Discuss the poem "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas. 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Dylan Thomas wrote the poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” during the time his father was ill and dying.  Critics believe that Thomas was trying to come to terms with the possibility of losing his father  because they were so close. 

Form

The form of the poem is five tercets [three line stanzas] with a quatrain [four line stanza] at the end. The rhyme scheme in each tercet is ABA with the quatrain’s scheme ABAA. The rhyme scheme focuses on the words night and day. 

Summary

The first tercet presents the poem’s theme of resisting death.  It also gives the first refrain line that alternates by ending every other stanza: “Rage, rage, against the dying of the night.”  The first line of the stanza uses the word gentle implying the opposite to the elderly who are near death to not give up.  The older person should burn and rage against the light going out in his life.

The second tercet begins the references to four kinds of old men who have different attitudes toward death.  In this stanza, Thomas refers to “wise men.” This could mean teachers or philosophers who weigh everything and then make  decisions.  These men realize that death is inevitable.   On the other hand, they should not give in to death passively.  The second alternate refrain is at the end of this stanza: “Do not go gentle into that good night.

The third tercet describes good men who will be the last to go.  They have not risen to their potential.  These men should fight against death for it comes too soon for them.

In the fourth tercet the wild men are those who have lived their lives to the fullest.  These men are not likely to believe or accept that they will age and die as well.

The fifth tercet speaks about the grave men who are serious yet blind.  However, they can see into things better than someone who can actually see.  Here the poet contrasts which show the difference between serious men and those who are not blind: grave versus gay and blind versus sight.

The sixth stanza indicates his father may  have given up. Again, Thomas reminds him to fight against dying. He asks his father to curse or bless him.  He prays that his father will not go forward toward death without fighting for his life.

And you, my father; there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Literary devices

Comparisons and personication are used to illustrate the poem’s idea.  The good men in tercet three complain that the deeds that they were not able to complete would have danced in the bay. 

In tercet four, the wild men caught and sang to the sun who was running away or in flight.

In tercet five, the poet used an oxymoron [a phrase that combines contradictory terms] with the phrase blinding sight

In that same stanza, the blind eyes are compared in a simile to meteors.

 Theme

The theme of the poem comes from the idea of anger.  When Thomas mentions the wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men, it is understood that these men have been in pursuit of something all of their lives.  Their rage would come from the frustration that they felt because they did not complete their search.  The poem also shows the author’s anger with the forthcoming death of his father.  

One thing that is certain-- everyone faces death.  Thomas advises that men should not just lie down and die; but rather, a person should fight to live until the end of his time. 

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