Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Summary

"Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" is a poem by Dylan Thomas in which the speaker insists that people should "burn and rave" against death.

  • The speaker introduces four kinds of men: wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men. 
  • Wise men understand that death is inevitable but still struggle with it. Good lament what they could not accomplish.
  • Wild men, having lived carefree lives, learn too late that they are not immune to death. Grave men gain insight from being close to death.
  • In the final stanza, the speaker begs his dying father to "rage against the dying of the light."

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Last Updated on May 19, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 795

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“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas was first composed in 1947, first published in 1951, and first collected in his 1952 volume In Country Sleep, And Other Poems. The poem takes the form of a villanelle and addresses the topic of death, both broadly and in the particular case of “my father.” Indeed, Thomas’s father eventually passed away in 1952. With its rich metaphors and passionate, incantatory lines, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” has become one of Thomas’s best known poems.

Summary

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 does mean that one must go quietly. Thomas emphasizes this point by repeating these two commands throughout the poem.

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 cannot 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.

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 they didn't do enough good work, and because what they did manage to accomplish amounted to little. At the end of stanza three, the speaker repeats the line "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," indicating that the good men rage against death, just as the wise men do.

In stanza four, the speaker introduces a third group of men: the wild men. The wild men lived life to the fullest ("caught and sang the sun in flight"), loving every minute of their time on earth, but they were unaware that death is inevitable. As the speaker says, they are the kind of men who "learn, too late," that their revelry will end. So when death finally came "they grieved it on its way" and struggled to come to terms with it. Still, as a group, these wild men "Do not go gentle into that good night," just like the wise men and the good men before them.

In stanza five, the speaker introduces the last group of men: the grave men. In this context, the word "grave" refers both to the men's proximity to their graves ("near death") and to their seriousness. These grave men have the dubious gift of "blinding sight," which allows them to see when others have been blinded. These "blind eyes" used to "blaze like meteors" with energy and happiness, but now they have faded to the point of showing no fire or life at all. This is a horrifying sight for the grave men, and it inspires them to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

This final stanza marks the first direct mention of the speaker's father, an old man standing on a "sad height." It is clear that the speaker's father is near death and that the speaker is both commanding and begging him not to go. It is possible that this entire poem has been directed to the father, but that is never made fully clear. In the second line of the stanza, the speaker begs the father to "curse, bless" him with tears, drawing on religious imagery of prayers and blessings. Finally, in the last two lines, the speaker again repeats the refrains "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

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