Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle in to that good night is a poem by Dylan Thomas. It is the first and only poem that I have read on this topic of old age and death where the old are asked to rebel and revolt against the impending death. All others including my feeble attempts on this topic ask to embrace the eventuality. This poem is a stark contrast to it. If I remember correctly this poem is mentioned on the movie ‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan.

Another unique feature is that the poem is written as a Villanelle (or Villanesque). It is a very unique structure and it will be explained later in the post. First let us grasp the magic, the poem is given below, followed by a brief paraphrase and discussion of the Villanesque form. Much of the material of this post is taken from other posts.

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 the 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.

The gist of the poem is thus. The speaker demands that people “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He insists that elderly men should “burn and rave” against death as if they were young.

  • Stanzas two through five introduce four kinds of men: wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men. Wise men understand that death is inevitable (“know dark is right”), but knowing this doesn’t make death any easier.
  • Wild men live carefree lives and learn too late that they’re not immune to death. Good men cry because they weren’t able to do enough in life. Grave men, already near death, see what others cannot.
  • In the final stanza, the speaker begs his dying father to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He says it forcefully, like a command, revealing his grief at the thought of losing his father.

A villanelle is a fixed-form poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain and also follows a specific rhyme scheme using only two different sounds. A tercet is a stanza with only three lines, and a quatrain is a stanza with four lines. Thus, the villanelle has nineteen total lines. There is also a pattern of two refrains, which are repeated lines in a poem or verse. Therefore, in a villanelle, two different lines repeat throughout the poem. Specifically, the first line recurs as lines 6, 12, and 18, and the third line recurs as lines 9, 15, and 19.

In addition, the pattern becomes even more complex with a specific rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme uses letters of the alphabet to show which lines must end with words that rhyme. In a villanelle, the rhyme scheme is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. This means that the final word in the first and third lines in every tercet rhyme together, and the middle lines also rhyme with each other. In the quatrain, the first, third and fourth lines rhyme with the rest of the ‘A’ lines, and the second line rhymes with the rest of the middle lines, or the ‘B.’ In this way, only two different rhyming sounds are used throughout the entire poem. This intricate pattern is hard to master and with it to create magic as this poem above is simply mind blowing.

There are other posts in this blog that talk of other famous poems. Given below their links.

Charge of the light brigade

La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad by Keats

Solitary Reaper

Happy Reading.

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