Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

The Man Behind the Poem

My Interpretation

Old age does not have to be boring. We do not have to resign ourselves to years of body aches, Wheel of Fortune reruns, and 7 p.m. bedtimes. In his famous poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” Dylan Thomas encourages us to fight the urge to meander from old age to death without a fight. He says, “Old age should burn and rave…” Using “good night” as a euphemism for death, Thomas gives examples of how four different types of men cope with old age and death. At the conclusion of his poem, we see that Thomas’ father is apparently close to death, and we get a glimpse of Thomas’ grief.

The first type of man is wise. The poem reads, “Because their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night.” According to my interpretation of Thomas’ poem, wise men know how difficult it is to make a lasting impression on this world, but they are willing to die trying. The wise man works until his last breath to “fork lightning.” He does not “go gentle into that good night.”

Thomas has two things to say about the second man, a good man. First, he always seems to remember yesterday a little sweeter than it really was, and second, he knows that his best days are behind him. (“…the last wave by…their frail deeds might have danced…”) Not liking defeat, Thomas encourages the good men of the world to rise up against old age and complacency. He wants good men to go out in a blaze of glory rather than like a snuffed candle.

A friend of mine often says, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of my body.” Wild men, the third group in the poem, seem to live their days roping the moon, catching the sun, playing it fast and loose. This sort of carefree living tends to wreak havoc on a mind and body. Wild men, however, always seem to learn this too late and grieve in their old age for youth, freedom and health. Thomas seems to understand this sort of man and knows that they will not “go gentle into that good night.”

The fourth group, men who are already close to death, are losing light. The gleam in their eyes is quickly fading. But Thomas thinks that “blind eyes could blaze like meteors” if only the grave men would fight the dimming of the light. He begs these ailing men to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

In my opinion, Thomas’ father is not raging against death. I think this because Thomas seems to plead with his father to give off any sort of emotion. “Curse [and/or] bless me now with your fierce tears.” To hopefully encourage his father to fight, he actually uses both of his famous lines in the last paragraph of the poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Like I said in the beginning, we do not have settle into old age like an easy chair. I intend to face death with grace and dignity. I plan to lead a long, full, satisfying life so that by the time death does roll around, it will be welcome rest - a sweet “good night.” I do not intend to just sit around and get old, which is exactly what Thomas is encouraging each of the five men in his poem to fight against.

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How Do You Interpret the Poem? 43 comments

Gicky Soriano profile image

Gicky Soriano 6 years ago from California

If someday, God willing, I get to a ripe old age, I don't want to be sitting on my rocker and looking back with regret - with a sense of having squandered my time on this temporal terrain. Alexander Solzhenitsyn cautioned us "We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap."

Like Dylan Thomas said "wise men know how difficult it is to make a lasting impression on this world, but they are willing to die trying." Likewise, I pray that I can invest myself wisely and put a purposeful dent in my world as God would have it.

This is a deeply moving and soul-searching hub. It causes us to think through the choices we make in life. Choices do turn around a make us. For if we choose one end of the stick, we have chosen the other.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 6 years ago Author

Thank you for your insight, Gicky. I hope you "fork lightning!"


wyanjen profile image

wyanjen 6 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

“Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

This has always put a knot in my stomach. I can't tell if it is fear, or a strong sense of pride. It is confusing to me. I get choked up but I can't get a real feel about why I do that... It's a very strong emotion, whatever it is. They are powerful lines.

Thanks for the analysis.

Jen


landthatilove profile image

landthatilove 6 years ago from ohio

One man sticks out in my mind who raged against the the dying of the light. Ted Kennedy.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

What a fabulous poem. Only topped by your spectacular exposition, of course. :)

I'm trying to figure out which of the men I am . . . let me look again.

Gosh, the first three could all describe me.

# 1 because "wise men know how difficult it is to make a lasting impression on this world, but they are willing to die trying."

# 2 because "he always seems to remember yesterday a little sweeter than it really was, and second, he knows that his best days are behind him"

# 3 because "If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of my body."

I'm a mutt. :(


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 6 years ago Author

Jen,

Thank you for sharing your feelings about the poem. I, too, often get a feeling, and now that you've said it, I believe mine is pride. Rage! Rage! Don't go easy!! Thank you for putting a label on that feeling.

Blessings,

Leslie


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 6 years ago Author

landthatilove:

Thank you for stopping by to read my analysis! I am glad you could find an application for this poem that I love.

