Professor Peter Cassidy
LIT 222 C00
4 April 2015
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
The constantly repeated phrase “Do not go gentle into that good night” creates an image of strain and resistance against an ever-looming outcome. Written as a response to the dwindling health of Dylan Thomas’s father, “and you, my father, there on the sad height,” he urges him to hold fast to this life, and to not surrender prematurely. (Damrosch et al 2577). However, this is a message that Thomas intended for all men: that mankind should resist death, in all its forms, holding onto and living life as long as possible. As this short poem as a whole embodies this idea, death itself can be viewed in three ways: the physical, poetic, and spiritual.
In regards to physical death, those of “old age” are encouraged to “burn and rave at the close of day,” against something they may have no control over. (Damrosch et al 2576). The “close of day” illustrates a twenty-four hour day as a metaphor to the life cycle, with the daylight being life in its entirety, and night death itself. Using vibrant words, such as “burn” and “rave,” creates images of strong emotion, alluding to the idea that procrastination of death must be pursued wholeheartedly. Even “grave men, near death” are asked to “be [happy]” while dealing with “blinding sight” as an obstacle. (Damrosch et al 2577). Through this vivid imagery, Thomas promotes determination and steadfast willpower, hoping that it may overwhelm impossibilities even if they remain unachievable. It reflects the modernist view of fighting against what has always been, and hoping for what could be.
This poem can also be looked at through the eyes of poetry, illuminating the cry of the modernists poets and their fear of obscurity. “Wise men,” those expressive and aware like Thomas, “know dark is right,” and that the age of poetry had taken a turn. Prior to this era, poetry was a cornerstone of life. But in the modernist age, poets had no confidence that the existing public could understand the writer’s discoveries. (Damrosch et al 1925-1926). The speaker in this poem exemplifies a fighter, someone who will not take defeat lying down, even when the circumstances say otherwise. It could be interpreted that Thomas alludes to himself and the modernists poets of his time when the speaker says “their words forked no lightening,” so they cannot die yet. (Damrosch et al 2577). The words of the poets had not been enough to make the lightening of modernism split, so they must press on, hoping to awake the minds of the populous. Their craft cannot die away gently, it must go out kicking and screaming, birthing a new form of poetry in the ruins of the old.
Finally, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night can also be viewed through a mental and spiritual lens, capturing the idea that a man’s soul often surrenders and dies before the physical body. By giving up on the internal, is it only a matter of time before the external withers away. As “good men” near the end, they “[cry] how bright their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay.” (Damrosch et al 2577). These men are regretting the moral aspects of their lives, waiting in fear for what comes after. They wish they had more than “frail deeds” to show for their years spent, refuse to willingly accept death until they feel they have contributed something to life. This is greatly inline with the modernist disparity of finding purpose. People were caught in entertainment and lived for surface pleasures, “and [learned] too late” that there was more to life. The speaker wants people to live life to the fullest, and exist outside of only pursuing selfish ambitions.
While the overall tone contains ruthless skepticism, it is also a call to action. Death, whether in one form or all of the above, is inevitable for all. Thomas inspires those willing to listen to never accept the mediocre, and to fight for life and understanding even while standing in death’s doorway. This idea will forever live on, and be a message that generations will need to hear until the end of time.
Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Susan J. Wolfson, and Peter J. Manning. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2C. Boston: Longman, 2012. Print.