Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Questions and Answers

Dylan Thomas

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night questions.

Is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" musical?

It has always seemed to me that the poet's intention was to have "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" read like a rondo form in classical music, in symphonies, concertos, and sonatas. This form seems appropriate since the rondo movement always comes at the end of the three or four movements of the musical piece. In a rondo the same musical phrases are repeated over and over but with slight variations and in different placements. In Thomas's poem the phrase "Do not go gentle into that good night" keeps reappearing. In the first stanza it is in the first line. Then in the second stanza it pops up in the last line. The other phrase that keeps returning is "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." It appears as the last line in the first stanza and again as the last lines in the third and fifth stanzas. Finally both these phrases end the poem when they appear together in the sixth stanza.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I believe the thought content, or "meaning," is secondary to the musical quality of the poem. Like a rondo it is a sort of simple finale to a serious composition. Presumably the other movements were represented by the poet's father's life itself. The distinguishing quality of any rondo is repetition. Notice how the last line of every stanza is either "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" or "Do not go gentle into that good night." The two lines alternate regularly until the last two stanzas, which both end with "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

The poet knows that he cannot really give his father any practical advice about dying. His father may already be dead by the time he writes his poem. He is just paying his father a tribute by creating a poem in his honor. The fact that the poet keeps repeating the same two phrases, "Do not go gentle into that good night," and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," suggests that he really doesn't have much more to say because there is no way of changing the reality that his father is either dead or dying. In addition to being a tribute to his father, the threnody is intended as a means of easing the speaker's own feelings. The repetition is futile as a means of conveying information but is perhaps helpful in mourning the dead or dying man. 

What's the difference between "Gentle" and "Gently"?

Dylan Thomas’s choosing “gentle” instead of “gently” in crafting one of the two refrains in the poem often receives the attention of those who engage in literary analysis of the work. Since diction is of primary importance in poetry, it must be assumed that Thomas chose one word over the other with careful deliberation and for a specific reason. He would not have employed “gentle” to preserve the line’s iambic pentameter; both words are compatible with the meter of the refrain. Instead, the reason he selected “gentle” rather than “gently” is found in the meanings of the words and how they function within a sentence. In the difference between “gentle” and “gently” lies the heart of the poem—its major theme and the poet’s anguish as he witnesses his father’s dying.

The obvious difference between the words, as often noted, is grammatical, the adjective vs. the adverb. In choosing “gentle,” the adjective, Thomas addresses his father’s emotional state as he dies. “Gently,” the adverb, would have related to how his father experiences the process of dying. In imploring his father not to go “gentle” into death, Thomas is urging him not to be gentle in spirit as he dies. To be made “gentle” is to be tamed by overwhelming force, broken in spirit and powerless to resist. Thus Thomas implores his father to resist being “gentled” by impending death.

As the poem progresses, Thomas’s plea becomes a desperate prayer. He begs his dying father to remain the father he has known and loved. The poem’s first refrain, “Do not go gentle into that good night” expresses Thomas’s fear of his father’s identity, his emotional vitality and will to live, being crushed by the prospect of imminent death; the more powerful second refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” reflects Thomas’s anguish as he considers losing the precious essence of his father even before his body dies.   

What is the moral of the poem?

Although death permeates every stanza of the poem like a shadow hovering over the poet and his father, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” concerns life and how it should be lived. Dylan Thomas as the poem’s voice argues that those who have reached old age should not willingly consent to dying; he does not, however, denigrate death itself. Death is a “good night,” he writes, and extending the metaphor, he observes that “wise men” understand that “dark is right.” In the context of the poem, death at the conclusion of a long life is “good” and “right” because it is natural; death is not an aberration in the natural cycle of life but is instead the culmination of it. Why then should those who are old “burn and rave at close of day”? Why do the old men in the poem, those who are “wise,” “good,” “wild,” and “grave,” resist dying—and should resist, as he contends? The answer lies in how they have lived and in the regret they experience as their lives draw to a close.

Throughout the poem, being alive is associated with passion—with feeling deep emotion. It is also associated with using one’s gifts fully in the pursuit of something fine and truly remarkable. Thomas’s “wise men” and “good men” resist dying because they have not achieved what they could have achieved during their lives. His “wild men” had lived passionately as they “caught and sang the sun,” but they had failed to savor being alive, realizing “too late” their own mortality. The “grave men” resist dying because they understand with “blinding” insight that in their seriousness, they have not experienced the joy of being alive. Through the examples of these four types of men, Thomas affirms the brief and precious nature of being alive and defines how life should be lived—with passion, with joy, and with an elevating purpose not to be betrayed through inaction. Death is a “good night,” he believes, but dying should be resisted if a life, even a long life, has not been truly lived.