The first poem that Dylan Thomas ever published, when he was only eighteen, was an early version of "And Death Shall Have No Dominion." The cycle of life and death formed a constant underlying theme throughout his poetry since that earliest effort. In "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," a moving plea to his dying father, death takes on a new and intensely personal meaning for Thomas.
David John Thomas was an important influence throughout his son Dylan's life. A grammar school English teacher, he had a deep love for language and literature which he passed on to his son. In a 1933 letter to a friend, Dylan Thomas describes the library he shared with his father in their home. His father's section held the classics, while his included modern poetry. It had, according to Thomas, everything needed in a library.
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" was in all likelihood composed in 1945 when D. J. Thomas was seriously ill; however, it was not published until after his death on December 16, 1952. Thomas sent the poem to a friend, Princess Caetani, in the spring of 1951, telling her that the "only person I can't show the little enclosed poem to is, of course, my father who doesn't know he's dying." After his father's death, the poem was included in the collection In Country Sleep. Ironically Dylan Thomas himself died just a year later. The poem discusses various ways to approach death in old age. It advocates affirming life up until the last breath, rather than learning to accept death quietly.