DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
Poetry requires more than just a verse. It must appeal to your mind and generate emotion. It should be constructed in a way that appears so simple, yet is intricate in every detail. Dylan Thomasís poem, Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night is a brilliant poem that appears so simple, yet upon looking closer itís complexity can be seen.
Dylan Thomas was born on October 27, 1914 in Swansea, Wales. He was educated at Swansea Grammar School. He was urged by his father to go farther in his education, however Thomas began to write. He published his first book in 1934. Thomas and his father had a very close relationship throughout his life. This is important to know while reading the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. His father was very ill for many years, and Thomas had to watch his fatherís suffering. Thomas has said, ďPoetry comforts and healsĒ. Hopefully that is what Thomas was doing when he wrote this poem.
The structure of the poem is a villanelle. The villanelle comes from the French middle ages and is composed of nineteen lines. It has five tercets and a concluding quatrain: ABA-ABA-ABA-ABA-ABA-ABAA. Two different lines are repeated. Lines one, six, twelve, and eighteen are all the same. Line three reappears in line nine fifteen and nineteen. Each tercet will conclude with an exact or very close duplication of line one or three. The final quatrain repeats line one and three. The villanelle is one of the
most difficult forms of poetry to follow. Perhaps Thomas wanted to use this form to show how special his father meant to him. Dylan Thomas speaks of death throughout this poem. Death is the major theme of the villanelle as well as a common theme in all of his poetry. Of Thomasís few poems within The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry death is spoken of in nine of the poems. Death seems to have become an obsession in Thomasís life very early. The fact that he had to face his fatherís death did not heighten this interest, however death in this poem has a very somber meaning. Thomas does not know what to make of death or darkness. He is very confused of it and tries to settle this confusion in his poetry. Maybe Thomas understood death better than anyone did, and his poetry is a way to present it to the reader. Either way death is a very common theme in his poetry.
Thomas was very Catholic in his beliefs, which is evident when he talks of light and darkness. He mentions light repeatedly throughout the poem as something that is good. Darkness seems to represent something that is bad. This is understood if you look at black and white, however in Christianity light is supposed to be representative of God. None of the men dying are said to see this light. All death brings to them is darkness. This darkness throughout the poem does not feel good. Thomas does not mention God in this poem. He does say that he prays for his father, yet he has not put it together that his father is leaving him to go to another good place. It makes me wonder if he is questioning his own Christianity or if he is just selfish in his need for his father to stay.
The structure of this poem is informal and easy to understand, as language would be when speaking to your father. As you read the poem you are unaware of the repeated use of various lines. They seem to blend eloquently. Not only do these sentences blend, but they have a consistent rhythm and rhyme. This is very difficult to produce in a villanelle. The poem is structured so beautifully that you are unaware that it is a villanelle. The sentences that are the same seem to hide within the poem.
Thomas is struggling with his own fears and intense emotion throughout the poem. He is the speaker of this poem and is watching his father suffer. He wants his father to fight, however he knows that it is time to let him go. Throughout the first Tercet, the reader is introduced to the first and third lines, which are repeated throughout the poem. Both lines are very powerful. They show Thomasís feelings and intense emotion against his father submitting to the darkness or death. The middle line is the actual truth in the whole situation. His father has aged and glowed throughout his life. Thomas knows his father should be content with his past and let go. Thomas knows his father has led an incredible life, yet he does not want him to go. The first line is telling him not to go gently. He wants his father to fight. The third line is showing Thomasís reaction, which is to show RAGE or show anger at the loss of the light that is encompassing his father. He is in turmoil over this death. He hates to see his fatherís suffering.
The next tercet isnít quite as powerful as the first. Thomas is saying that men that are wise know giving into death is right. It is the end of their life and they are wise to it. Darkness is not a bad thing when you are ready to go. He describes how the wise manís words no longer produce a flash of bright light. Thomas says that when these men speak the light no longer surrounds them. This light is what we need to stay on this earth. It keeps us here. These men therefore donít go gentle into the darkness.
The third tercet talks about men who are looking one last time at our world. They now think the world is so bright they want to shield their eyes. This is now the time when they see what their own life consisted of. This is similar to how many people believe you die. The second line talks about how their weak deeds may have danced in an unripe or inexperienced bay. I donít think the word green is talking about the color. I think it is saying that the deeds that happened so long ago in their life were when they were not experienced. That they could now tell what life really means. These men donít put up a fight at the end of life. These men donít accept the light.
The fourth tercet is talking about men that are wild. These men run after the light and rejoice it. They donít realize this is the last time they will see it until it is too late. These men grieve the loss of the light. They do not fight and reflect on life and they merely give up.
The last tercet is about the grave man. Grave or solemn men do not put up a fight. They sit back and watch with great anxiety of the end of their life. They are unable to understand what is going on. This type of death without adequate foresight or
information might actually be a happy experience. They are unable to interpret the end so it becomes easier.
Four of the tercets talk about different kinds of death. Could all these deaths be interpretations of Dylanís fears about dying? He describes a wise man, good man, wild man, and a grave man. None of these men seem to be his father. Thomas does not want to place his father in a category with the other men. It is unclear how Thomas interprets his fatherís death. He gives the four definitions, but he is unsure of the right one. It seems Thomas is afraid that death and darkness are not a good place. Why does he place death with darkness? Darkness is considered to be the unknown, and something we are afraid of. This seems to be a question of Thomasís own faith in Christianity. His father should be traveling into the light, and not into the darkness. Thomas should not be scared of death, yet he questions it in most of his poetry. He is angry at death and believes that the only place with light is in this world. He may be saying that light is life. Life is happiness. Is death then age and unhappiness?
The last quatrain of this Villanelle describes his father on top of the list of men facing death. Thomas curses himself for wanting his father to fight even though he sees his suffering, yet he is not ready to let go of his father. He begs his father to fight death.
This whole poem is Thomasís struggle to cope with his fatherís death. He writes the poem while his father is still alive and never shows it to him. This poem may have helped him to deal with his fatherís death, and it may have taught Thomas a little about death itself.