Document Type


Date of Award



Thomas, Dylan, Ritual in literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Robert Kroetsch

Second Advisor

William V. Spanos

Third Advisor

Zack Bowen


Amid the twentieth-century prophets of man’s total and final disintegration, against the age’s portrayers of the incurable malaise and disease gripping society, the voice of Dylan Thomas sounds as a counterpoint, evincing a note of optimism for man and society, expressing a hope that both might achieve reintegration, and, thereby, a new life. This optimistic note, this expression of hope evolved from a vision which gradually possessed Thomas and became the lodestar of all his poetic endeavors. He moved away from an uneasy, pessimistic pantheism in his youth to a firm joyousness in the conviction that all things are holy because they are part of a transcendent Being. His poetry is an attempt to establish the harmony and communion which he envisions between matter and spirit. In this attempt, Thomas, like his predecessors, assumes the role of mediator of a sacramental vision of life.

To comprehend the meaning of a sacramental view of life in a contemporary setting, we need first to examine its antithesis. A modern commonplace widely disseminated is the one that twentieth-century man is not only witnessing, but is actually caught up in the processes of deterioration and demoralization such as have never before engulfed him. These processes are forces rooted in preceding centuries of unrest resulting from moral, technological, social, and psychological considerations.

The first half of the twentieth century has been the setting of two major wars and continuous cold-war conflicts; it has seen the beauties of nature marred and blackened by a growing industrialization; it has watched while science with its scrutinizing and sterile analysis has reduced the sphere of emotions and the sense of wonder to ashes; and it has witnessed not only the upheaval and breakdown of formerly rigid class systems but also the abandonment by man of the ancient beliefs in fixed and absolute principles which once guided him in his daily conduct and in the pursuit of an ultimate goal.


We find, then, two antithetical views which dominate the assessment of twentieth-century man and his future. The one attributes an irreconcilable duality between matter and spirit; it is pessimistic, indeed despondent, of the future, and claims for the artist no power to bridge the gap between the vital yet disparate values. The other recognizes the duality and disparity between matter and spirit but does not view these elements as irreconcilable; it is hopeful of restoring them to their original holistic state, and looks to the poet or artist, as a man of vision, to effect this reconciliation. This second view is the basis of my consideration of Dylan Thomas as mediator of a sacramental vision of man and the universe.