DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
About The Poet
Dylan Marlais Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, in Swansea, South Wales. His father was an English Literature professor.
Thomas was an introverted and undistinguishable child. He read all of D. H. Lawrence‘s poetry, impressed by vivid descriptions of the natural world. Fascinated by language, he excelled in English and reading but neglected other subjects. He dropped out of school at sixteen to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. By December of 1932, he left his job at the Post and decided to concentrate on his poetry full-time. It was during this time, in his late teens, that Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems. Thomas also worked as a scriptwriter for the BBC.
Unlike his contemporaries, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, Thomas was not concerned with exhibiting themes of social and intellectual issues, and his writing, with its intense lyricism and highly charged emotion, has more in common with the Romantic tradition. In fact, his attitude, coupled with his work, made him the prototype Romantic poet of the popular American imagination. He was flamboyantly theatrical, an alcoholic and frequently engaged in public riots, and was openly emotional at his poetry readings.
Thomas style of writing is described in one of the letters: “I make one image—though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.”
Two years after the publication of 18 Poems, Thomas met the dancer Caitlin Macnamara at a pub in London. Macnamara and Thomas engaged in an affair, and the couple got married in 1937. Despite the passionate love letters Thomas would write to her, the marriage was turbulent, with rumors of both having multiple affairs.
In 1947 Thomas was awarded a Travelling Scholarship from the Society of Authors in Italy. While in Florence, he wrote In Country Sleep, And Other Poems (Dent, 1952), which includes his most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” When they returned to Oxfordshire, Thomas began work on three film scripts, namely, “Me and My Bike,” “Rebecca’s Daughters,” and “The Beach at Falesia,” for Gainsborough Films.
Michael Schmidt, in reference to Thomas’ work, writes: “There is a kind of authority to the word magic of the early poems; in the famous and popular later poems, the magic is all show. If they have a secret it is the one we all share, partly erotic, partly elegiac. The later poems arise out of personality.”
About the poem:
“Do not go gentle into that good night”, written by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1951, is considered to be one of his finest works. It is widely considered to be the most famous example of the poetic form known as the villanelle, a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The poem has no title other than its first line, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, a line which appears as a refrain throughout. The poem’s other equally famous refrain is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. Originally published in the journal Botteghe Oscure in 1951, it also appeared as part of his 1952 collection In Country Sleep and other poems.
Thomas, in the poem, addresses his father who is losing his life to a terminal illness. He laments the confrontation of his father’s loss of health and strength and urges him to struggle against death instead of meekly giving in to it. The question of death in old age is raised in the poem, but the focus is the grief and rebellion of the poet as he wrestles against the face of death or “dying of the light”. It also focuses on the exertion of frustration at the natural order of things that we are powerless to change. There is an explicit nature of urgency in the speaker’s tone and the raw energy of emotions underlying it which makes it one of the most powerful poems of all time. The poet himself certainly burned with a zest for life but sadly, lived it recklessly, drinking heavily, and died a year after the poem was published, in 1952.
Though the poem has a very personal edge to it, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas, is a poem that is applicable to every single human being. It addresses one of the most macabre, yet inevitable truths of life, death. Man’s usual approach towards life is to go with the flow or take life as it comes. Thomas clearly disagrees with this view as he feels that a person’s life, or death, must be dictated only by his own rules. He tells men to “not go gentle into that good night”. In the entire poem, night has been repeatedly used as a metaphor for death. This may be because when we wake up in the morning, we are all spirited and dynamic, but as the day passes, tiredness seems into our activities and makes us lethargic, and by the time night closes in upon us we seem to have lost all our zeal and passion. On a wider forum, during his youth, man is bubbling with enthusiasm and is constantly striving to reach greater heights and accomplish tasks. But, as old age creeps upon him, he grows isolated from the vibrancy of life, and settles into his own cocoon and waits for death. This outlook has been severely criticized by Thomas as he feels that every man should rage against death. Basing on this perspective he gives examples of four different kinds of men.
In the second stanza, he refers to wise men who know that death is inevitable. Though these men have accomplished things, yet they feel that they are capable of doing a lot more. They are being told to do something extraordinary, like splitting lightning, before they die. In the next stanza, Thomas is talking about righteous, good men. These men regret dying too soon because if they were allowed to live a little longer, they could have accomplished a lot more. They are Chremamorphism as sea waves that have not been allowed to play in the bay for a little longer and have crashed on the shore too soon. The poet brings up the third man, who is wild. The wild men larked about their youth and when they reached old age, they were remorseful of their shallowness; yet the poet is encouraging them to not concede living the life they enjoy. Lastly, the poet talks about grave men. The grave is used as a pun here as grave can refer to both serious, and men who are nearing their graves, or who are close to dying. This stanza is a reference to men whose faculties are failing because of old age and frailty, yet they are not letting these limitations deter them from dying in the manner that they want.
The last stanza is clearly addressed to the poet’s father and it is here that we discover that Thomas is pleading with his father to live longer, to not die before accomplishing something great which will immortalize him. He begs his father to rage against death by mustering up all his anger, passion, and zeal for life. The poet’s desperation and tense state of mind are characterized by him telling his father to either curse or bless, but do whatever it takes to cry out passionately and heroically against death.