In Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," what effect does the repetition of "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" have?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this villanelle by Dylan Thomas, the final line of each three-line stanza alternates between "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" and "Do not go gentle into that good night." The first line is "Do not go gentle into that good night," and the final line is "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." This results in each line being repeated four times. However, each time each line is used, it works into the flow of the argument of the words of the stanza. The lines are not merely appended as a disjointed refrain. 

Each stanza gives an example of the kind of person who does not go gentle into that good night and/or rages against the dying of the light. Wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men all stand as examples, according to the poet, to his father, whom the poet wishes would fight against his approaching death. Although to see his father resisting death might in one sense be a "curse" because it would be hard to observe, nevertheless the poet feels it would be a blessing because it would show the kind of spunk and spirit the poet thinks men should have when they leave this life.

The two repeated commands are two sides of the same coin and are parallel or roughly synonymous expressions. The way that one does not "go gentle" is by raging. Therefore, although each expression appears four times, the thought appears a total of eight times in the poem. Obviously such heavy repetition within a few lines creates a strong emphasis, revealing the poet's passion for his message. Thinking of the setting and the situation, a young man sitting at his father's deathbed, we can also imagine that the repetition is required in order to get through to a person who might be semi-conscious or even unconscious, hard of hearing, or suffering from some type of dementia. The repetition of "rage, rage" within the same sentence gives the sense of continuing and continuous rage; the poet wants his father to be able to sustain a valiant, spirited resistance over a period of time. On the other hand, the repetition of "good night" is a reminder for both the father and the son that the father's ultimate destination is not one to be unduly frightened of. At some point, they will say "good night" to each other, and the father will go into his final slumber. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his emotional and moving plea to his father to embrace life until the very end, the repetition of the lines cited above increase the intensity and personal meaning of Dylan Thomas's poem.

Despite the inevitability of death, Thomas as the speaker of this poem feels that by "raging against the light," or affirming life, his father can die with dignity as opposed to "going gently," or weakly.  Thomas's arrangement of his poem into a villanelle form also underscores the the intensity rhetorical argument of his work.  Thus, the repetition of lines as a rhetorical form adds emphasis and meaning to the argument.  And, because the villanelle's form resists narrative development, this form strengthens the speaker's insistence upon his father's affirmation of life.

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