How can I analyze the poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas? What are the attitude, theme, and shifts of the poem?

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In analyzing the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night you must consider that the poem's overall statement is that people should battle death.  Because the author wants his father to hold off death as long as he possibly can, he creates this poetic argument stating that...

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In analyzing the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Nightyou must consider that the poem's overall statement is that people should battle death.  Because the author wants his father to hold off death as long as he possibly can, he creates this poetic argument stating that we must go to our graves kicking and screaming rather than letting death take us.  Due to the nature of the poem, the language moves from fiery, to logical, and in the end becomes pleading.  After all, the speaker has no power over the actions of the listener; he can only try to convince.  His success or failure is not indicated at the end.  

The poem is broken into six stanzas.  The first stanza introduces the metaphor of night representing death.  The second line of the first stanza indicates that the old should burn and rage against death rather than lay back and let it come. Thomas is arguing that those who are old shouldn't slip easily into death but should rather fight with everything they have.  

The tone shifts in the second stanza.  Rather than making the emotional statement of stanza one, Dylan has the speaker make a more rational argument.  The speaker begins talking about the knowledgeable man.  According to the speaker, wise men know that death cannot be cheated through philosophy; however, they also fight the end because they have not contributed enough and wish to make a more substantial impact on the world.  This argument is meant to be a proof that if wise men fight, so should the listener.  

The third stanza, like the second, is an example.  This time he talks about "good men" who have done good things.  These religious men should not fear the grave because they are right in the eyes of God—but in the end they too must fight because the good they have done is not enough.  Their good deeds cannot save them from inevitable death.  The water reference here is often interpreted as the nature of good men, who are like ocean waves and crash against the rocks in the end rather than continuing as rolling waves.  This is also an argument for the listener: no matter how good one is in the eyes of God, one should fight death to continue more works for their redemption.  

The fourth stanza refers to the actions of "wild men." Wild men are those who celebrate the passage of time or those who celebrate often.  These people, as said in the second line of the stanza, find out that their time was wasted on frivolity and they mourn the sunset.  This stanza, unlike the previous ones, seems to be more of a moral warning rather than a comment on the actions of others.  

The fifth stanza describes "grave men."  Grave is a beautiful pun in this section of the poem, since it talks about those who are so near death that they have lost their sight.  Because they have lost so much, they fight to retain what they still have.  It is important to note that the speaker compares their actions to the blazing of falling stars.  This stanza, like the fourth stanza, has a slightly different feel than the first two arguments.  In this section of the poem Dylan is getting closer to the actual truth of the poem.  He is speaking to a man who has accepted death and is arguing that he is doing wrong by accepting he is blind and useless.  This stanza connects to the final stanza as an argument for the dying father—thus the line in stanza six asking for the father to weep in anger upon hearing this poem.  This section is by far the most significant for the intended listener.  

The sixth and final stanza of the poem reveals the intended listener for the poem.  The speaker addresses his father, urging him to get angry.  The duality of the line that begins "Curse, bless..." in line two is significant because the argument he might have with his father over death would be a blessing if it returned the fire of determination to his father.  The final two lines of the sixth stanza switch the tone from authoritative to pleading as he begs his father to return to him.  

Several themes exist in the poem, including death, old age, family bonds, and the shortness of life.  The shifts in the poem happen at the beginning and the end of the poem.  The first of the two shifts is between the first and the second stanza where the speaker moves between making the statement that all men should rage against death to discussing the ways that various men approach death.  I mentioned the second above, where in the sixth stanza the author's tone moves into a pleading rather than authoritative tone.  The emotional appeal for the father to fight just a bit longer is far more touching than the other five stanzas' appeals.  

To further help in your analysis of the poem, take a look at the attached file.  This schema reveals the number of times different words are used throughout the poem.  Look at the words that were used the most and compare them to the overall theme of the poem.  Last, while you didn’t ask for this information, the poem is written in a very specific style called villanelle.  It is quite mathematical.  I am providing a link that will tell you more about it.  This poem is often compared to Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.  Interestingly enough, this poem is successfully analyzed against Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan in the movie “Dangerous Minds.”   If you are still having trouble with your analysis I highly recommend watching that part of the movie where the two poems are brought together.  I'm providing a link to the YouTube section where the students are analyzing Tambourine Man.  

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