Nearly every famous poet or artist has one proud work in particular that perfectly embodies the best of their unique talents. Every artist has their “most famous work,” and for Dylan Thomas, that poem is almost certainly Do not go gentle into that good night, the otherwise untitled poem (“Do not go gentle into that good night” is the first line of the work) that is certainly one of his most powerful works. The poem was initially published in a literary journal in 1951, and in one of Thomas’s own volumes the next year. It is a noticeably dark poem, concerning itself with the end of life, and of the personal struggle to hang onto life for as long as possible. Fans of Dylan Thomas have speculated that the poem was written for his ailing father, who passed away the year after the poem was first published. It is interesting (albeit very sad) to note that in the two years following the poem’s publication, Dylan Thomas himself, along with his father, unborn son, and three of his friends would also pass away, giving the work a grim, real-world aspect of foreshadowing to it, though this is, of course, entirely coincidental. Do not go gentle into that good night can be read in its entirety here.
Explore Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night is an example (and probably the most famous English example) of a villanelle, a form of poetry first conceived in seventeenth-century France. Today, it is an uncommon poetic form, but an effective one when used properly. The villanelle has a rigid form to it: it is a poem written in six stanzas, where the first five are tercets and the final one is a quatrain. Furthermore, it is characterized by the appearance of two repeating refrains. The first refrain is always the first line of the first verse, and is repeated at the end of the second and fourth verse; the second refrain is the last line of the first verse and is repeated at the end of the third and fifth verses. The first refrain is also the third line of the fifth verse. The refrains must rhyme with each other; as well, the second lines of each verse must rhyme with each other, and the first lines must rhyme with the refrains. As such, the rhyming pattern of a villanelle is always ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.
The villanelle is an uncommonly seen form of poetry because of all of the rules and requirements surrounding them Typically, this kind of poem takes advantage of its rigid repetition and is used to express some form of obsessive thought process, and this poem is a strong example of that particular use.
“Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light”
The two repeating refrains in this poem, naturally enough, form the primary message that informs the meaning of the work. When Dylan Thomas references “that good night,” he is using it as a metaphor for the end of life, and as a parallel to “the dying of the light,” which is a symbol for the same idea. The principal idea for this poem is that human beings should resist death with all of their strength before the end. The two refrains act as a mirror for each other with regard to their connotation as well. The first refrain has a calmer, and more positive connotation to it, specifically by using the phrases “gentle,” and “good night.” The second one, on the other hand, repeats the word “rage,” and references “the dying of the light;” two much more grim ideas that are both expressions of the same idea as in the first one. The repetitive nature of these lines, as previously mentioned, conveys an aspect of obsession from the narrator on the topic. If the narrator is meant to be the voice of Dylan Thomas himself, then this could make sense in the light of his father’s illness at the time of his creation for the work.
Analysis of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
In each stanza of Do not go gentle into that good night, Dylan Thomas addresses a different aspect of the dying process before repeating one of the central refrains of the work. In the first stanza, the speaker expresses the desire to live as being something fierce, describing old age as being a process of “burning and raving,” two images that are not commonly associated with old age. The conflicting images create a call to action early in the piece because Thomas is challenging typical associations in the minds of his readers.
The second stanza takes on a different approach, reminding the reader that despite the earlier commands, death is both inevitable and natural. It uses lightning as a symbol to describe the feeling of incompleteness that can accompany the aging process — when the wise men referenced feel that their words have “forked no lightning,” they are feeling as though they have not accomplished everything they set out to in their life — and so they “do not go gentle into that good night.”
The next two stanzas succinctly discuss a nearly opposite idea, namely that resisting death is also a natural phenomenon. Wise men, good men, and grave men all resist dying, and Thomas continues to use a wide variety of symbols, with both positive and negative connotations, to reinforce the image of an aged man looking back on his life and realizing they have more to contribute to the world. In the third stanza, the good men cry, imagining how much more they could have done, too late, now that they’ve realized they’re dying. Following that, the grave men realize something similar, seeing with their blinding sight — looking back on their lives now that their mortality has granted them perfect clarity in retrospect.
The poem finally concludes with an address to the speaker’s father, with a conflicting plea to both curse and bless them with his tears. The conflicting images of the father’s tears being both a curse and a blessing echo the earlier idea that death is something that is both natural and something to be railed against; the tears of the father are a curse because they strike the fear of mortality into his child, and a blessing because they remind that child to live their life to the fullest extent possible. Ultimately, the image of the father’s tears is the central idea for Do not go gentle into that good night; it is a poem that attempts to describe the author’s complex relationship with his own mortality. This is certainly one of the most complex emotions an artist can attempt to describe in their work, and yet Do not go gentle into that good night remains one of Thomas’s most famous poems for how well it succeeds in that endeavor.