Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Summary

Dylan Thomas

At a Glance

In "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," the speaker demands that people "rage, rage against the dying of the light." He insists that elderly men should "burn and rave" against death as if they were young.

  • Stanzas two through five introduce four kinds of men: wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men. Wise men understand that death is inevitable ("know dark is right"), but knowing this doesn't make death any easier.
  • Wild men live carefree lives and learn too late that they're not immune to death. Good men cry because they weren't able to do enough in life. Grave men, already near death, see what others cannot.
  • In the final stanza, the speaker begs his dying father to "rage, rage against the dying of the light." He says it forcefully, like a command, which should indicate to the reader how distraught he is at the thought of losing his father.


Stanza One

Stanza one begins with a command: "Do not go gentle into that good night." This first line can also be interpreted as an entreaty, with the speaker not just commanding but begging the reader not to go "gentle" into death, meaning not to give up without a fight. In this context, "night" is a metaphor for death, making "day" and "light" metaphors for life. Thomas expands on this metaphor in the second line, where the speaker proclaims that the elderly ("old age") should fight ("burn and rave") against death ("close of day") just as fiercely as if they were still young. Stanza one ends with the speaker's second command: "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." This deepens the metaphor of light as life and suggests that though the dying of the light (like the setting of the sun) is a perfectly natural phenomenon, people should still fight it. Everyone dies, the speaker knows, but that doesn't mean you have to go quietly. Thomas emphasizes this point by repeating these two commands throughout the poem.

Stanza Two

In stanza two, the speaker introduces the first of four different kinds of men: wise men. These wise men, like the speaker, understand that death is inevitable ("know dark is right"), but this intellectual conception of death can't change their nature ("their words had forked no lightning"), so even these wise men who know death is coming fight against it in the end.

Stanza Three

In stanza three, the speaker introduces a second group of men: the good men. These men are shown in their "last wave" (where "wave" means both the last stage of their life and the farewell wave they give to the ones they leave behind). "Crying" also has a double meaning, referring both to the act of crying out or shouting and to crying or weeping. These moral, upstanding men are upset because the good works ("frail deeds") they did in life were cut short, because...

(The entire section is 727 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1-3:
The first tercet introduces the poem's theme; it also introduces the two recurring refrains that end alternate stanzas. Although these two lines, the first and the third, both state Thomas's basic theme about resisting death, they contrast in several ways. Each of the predominant words in line one finds its opposite in line three. "Gentle" is paired with "rage," "good" with "dying," and "night" with "light." The tone of the two lines also is quite different. Line one is subdued; the verbs are deliberately simple, vague. Thomas uses the predicate adjective "gentle," making it describe the personality of the individual, rather than the more obvious choice "gently," an adverb which would only refer to the action of the verb. "Good night" when it refers to dying becomes a paradox for Thomas, meaning a good death. Although this line may be an exhortation to resist death, its entire tone is gentle. Compare this to the beginning of line 3 where "rage" is repeated twice. Here the poet urges a furious resistance to death.

The second line introduces Thomas's advice to those who near death. The idea of burning is frequently associated with the passion of youth; however, Thomas wants the elderly to cling as passionately to their lives as anyone would. The phrase "close of day" establishes a connection with the "good night" of the previous line, while the words "burn" and "rave" move the reader into the third line of the stanza.

Line 4:
The next four stanzas describe four different types of old men and examine their attitudes and feelings as they realize that death is approaching. The first type Thomas mentions are the wise men. They may be considered scholars or philosophers. Perhaps because of this, intellectually they accept the inevitability of death. Thomas begins the line with the word "though," however, to indicate that their knowledge has not prepared them to accept the reality of death.

Line 5:
This line explains why the wise men are unable to act in accordance with their knowledge. Scholars are known and measured by their words. These men have many words still left unwritten or unspoken, so their goals have not been accomplished. Thomas ends this line in mid-thought, leaving the rest of the idea to the next line. This parallels the...

(The entire section is 936 words.)