The first tercet introduces the poem's theme; it also introduces the two recurring refrains that end alternate stanzas. Although these two lines, the first and the third, both state Thomas's basic theme about resisting death, they contrast in several ways. Each of the predominant words in line one finds its opposite in line three. "Gentle" is paired with "rage," "good" with "dying," and "night" with "light." The tone of the two lines also is quite different. Line one is subdued; the verbs are deliberately simple, vague. Thomas uses the predicate adjective "gentle," making it describe the personality of the individual, rather than the more obvious choice "gently," an adverb which would only refer to the action of the verb. "Good night" when it refers to dying becomes a paradox for Thomas, meaning a good death. Although this line may be an exhortation to resist death, its entire tone is gentle. Compare this to the beginning of line 3 where "rage" is repeated twice. Here the poet urges a furious resistance to death.
The second line introduces Thomas's advice to those who near death. The idea of burning is frequently associated with the passion of youth; however, Thomas wants the elderly to cling as passionately to their lives as anyone would. The phrase "close of day" establishes a connection with the "good night" of the previous line, while the words "burn" and "rave" move the reader into the third line of the stanza.
The next four stanzas describe four different types of old men and examine their attitudes and feelings as they realize that death is approaching. The first type Thomas mentions are the wise men. They may be considered scholars or philosophers. Perhaps because of this, intellectually they accept the inevitability of death. Thomas begins the line with the word "though," however, to indicate that their knowledge has not prepared them to accept the reality of death.
This line explains why the wise men are unable to act in accordance with their knowledge. Scholars are known and measured by their words. These men have many words still left unwritten or unspoken, so their goals have not been accomplished. Thomas ends this line in mid-thought, leaving the rest of the idea to the next...
(The entire section is 936 words.)