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Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

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Why did Dylan Thomas choose the title "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"?

Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" was published not long before the time of his father's death, and so it is plausible to suggest that the poem could represent the poet's own feelings in watching his father's decline. The poem's speaker addresses the speaker's father, who is nearing death, and the speaker implores him to fight against death and remain alive a while longer.

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This is an interesting question if properly examined because, while the simple answer is that actually Thomas didn't give his work this title, this leads us on to the broader topic of the lack of titles in Thomas's poetry as a whole. Put simply, Thomas didn't seem to be a fan of putting titles on his poetry—or even on his collections of poetry. His collection 18 Poems, for example, gives no indication on the front cover of what the reader can expect inside, and all of the poems in it are similarly without titles. They are known by their first lines, as was historically the case with a lot of poetry. Think about Shakespeare's sonnets, for example—they are numbered, but not named, and are generally known by their first lines.

So, why didn't Thomas want to use titles? What does it do to us as readers when there's a title on a poem? Generally, it can give us a guide to what the poet thinks we should be thinking about—that is, what their main thought was when writing the poem, or what the poem is supposed to evoke. By not titling his poems, then, Thomas allows us to think more freely about his poetry. Instead of being told, or guided toward, a theme or focus in the title, we have to experience the poem entirely on our own. Its key focus is up to us.

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This poem is actually untitled and has become known as "Do not go gentle into that good night," its first line, as a result. You can tell because, in professional publications of the poem, only the first letter of the first word is capitalized instead of each significant word being capitalized. It is an appropriate title, however, because it encapsulates one of the main purposes of the poem: it comprises an attempt to persuade the speaker's father to fight against death and not go quietly into its symbolic darkness. In line 16, the narrator refers to his father as being on "that sad height," a figurative precipice that we can understand to signify a choice between moving forward into the darkness or stepping backward into the light. The speaker urges his father to "rage against the dying of the light" and to resist any desire to slip away. The line used as the poem's title does likewise.

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Why did Dylan Thomas write "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"?

It is typically difficult to know what prompts a writer to address a particular topic. Often, they might comment on some aspect of the society in which they live, or, alternatively, they might comment on some element of their own personal life that strikes the writer as particularly interesting, difficult, or complex. "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night " was published in 1951, and the poet's own father died in 1952. Therefore, it seems incredibly plausible that Thomas was writing out of a sense of personal pain and struggle. If he was watching his own father approach the end of his life, we can...

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certainly understand his use of apostrophe in the poem which, we learn in the final stanza, is addressed directly to the speaker's father, who is near death.

In the poem itself, the speaker describes the behavior and feelings of all different sorts of people as they near death: the wise, the good, the wild, and the grave (or serious). Each of them feels that they did not do enough; they did not have enough of an impact; they did not live fully enough; they did not take advantage of all of life's opportunities; and so each must "rage[s] against the dying of the light," a metaphor for death. In the final stanza, the speaker directly addresses his father, suggesting that he, too, should fight death, that his "blind eyes" could still "blaze like meteors and be gay." One must continue the fight to live.

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Why is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" considered a literary classic?

The poem expresses one of the core metaphysical issues at the heart of the human experience—reckoning with finality and anger at the inevitability of death. It is written in plain, poignant language with repetitions of phrases that sound like mottoes. This leads to the text taking on a universal quality, both through theme and form. Although the poem expresses generalities throughout, the last stanza suddenly becomes very personal to the poet, who addresses his father. It is thus even more emotionally resonant and brings the point home.

It is also important to take the historical context into account: Dylan Thomas published the poem in the 1950s, after living through World War I and II. One cannot overstate the humanitarian catastrophe these wars represented. Almost everyone, in the West and beyond, lost someone in these wars; entire generations of young men almost entirely disappeared. As a product of its time, the poem is still heavily resonant, since we are still dealing with the material and philosophical consequences of these events.

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