Blessings,

Leslie


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 6 years ago Author

James:

You rock! Thank you for truly taking the time to truly delve into the poem on a personal level.

I think that being able to find yourself in three of the men is probably very realistic. And thankfully, you did NOT see yourself behind door #4 :)

I'm personally young and naïve and still believe that I will one day "fork lightening!"

Thank you again for stopping by!

Blessings,

Leslie


chefaija profile image

chefaija 6 years ago

I think every stage of life means something and I thought you blog captured the noble dignity of moving into an older more comfortable spot. The old are to be respected they are our one true accuracy of life and growing old with exceptance is a meditative, beautiful experience


Chad A Taylor profile image

Chad A Taylor 6 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

brilliant


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 6 years ago Author

Wow! Thank you, Chad A Taylor. What a fabulous compliment to wake up to :)


Chad A Taylor profile image

Chad A Taylor 6 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

Great read, I just wrote a hub with similar content, "The Dark Horse of Poetry Dylan Thomas." I read yours with bated breath!


Chad A Taylor profile image

Chad A Taylor 6 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

sorry for the double post but i meant to say it all!


Chad A Taylor profile image

Chad A Taylor 6 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

Thank you!


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 6 years ago from St. Louis

Great poem and excellent exposition about the poem... the lines are easy to embrace. My dad turns ninety in a few weeks. He wants to make it to 105 because the oldest anyone lived in our family was 104.


avangend profile image

avangend 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

This is one of my favorite poems, and I think this Hub is my favorite interpretation of it. I sometimes feel as though my "words have forked no lightning," and that the time is present where I must do something new - whether it be something productive, or simply outlandish.

Thank you for writing, nicely done.


Carol the Writer profile image

Carol the Writer 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Excellent Interpretation! Nice link to having the poem read, too. Thanks for writing!


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

Great hub I really enjoyed this interpretation of this great poem. My father used to say that if he knew he would live this long he would have taken better care of his teeth. I really liked your message in this hub and enjoy your writing as well.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

This poem came to mind this past year, when both my parents died. I related it more to the moment of passing, and didn't really get the distinctions you outlined. Thanks for the help interpreting, and I enjoyed listening to the audio too.


Mairdre profile image

Mairdre 5 years ago

A wonderful commentary and response to Dylan Thomas...and to his beautiful writing. Well done!


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

Jeff May: I pray your dad far outreaches his goal ;)


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

avangend: I believe every person who has writing in their heart is trying (sometimes desperately) to fork lightning. And sometimes, "outlandish" is the best way to go about it!

I wish you all the best in your endeavors.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

Carol: Thank you for visiting my hub! I appreciate your feedback.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

ladyjane: I could have used your father's advice! Starting in my early twenties I longed for dentures! Thank you for your positive comments regarding my writing. It is such an encouragement to see writers helping each other.

Blessings.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

kimh: the beauty of poetry (and most writing) is interpretation. I agree that the poem can be related to the moment of passing. I would love to someday read YOUR interpretation of the poem!


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

kimh: the beauty of poetry (and most writing) is interpretation. I agree that the poem can be related to the moment of passing. I would love to someday read YOUR interpretation of the poem!


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

Mairdre: Thank you for visiting my hub! I wish you all the best in your writing adventure!


The Suburban Poet profile image

The Suburban Poet 5 years ago from Austin, Texas

I am 52 years old and began writing three years ago. I feel a light has begun to shine on my life because of this and driving it is the idea that age should not relegate us to irrelevance. We have something to say and it can be said in a way that gains the audience of the youth....

We must remember that while youthful beauty seems to be what drives culture in reality it is the wisdom of the aged that gives direction; devoid of trendiness and full of worldliness. Step forward and be heard.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

Suburban Poet:

I am glad you have found your voice!

Blessings,

Leslie


Emily Hopkins profile image

Emily Hopkins 5 years ago

Thanks for this post. I recently had to fight for someone to live and I often quoted Dylan Thomas to keep me strong.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

Emily,

How encouraging to read that a poet's words, written so long ago, can give you strength.

Thank you for visiting my hub.

Blessings,

Leslie


arsenicandoldlace profile image

arsenicandoldlace 5 years ago from Saint Augustine, Florida

This is my favorite poem. Thomas was speaking of his father but to me it relates to all of us. We never have to resign ourselves to the death of dreams because of age. Grandma Moses is an inspiration to me for this reason.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 5 years ago Author

"Death of dreams" Wow, arsenic! What an awesome interpretation! I need to read it again! Thank you!


jhamann profile image

jhamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

Thank you for helping me to realize that I am heading in the right direction! Dylan Thomas is amazing, he had this ability to bring the reader into his passion. Jamie


brittney 4 years ago

this poem is very sad and also it is very touchful i think if dylan thomas's father was still alive he would very appreciate the poem.


