ rose again, that proves death isn't some all-powerful force.
Instead all those "dead men" will be one, presumably in a sort of unifying cosmic space. So even though life tends to separate people, death (in Thomas's poem) brings them together… in heaven, perhaps? Or someplace like it.
Line 3 gives us some of that cosmic imagery that Thomas is known for. We've got a "man in the wind" and the "west moon."
And all those dead men are also "one" with all the cosmic stuff, too.
So after death, it looks like everyone rises into this unifying cosmic space that doesn't distinguish men from the cosmos.
Everything and everyone is coming together here.
The figurative language of that "man in the wind" and the "west moon" helps to vividly create this groovy cosmic world. and immediately gets us thinking in a less earthly way.
We might also have some symbolism going on too in that "west moon" image. If we think about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, that "west moon" may represent the transition from life into death. Our lives (symbolically speaking) "set" in the west, just like the sun, while the moon rises in the dark, deathly world.
Notice, too, that we've got a rhyming pattern going on in all three lines, but we're not talking about those perfect rhymes like dead and dread. Instead Thomas is using a sort of slant rhyme that emphasizes N sounds: dominion, oNe, and mooN.
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone, They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Don't worry, the folks having their bones picked clean are already dead, so they can't feel a thing (right?).
Anyway, by line 4 we understand that the physical, earthly world has come to an end for these folks. The "bones" help to symbolize all the earthly stuff. And since they're gone, so is their earthly life.
The repetition of the word "clean" also emphasizes the idea of a clean slate. Once all our shenanigans on earth are over, perhaps we all end up in the same sort of purified state. In other words, in death there's no taking into account the sorts of things you've done in your life, whether good or bad. The bones still end up "clean" and then "gone."
So what do we get after all the earthly stuff? According to line 5, we all will have "stars at elbow and foot." Presumably this means we'll be one with the cosmos. That doesn't sound too bad.
By now we can also say a little about our speaker. He looks to have a very declarative and omniscient voice. That makes sense, since he's speaking about life and death from the sort of perspective that only that Big Guy in the Sky is supposed to have. Check out our "Speaker" section for more.
Also, we're definitely hearing the Romantic poetry influence by now. We know Thomas really liked William Blake, so he isn't hiding the fact that he's got some of those Romantic poets in mind. Take a look at this famous Blake poem for some comparison.
One characteristic that the two definitely share is the poem's lyrical quality (that song-like jive). Rhyme and meter were very important to the Romantics, and though Thomas doesn't look to be sticking to any particular pattern, the rhythmic syntax in line 4 is catchy nonetheless.
We've got a little bit of that trochaic foot happening in that up, down (stressed, unstressed) pattern. Check out "Form and Meter" for more.
And of course Thomas's interest in the cosmic and mystical stuff is very much in line with those Romantic poets like Blake, Keats, Shelley, etc. Only Thomas, as a modern poet, is giving it his own spin with those slant rhymes and his more modern language ("dead men naked," "bones are picked clean").
Though they go mad they shall be sane, Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Apparently, it's okay if you go a little crazy now and then, because in the end, you "shall be sane." We're not quite sure what "sane" means to the guy with the "stars at elbow and foot," but we're guessing that's not really the point here.
What does seem to be the point is the idea of that clean slate you get after death. It doesn't matter if you're sane, mad, silly, or what have you. In the end we all will "rise again," according to our speaker. So we'll all be spiritually and cosmically redeemed despite our earthly lives.
We're also hearing more of that allusion to the New Testament in the idea of "rising again" like Christ did. So the story of Christ's resurrection seems to be the speaker's main point of comparison here in terms of "rising again."
And to further emphasize the idea of "rising again," Thomas includes the imagery of sinking in the sea in line 7. We know the sea can get pretty deep, so even those unlucky folks who find themselves at the bottom will also rise again.
Notice we have some more catchy syntax with the repetition of that "though they" clause. So Thomas is using some parallelism to help keep his poem sounding rhythmic and lyrical like those Romantic poets.
And last but not least we have another rhyme here in "sane/again." Thomas was from Wales so the pronunciation of "again" has the same "a" sound as "sane."
Our little couplet here helps emphasize these two lines, just like the parallelism does. So Thomas is really driving home that "rising again" idea despite our earthly lives.
Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.
It looks like line 8 is getting to the literally romantic stuff like love. So Thomas is grouping all of the extremes in life in one stanza with that same "though" clause: crazy people, people in love, etc. By now we're thinking even more that no matter what our earthly circumstances in life, we all end up in the same place after death.
But we're adding a new theme here, too. the takeaway point in line 8 seems to be that even after death, love is never lost. The physical "lovers" might be dead, but their love carries on. Pardon us while we wipe a few tears away.
So line 8 gives us one earthly circumstance that does endure in its original form: love. All the madness and "sinking" we saw earlier doesn't get paid much mind after death, but love does.
In a way we can read line 8 as a sort of universal truth. All the other stuff amounts to nothing while love seems to be quite important, even in the poem's cosmic sense.
And of course the first stanza ends with that famous refrain: "And death shall have no dominion." So just in case there was any doubt as to what the speaker was driving at with his catalogue of mad and "sinking" people or people in love, we're reminded that death isn't squashing it all.
Notice too the bit of alliteration we have in "death" and "dominion." The repetition of that D sounds helps to make the refrain even more memorable. Check out "Sound Check" for more.