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Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

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Is the poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" inspiring? Why?

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It would be quite a stretch to say that Dylan Thomas' intent in writing this poem was to inspire. It is essentially a statement of anger, defiance against the inevitability of his father's fast approaching blindness and death.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The speaker rejects the notion that calm acceptance is the way to approach one's death, even if one is dying a natural death of old age. One should "burn and rave," fighting all the way.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

The speaker admits that it is wisdom to accept death as a part of life. But even wise men, when the end has come, must face death with at least regret for lost opportunities for making a change in the world.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In the same way, those who have lived a life of righteousness look back in regret. Though they might have performed good deeds for the benefit of mankind, they view them now as without benefit to themselves, as they did not prevent their death.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Even though one has lived his life, not in wisdom or righteousness, but in pure abandon to the sensual, even this has led them to this point. Is living for oneself the way to go? they ask. It gave momentary pleasures. Was it enough?

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In a more direct reference to his father, Thomas speaks of "grave men, near death." His father knows his life is passing, not just with a weakening of the body, but with the added insult of going blind. This double blow should, of all else, elicit defiance of approach of the inevitable.

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.

The speaker directly addresses his father, begging him not to be passive in death. A bit of the sense of the meaningless of life comes through in the phrase "Curse, bless." It doesn't make any difference, any more than living a life of virtue does in holding off death. The speaker is rejecting, in his grief, the biblical worldview of death as a door to a better life, free from pain, sorrow, and blindness.

To find some sort of "inspiration" in this poem, one would have to view it as a reminder of the transcience of life. It could be seen as a "carpe diem" poem, a plea to make the most of today. Death is inevitable, but that doesn't mean one should face it gladly. The the speaker is peaking from the stance of youth, believing that defiance will hold death at bay, it will in fact do nothing. Death will come, with all the possible disabilities along the way. Hold fast to this moment while it is good. Such a one may not come again.

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To describe the poem as "inspiring" isn't an obvious choice of words to describe it, because it is a poem about a man whose father is dying.  However, it is very inspiring, because as his father faces death, Thomas emphatically encourages him to go out with pride, strength, fighting the entire way.  If one is to die, one should die as Thomas describes it, with "rage, rage against the dying of the light." It is a call to strength and dignity in the face of death.  So, in that sense, it is inspiring.

Thomas states of dying that "Old age should burn and rave at close of day." Instead of just caving in, submitting your life over into death's hands, and giving up, you should fight death with every last breath. He then goes on to list every type of man, who even though they might not have lived the most glorious lives, still don't want to die.  All men, "wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men," fight off death, all rage against it.  Then he applies it directly to his father.  He pleads with his father to have the same strength.  He doesn't want his father to lie there and cave in, but, to his last dying words, "curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears."  He doesn't want to see his father as weak, but as strong until the end. Such encouragement and fighting words would be inspiring to hear as one faces something so frightening as death.

The entire poem is like a rallying cry in the face of the inevitable and often frightening death.  It is an inspiring cheer and call to fight and to have courage.  In that sense, it is an inspiring poem.

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