Analysis of “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night” – By Dylan Thomas

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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, l pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Background

The poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, is written by Dylan Thomas, born in 1914 the same year the First World War started. He wrote the poem in 1947, two years after the Second World War. No wonder the poem is believed to have been influenced by the author’s sad experiences of struggle and death which occupied the early time of his life. His grandfather was gradually losing his sight because of age at the time he wrote the poem. So, some believed it was meant to encourage his aged father who was approaching death; that he should not accept death as a part of life. He wanted his father to resist death and not be afraid of it. He died about two years after the poem was published, at 39 years.

Setting

The poem did not establish any actual setting of time or place. But since death is a universal experience which happens anywhere and anytime, we can say that the poem is boundless. It is occupied in the psychological state of humanity rather than physical. If you talk about death, you talk about Nigeria, Uganda, Britain, Canada etc. In the same way, you refer to any period in the history of man.

Subject matter

What is the poem about?

“Do not go gentle into that good night” is a poem that discusses death; how man should relate with it: fear it or fight it. Every living being agrees that the end of life is death. But then, how should people prepare for it or interact with the knowledge of its imminence? The persona advises his readers not to be gentle in accepting death as their destiny. They should fight and have the freedom to resist the fear of death.

In line 1, he says “Do not go gentle into that good night”. “Good night” is used to refer to a time in death. People say good night before they go to sleep, and sleep can refer to death. Therefore, the persona says that to say good night in the case of death means the person is accepting death just like a sleepy person would long for sleep. “Good night” could also mean a final goodbye for a person expecting to die. Therefore, he advises that death should not be so easily accepted. Even old people should vigorously fight against death though they see it coming close to them as they age. When it comes, the will not continue with life experiences anymore as its “close of day” (line 2). They should “rage against the dying of the light” (line 3) whereby light represents life.

The persona says that people who are wise, smart and intelligent know that death will come, but they still resist it because their words bring encouragement not news of broken hope which is metaphorical referred to as “forked lightning”. About another group of people which he referred to as good, he emphasized that they should “rage against the dying of the light” (line 9), especially because they have not achieve much in their goodness. They still have more good works to do. After all, the good people deserve to stay alive and influence others to make life fruitful as indicated in the metaphoric use of “green bay” which. He has repeated the word “rage” in line 9 to express how necessary it is for good people not to limit their good works by surrendering to death. Therefore, they should not welcome death but do whatever it takes to keep them alive.

Another group of people are referred to as “wild” in line 10. This people are those who are carefree about life. They are not mindful of time or achievement, and may often regret at the end when they realize that they have wasted useful time in frivolity. They “caught and sang the sun in flight” means that they do not care about the rising and the falling of the sun which shows passing days. Yet, they must not be slaves of death. “Grave men, near death” in line 13 refers to the aged. They still can see even with their blinding eyes, but the same eyes can still be brightened like meteors in fight against death. The eyes should show evidence of merriment and agility rather than dimming to blindness and eventual death. They have to “rage against the dying of the light”.

After addressing all categories of people represented by wise men, good men, wild men and the old, he turns to his family – his father. It is only natural for a father to die before the child, so he advises his father “there on the sad height”, which means close to death, to bless or curse him if that will help him stay longer. The father’s present situation is that of pain and hopelessness as shown in the phrase “fierce tears”. The father cries out of the limitation of agedness, sickness, loss or failure. But even in the bad situation, the father is encouraged to rage, rage against death, and not “go gentle into that goodnight”.

Finally the poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, is seen to be an encouragement to fight to the end in the face of hardship. It may look like one is failing in exhaustion, but there is always still chance to achieve more, no matter how little.

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