Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is a poem reflecting Dylan Thomas’s complex attitude toward his father, David John Thomas. The elder Thomas had been a schoolmaster in the grammar school that his son attended and had instilled in the young poet a love for the English of William Shakespeare and the Bible. He had himself written poems in his childhood and seemed to desire to create in his son the poet he had never succeeded in becoming. He had also become the model for the oracular reading voice that Thomas adopted for his own poetry.
That the younger Thomas held his father in high esteem appears clearly in the poem. The adjectives that the poet uses to characterize him are “wise,” “good,” “wild,” and “grave.” The first two are clearly laudatory, although in each case the virtue is mixed with disappointment that it had no wider effect on society. The wildness, however, adds a dimension unseen in the first two qualities: Its influence has somehow interfered with the poetic inspiration that it clearly comprehends. “Wild men” discover they “grieved” the “sun in flight.” This statement is ambiguous; it could mean that the father interfered with the flights of genius in himself or in others, including Dylan. It could also refer to the poet himself, whose wildness led to dissipation responsible for his own manifold problems—by psychological transfer, he may be applying this to his father.
(The entire section is 394 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The poem tells its reader to "rage" against dying, and it offers several examples of men who feel their lives unfulfilled, but it does not offer any reason why raging might be more appropriate than despair or peaceful acceptance of the absurdity of death. Anger is a heated, unreasoning emotion, and Thomas is too clever to try reasoning about it. By giving us the models of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men, Thomas populates this poem with men who have all been in vigorous pursuit of something in their lives, and their anger would therefore result from frustration and disappointment. Although it could be said that these are admirable types of men, and that if they all reach the same conclusion having traveled there on different roads then it must be the correct one, they still do not achieve any comfort or satisfaction from raging—from not going gentle. The poem is expressed as advice, "choose rage," but these men do not find their rage by choice.
So why does "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" advocate rage, if the details of the poem do not lead naturally to it? Anger is much more of a young man's emotion than an old man's, and anger's value is that it can create a powerful feeling, even if it cannot beat death. In the final stanza, the speaker addresses his father "on that sad height." Perhaps this poem is not meant to offer sound advice, but to show us a young man's unreasonable, almost hysterical refusal to cope with...
(The entire section is 931 words.)