And death shall have no dominion. Under the windings of the sea They lying long shall not die windily;
The second stanza starts just like the first with that famous refrain in line 10. So by now we're seeing a highly organized poem that looks to be a sort of homage to the Romantics, both in style and sound.
In line 11 the sea appears again, only this time there's a "winding" quality to it, which brings to mind the turning and twisting movement of waves.
And then in line 12 we see some more dead folks "lying long" which describes the way a corpse may look once it's laid to rest.
We don't know for sure if these folks are under the sea or in a coffin, but they're dead nonetheless. And they seem to be at rest.
Notice, too, that the speaker is keeping all these images together, just like in the first stanza. There's no distinguishing between "the sea" and "they lying long." The enjambment between lines 11-12 helps to unify all these earthly circumstances.
To prove that Thomas is capable of having an instance or two of perfect rhyme, we get one in lines 11-12 ("sea" and "windily"). The rhyme isn't being forced though, and just happens to work with what he has. Check out "Form and Meter" for more.
Also we have more alliteration in "lying long." Thomas is keeping up that lyrical quality with those similar sounding words.
Twisting on racks when sinews give way, Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Those crazy folks of the Middle Ages came up with all sorts of torture devices—"racks" and "wheels"—that are hard for us modern folks to wrap out minds around. But in these lines, it's easy to tell that our speaker is evoking the sort of intense pain that comes with all those awful devices.
So even those unfortunate folks "twisting on racks" and "strapped to a wheel" will not be broken completely. Sure their physical bodies will endure (or not endure) all the pain, but after death "they shall not break."
At this point we've gone from the very cosmic imagery in the first stanza to some rather tortuous and painful earthly imagery in the second, perhaps emphasizing the extent of how far one can "rise up" after death.
Notice too the connotations of the words "twisting" and "strapped." They not only sound tortuous but they also seem to emphasize the feeling of being trapped in our earthly lives.
So the speaker is not only illustrating how far we can "rise up," but he's also echoing feelings of salvation and redemption after death. Once again, we're stirring up Christ's redemption.
And finally we have a moment of assonance in "way" and "break." That A sound in both words makes the rhyme subtle but still noticeable. That seems to be Thomas's M.O.
Faith in their hands shall snap in two, And the unicorn evils run them through;
Seriously, what the heck are "unicorn evils"? Let's dig in.
Line 15 seems straightforward enough. Sometimes faith can be broken out of the blue because of a sudden tragedy, disappointment, etc. In other words it seems to "snap in two" right in our hands.
So, just like the previous lines we saw, lines 15-16 are getting at some the rough stuff we've got to endure during our lives on earth. And hey, does anyone else think this echoes Christ's experience in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Quick recap: After the Last Supper, Christ went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. He had moments of agony regarding God's will, knowing he would soon be arrested and crucified. His words to his disciples (who were supposed to be keeping an eye on things, but didn't) went something like this: "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:40-43).
Maybe Thomas is saying that the human hands that hold faith are weak, which makes faith "snap in two."
As far as those pesky "unicorn evils," we should consider lots of ideas, since we don't have any definite answers.
Let's start with a unicorn. They're cute, pure, and often representative of chastity. So to have such a pure symboljuxtaposed by the word "evils" may get us thinking about the way in which bad things happen.
Sometimes those "evils" may look simple and maybe even pure, but since they're also "evil," we know there's some bad stuff that comes with them. And bearing in mind the little allusion we just considered, the combo of good and evil in line 16 makes sense. Christ knew the bad stuff that was going to happen but still had that "unicorn" faith in the larger picture.
Alternatively we know unicorns only have one horn. So we may also have a simple reference to the unified (one) nature of evil that doesn't distinguish between the different forms it may take.
Split all ends up they shan't crack; And death shall have no dominion.
In line 18, the speaker suggests that no matter how much we may split things, they won't crack. Why? Because death shall have no dominion, of course.
Of course, the ambiguity of the word "ends" makes this a bit hard to parse. Think of it this way: if "ends" are supposed to represent all of our final destinations in life, we understand that all the "splitting" of them won't break us completely. We may end up in different directions with all our "ends" but even when they split, they're not going to "crack."
Line 17 also seems to summarize all the other circumstances we've seen in the second stanza. All the painful, "twisting," and "winding" of life has reached this point where their ends may "split" but they don't fully "crack."
Once again we've got this whole union and togetherness theme being hammered home. As much as we may "split," we can never "crack" this union completely. We're in this together, folks.
And to complement all the unity, we have our refrain in line 18. Death may split us up but it will never crack us. It's just not powerful enough to pull that off.