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Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night"

Updated on November 21, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Dylan Thomas

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night"

Dylan Thomas's widely anthologized "Do not go gentle into that good night" features a speaker who is dismayed at his father's weakness as the latter nears death. The son beseeches his father to rage again death and show his customary strength of character.

Thomas utilizes the French poetic form known as the "villanelle." That form was originated as a medium for dramatizing simple, light verse, and pastoral scenes. Dylan's choice of such a sedate poetic form masterfully underscores the irony of his suggestions in the poem. The speaker is ironically begging his father to rage against an event which he cannot change regardless of the ferocity of said raging.

It is likely also that Thomas chose this form because it requires repeating two extremely important lines: "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." The tight structure of the villanelle also adds to the gravity for the poem's theme. The juxtaposition of the important pairs of opposites results in a symbolic significance: "day" and "night" become symbols for "life" and "death."

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Thomas reading his "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"

Commentary

First Tercet: Command Not to Give Up Easily

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The speaker commands his father, who is near death, not to give up so easily, not to go gently into death. The speaker's father had been strong and even belligerent man, and the speaker finds it difficult to watch his strong father serenely succumbing to the grim reaper.

The son feels that if his father would show that same burning, raging character, he would feel less helpless in the arms of this ensuing tragedy we call death.

Second Tercet: Continue to Rail Against the Inevitable

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Even though men who are intelligent know that death is necessary and "right," still they do not allow their words to wither, even in the face of devastation. Instead of letting nature take it course without remark, the speaker believes those near death should continue to rail against it.

Third Tercet: Prattle On Regardless

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Even if their accomplishments were few or "frail," these "wise men" still prattle on in

bravado about how grandiose they were. If anytime is right for machismos and braggadocio, it's just before on shuffles off the mortal coil; that is this speaker's opinion, anyway.

Fourth Tercet: Ignore the Futility and Keep On Battling

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

"Wild men" who battle tooth and nail for their achievements continue to struggle, even if they found that they only brought grief to their lives. Learning too late is still learning, and the speaker encourages his father to continue the struggle, regardless of its futility.

Fifth Tercet: Railing Against the Demise

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Men who are dead serious, "grave," who have eyes that are failing against the light still find the strength to rail again their demise. The speaker claims that even in blindness there can be a "blaze like meteors." There can still be happiness and joy.

Final Quatrain: Fierce Tears and Rage

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Finally, as the speaker directly addresses his father, the former commands the latter to rail with him against his coming demise. The speaker begs his father to "curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears."

He demands that his father's tears be fierce, not wimpy little fearful tears. The speaker prays that his father will listen and follow his urgent suggestions that he do not go gentle and that, instead, he rage and cry out against death.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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