Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is one of the most famous poems in American literature because of its inspiring and rousing message of facing death and defeat not with acceptance as is common with most poems tacking a similar theme, but with resistance. Its last line is constantly quoted as a slogan to fight against the odds however impossible they are to overcome. The poem follows the villanelle structure. It is composed of 19 lines divided into six stanzas. The stanzas are five tercets and a quatrain as a final stanza.
Only two rhymes are used all throughout the poem, employing an aba scheme for the tercets and an abaa rhyming scheme for the last quatrains. Like all villanelles, the first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately as the last line of the succeeding stanzas. The second and fourth stanzas end with the first line of the first stanza while the third line of the first stanza is repeated on the third and fifth stanzas. The two lines also end the sixth stanza as a couplet. Furthermore, “Thomas compounds his difficulty by having each line contain ten syllables (Davies, ed. , 131).
“ The poem is written in the third person except for the last stanza which is in the second person, addressed to the speaker’s father. The meaning of the poem is summed up in the two repeating refrain lines: “Do not go gently into that good night (line 1)” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light (line 3)”. The words are strong and forceful. They aim to exhort and inspire as they speak to the readers, telling them to wage a battle against “that goodnight”; to not surrender and easily give in to “the dying of the light”. The most obvious reference to these images of night and darkness is death.
This is further emphasized by the lines “Old age should burn and rave at close of day (line 2). ” Death is the inevitable end of old age. The metaphor of dusk is also commonly used in other poems about death or the last moments of a person’s life. The poet is trying to say that everybody will have to die, but he insists that one should not just embrace and welcome death as something that is inescapable. One should resist it with all of one’s might. There is something heroic and noble in raging against the unavoidable and fighting with an enemy who would be impossible to defeat.
Aside from the image of the old man in the first stanza, Thomas uses the images of the wise men, good men, wild men and grave men in the succeeding stanzas. In the second stanza Thomas describes the wise man who knows that for all their wisdom, death will come to claim them and that after they die, their wisdom die with them. In the third stanza he talks of the good men who have done good deeds and who would like to do more knowing that the world needs more of what they could do; yet they, too, are limited by the briefness of their lives.
In the fourth stanza Thomas addresses wild men, those who live their lives to the fullest but who would realize and regret their misdeeds later on. And the fifth stanza is the opposite of these wild men—the serious men who lead somber, respectable lives, and realize too late that they should have done something to enliven their lives more—they also would die. These illustrations of varied characters are meant to illustrate the point that everyone, regardless of his status and character in life, would die, leave this world, and be eventually forgotten.
Yet, with the refrains that end every stanza, Thomas admonishes each one to go out fighting, at least. The final stanza of the poem is worth being mentioned and discussed separately because after the general addresses in the preceding lines, Thomas suddenly becomes personal in the final lines. This time, he addresses his father. The entire poem itself is said to be “addressed to the poet’s father as he approached blindness and death. The relevant aspect of the relationship was Thomas’ profound respect for his father’s uncompromising independence of mind, now tamed by illness (Davies, ed. , 131). ”
He was inspired by the tenacity of his father in spite his blindness and at the moment that he was dying, Thomas wanted to inspire his father, this time. The poem, however, should be seen as more than an expression of a personal message for a father. “The actions of each small man (the wise, good, wild, grave man, and the father) are placed in the contrast to the vastness of universe (Eardley)” implying the idea that every person, regardless of age, attitude or temperament, is subject to more powerful forces in nature.
Most readings of the poem may point to Death as this natural force, but one could also look at it at a more general point of view. The “dying of the light” may refer to disappointments, failures and other inevitable bad endings that could not be avoided in life. The slogan, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”, may be applicable to the weary and defeated spirit which could be inspired to rise against the elements or simply to rise after defeat. It is not the losing that would matter eventually, but the fact that one loses by giving his all and rising after the loss. Thomas repeats the same theme all throughout out the poem.
Every metaphor merely serves to strengthen his thesis of raging against “the dying of the light (line 3). ” However, the merit of the poem is in the perfect use of the villanelle to express the words—as if there is no other way to state the same lines and create the same effect to the reader.
Davies, Walford, editor. Dylan Thomas: Selected Poems. London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd. , 1974. Eardley, Alice. “Dylan Thomas”. BBC Wales Arts & Entertainment. Retrieved on June 27, 2008. http://www. bbc. co. uk/wales/arts/sites/dylan_thomas/pages/ do_not_go_gentle. shtml. Thomas, Dylan. Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.