Does the following from "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" mean to fight fiercely to resist death or to accept death in a strong proud manner:
"Do not go gently into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
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I think that there is a bit of both in Dylan Thomas's poem. There is a strong and fighting resistance to death on the one hand but on the other hand there is also this realization that it is the most certain human reality and has to be admitted. This is a kind of stoic position where you fight knowing full well that you are going to go down in the battle.
If one looks at the different stanzas of the poem where Thomas is talking about the rage of all kinds of men against the death when the hour of death has arrived, one would have to say that his register is one of undercutting. Whether it is the 'wise', the 'good', the 'wild' or the 'grave'---they all rage against death. The achievers and the futile ones all alike have this desire for life that stops at nothing. I think that Thomas is talking about the need to stop, the need to punctuate in a finalistic way. Life coming a full circle should put a satisfactory closure to desire too. This hermetical renunciation of desire facing death is a prevalent theme, I think.
The last stanza, where the poet refers to his dead father blessing and cursing him from his sad height with fierce tears counterbalances the stake and the last two lines of the poem which repeat the refrain are not meant to be ironic, in my opinion. Here there is a genuine invocation to "rage against the dying of the light".
Well, I suppose that Dylan Thomas's poem affects each of us in different ways, i.e., we interpret it slightly differently, but to me it has always said to resist death, resist it with all your strength, don't give in to it, since life is so wonderful, so productive...and so unique: we only get one.
Thomas's father was a strong figure in his son's life, and this poem was written as his father lay dying, so the last verse lets loose all his anger over his father's seeming quiet acceptance of death. How many children have expressed anger at a parent's death? The parent seems to be deserting them, abandoning them-- or rather, fate seems to require this.
Thomas uses other images-- wise men want to continue influencing others, good men want to continue doing good deeds, grave men realize the joy they have not yet experienced-- and they all find the idea of death unfair. Of course, most people realize that death is just inevitable and that it is a 'good night' in some sense, but any thoughtful person would realize that our one experience here on earth is of much more personal value and would naturally fight to keep it.
I have provided links to the poem itself and to some more detailed analysis of it as a villanelle below.
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