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 3 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Thank you for this. A truly powerful poem written by a great wordsmith who changed our wondrous language forever with his complex rhythms, rhymes and textured lines.

Raging against the night whilst essentially a call for those dying to battle and fight with fierce tears also contains a message for all those struggling against darker forces. Hold on to the energy that drives and gives life - don't give in without showing what you've got!

A tragic individual in some respects yet what a natural poet - and he married the woman of his dreams, despite his defects.

'How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.'


marlando 3 years ago

I got this poem from the movie "Dangerous Minds".

First thing came into my mind was a bit similar with Arsenic.

That "good night" is a metaphor of giving up your dreams.

Giving up the values and codes you once believed and stood up for.

That you need to rage against it when you think it is about to die.

"Rage against the dying of the light"

You knew that something you believe in and been holding onto is something precious, something strong and something wonderful.

But when the world around you is trying to kill that light you believe in, you're the one who needs to struggle (rage) against it.

You're the one who need to keep the light shining.

And you can't do it gently, because it's a hell of a work,

that's why you need to rage against it.

you gotta be full of energy like Zac De La Rocha's rage against the machine.

:D


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 3 years ago Author

Thank you for the thorough comment!

I, too, enjoyed the use of the poem in "Dangerous Minds." I believe it was also in "Back to School" with Rodney Dangerfield :)

Rage! Rage against the dying of the light!


Neil Hall 2 years ago

Interesting comments. But how do you explain Thomas praying for his fathers tears, which would both curse and bless him? This poem was written for his father, not for us, and explains Thomas's feelings at the time his blind, grave father was dying. Note that Thomas never uses any words that suggest that either his father or anyone else delay death or fight its coming. "To rage" means to show violent and uncontrolled anger; it does not mean "to fight." Thomas was a master at choosing words and clearly shows he wants his father not to be peaceful at the end of life but to be angry. Don't give a meaning that clearly wasn't in the poem.

Thomas is saying over and over again that people who come to the end of their lives look back and are unsettled or angry that they now see (sometimes "with blinding [in]sight") what they could have done but did not do, i.e. "how bright their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay." Thomas is telling his father, that grave and blind man near death, that he wants him to look at his life and recognize what he failed to do. As this is an intensely personal poem that Thomas could not even show his father, it is highly likely that what his father failed to do is something that Thomas always wanted but never got. Remember, all sons wish they had more good times with their fathers, and Thomas was known to idolize his father, who was not the doting kind. Rather he was a man who lived on a sad height, a man Thomas describes as "too proud to die." He wants his father to become humbles at what he missed, to cry out in abject pain at what he now sees they could have had in a relationship. In so doing he would bless his son, who finally has a father that recognizes the value of the relationship with his son; but it would also curse him, because now it is to late to let that relationship develop, there isn't time before he dies. Look at the poem Elegy to get a better idea of how Thomas saw his father's dying.

So, in summary, this is a poem written as a plea to Thomas's father, not for anyone else. It is a poem about regrets and about unfulfilled wishes. It is a poem about a son who wished his father had been different. It is not about delaying or fighting death.


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 2 years ago Author

Mr. Hall,

You seem like you are irritated that readers appreciate Mr. Thomas' work so much.

You seem like you DON'T want people to enjoy his work so much that they find inspiration and application for their own lives.

You seem like you actually knew Mr. Thomas personally and spoke with him at length about his excellent poem.

You seem like you think we have done Mr. Thomas a disservice by finding even discussing it.

Is that really how you meant to come across?

Do you think that people shouldn't enjoy others' creativity and insight?

Do you think it is possible for a poem to be interpreted in multiple ways? Especially by multiple people?

Is there really a "right and wrong" in creative expression?


ojpb 2 years ago

hall is correct


broussardleslie profile image

broussardleslie 2 years ago Author

ojpb:

I pose the same questions to you:

Do you think it is possible for a poem to be interpreted in multiple ways? Especially by multiple people?

Is there really a "right and wrong" in creative expression?


ponder profile image

ponder 2 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

Your analysis of this poem is very insightful and it's an all time favorite of mines.

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