Monday, March 21, 2011

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage 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.

Some thoughts…

On the Poet - Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote this poem for his dying father, and it’s considered among the best of his work. There is no evidence that Thomas ever showed this poem to his father, and he himself died at the age of 39.

On this poem – Would dissecting a poem diminish its beauty, or would understanding enhance appreciation? I confess that my approach to Poetry is different than to the other genres of Literature. Here, I do not think analysis is a prerequisite to appreciation. I would rather sink into its beauty. But this is a literary blog, so, here goes.

The poet is urging his father to fight the good fight, to do whatever it takes to live. The ‘dying of the light’ refers to the encroaching darkness of death. No matter who it may be, at the end, everybody struggles to live a little longer says the poet: even the wise men, who know that ‘dark is right’, that Death is a fitting and appropriate end to life; even the good men who mourn the loss of opportunities to do yet more good; the wild men who have lived fully, relishing each moment unaware that with every second, life was slipping away; the old and the dying who see that life can be sweet to the very last drops – all without exception struggle to live on.

The last stanza is the most challenging. On the one hand, the poet could be referring to God (‘my father, on the sad height’), pleading for his mercy, or it could be about his own father, who is already slipping away to a greater distance. Perhaps it’s a request for a final blessing – to live on, to spend a little more time with his son. 

On a personal note – I find this a powerful evocation of grief, and the helpless anger at the imminent loss of a dear one. But I also sense the undercurrents that there is more to this poem than that. I feel that the poet is terrified of a death that he knows to be inevitable. He is not just mourning the imminent demise of his father. He is dreading his own mortality.

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