Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"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.

by Dylan Thomas

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After last week’s light and lovely “Dragonflies”, I thought I just might turn to something dark this week. This well known poem by Dylan Thomas is both widely read and loved, and it also happens to be one of my favourite poems too. If this is your first time reading it, I hope you will enjoy this short, little introduction of mine.

Reading this poem, one can’t help but be swept by the angry, impassioned voice, crying out against life ebbing away at death’s knell. Even without observing the poem’s craft, one can really feel the poem’s power in the deep sorrow and anguish it evokes, as the speaker kneels beside the deathbed of his father. This effect is created not only through the words, but the form of the poem itself and the rhythm it creates.

Dylan Thomas wrote this poem as a villanelle, whose roots are in Italian pastorals. It consists of five tercets (stanzas with thee lines) rhyming aba, with the first line and last line of the first tercet alternating as the last lines of the subsequent tercets, until a final quatrain where they form the concluding couplet. The alternation and repetition of lines, together with the strict rhyme scheme, and largely iambic rhythm give it a strong incantory feel that becomes both mournful and soulful.

The poem begins with a plea against giving in to the night, a metaphor used here for death. The first line strikingly carries the double negative of “Do not” and the bitter irony of going ‘gently’ to one’s “good” end. The alliterative ‘g’ adds to that insistence and forlorn desperation of the speaker, that death will not easily claim the life before him. The speaker doesn’t want death to be the end and feels it should be battled against with all one’s might and will, even in old age. This first stanza then ends with these unforgettable wrenching lines:

Rage, rage / against / the dy- /-ing of / the light

(Bold for stressed syllable, conversely light or unstressed for unboldened)


The trochaic double stress at the beginning “Rage, rage…” drives with the all the passion and anger against the fading light of life.

The overlapping and contrasting metaphors of day/night, light/dark, life/death in this first part here is then extended beautifully throughout the rest of the poem, without a hint or sense of artificiality or forcedness: lightning/dark sky (2nd tercet), sunlight (3rd), sun/night (4th), meteor/night sky; blindness/sight (5th).

From wise men who recognise the inevitability of death, to good men whose good works are diminished by it, to wild men who rave madly against the sun's setting, to grave (double meaning here) men who through their fading vision ‘see’, death comes to all with all its cruelty and finality. At this end, the speaker then breaks out, begging in a tortured cry for any shred of comfort, any bit of consolation or solace from his father in those brief short breaths before the imminent and irrevocable passing of life to death.

Such a haunting poem…

Although the poem is ostensibly about physical death, it easily moves beyond its literal sense, to metaphorical ‘death’ or ‘loss of vision’that one goes through and experience. It becomes deeply moving or personal for the individual reader, and here lies the power of this poem, or any great poetry at all, for that matter.

What do you like about this poem?

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7 Comments:

Blogger madcap machinist said...

No post of the mad Welsh bard's poem is complete without a link to his reading! :-)

Will be back later...

11:53 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight"

I meant to say the Wild Welsh Bard. This line seems to be an apt description of a poet.

7:28 PM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thanks for the link. It's always wonderful to hear a poet read his/her poems. Too bad I will miss the performance poetry by Francesca Beard at KLPac.

Wow... Yes! and what a poetic description to boot, celebrating. grasping and lamenting the ephemereality of beauty and life itself. :)

7:12 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

the poem has lived in my head since i first read it in my teens

the proper thing to do of course is to accept death, die a good death. go quietly, go calmly. go with the right prayer on your lips.

but why not anger? why shouldn't we be entitled to rage at death? for the things left undone, for the threads untied, for the life we might have lead if granted more time.

each of the examples in the poem show us men who simply did not do enough with their lives or didn't live instensly enough - or felt they hadn't when the end drew near.

it is a poem perhaps more about life than death. carpe diem ... and don't hold back

dreamer idiot - i thanks you for your explantion about the form ... and machinist for the link

8:54 AM, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Sophia Lopez said...

I respect your point and it can be seen from that POV, since poems are open to many interpretations. Well said and beautifully said/explained. Your not wrong with what you believe and I don't wish to take this in anyway as an offense or attack on you. Just merely like to express my view openly.

That being said, personally I believe you are completely wrong.

It is not sad or angry poem. It is a poem full of drive and inspiration.
Most poems about death say it is beautiful and that you should just give in letting it take you peacefully. Especially if you are old.

His poem is saying "No, don't you give into death. You keep fighting and living. Down to the last minute. Age has nothing to do with it. You fight the good fight and live. Don't waste your life" To everyone and to his father. Especially his father because he is older and possibly maybe even sick. He probably thinks, like most at an older do because they are brainwashed by society to think, that now at the end he should give up. To not give up and fight.

8:53 AM, March 03, 2016  
Anonymous Sophia said...

This if not taken literally could be a metaphorical death.

It could mean to "not allow yourself to die"

It talks of different types of men and regret. "Good men...Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay." "Wild men...learn,too late, they grieved it on its way" "Grave men...Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay"
This men were all a certain way and lived live, but not fully. They were so focused on one aspect of life or on what society said they should be that they never truly lived. They have "died" losing sight of who they are and what they wanted. The lost the meaning of life.

So the poem is saying to give life your all. To live with no regrets and not hold back. "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light". Don't die with regrets or "what ifs" It's not too late to change your life. To change yourself. "Do not go quietly into that goodnight." Fight to make your life better.

9:07 AM, March 03, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The poem seems to inspire to live fully, and not to leave things undone. But why is the father not "ragging at the dying of the light?" Couldn't it be that the father has lived to its fullest and has no regrets at the time he will imminently die? Could it be that the son, who is facing the death of a loved one, realizes that he would have regrets because of a not full-lived-life? Could it be that instead of accepting the inadecuacy in his life compared to that of his father's, he wants any kind of reaction (curse or blessing) to soothe his own?

11:19 AM, June 19, 2016  

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