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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night -- Dylan Thomas

In case you missed it, there was a theme this week, which was somewhat hard
to make explicit, but which should be clear in retrospect.
(Poem #38) Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.
-- Dylan Thomas
While Thomas has written a number of extraordinarily beautiful and lyrical
poems, this is probably his best known, and certainly my favourite. It is
hard to believe that anyone could approach so timeworn a theme with such
breathtaking intensity and freshenss - in particular, the verse beginning
'wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight' is IMHO Thomas at the top
of his not inconsiderable form.

Another thing to note is that the villanelle (of which more later) is an
extraordinarily difficult and constraining form; the effortless ease with
which Thomas makes it appear to be the natural form for this poem is


Martin was kind enough to tell me in advance that he was running this,
my other favourite poem (the first, in case you don't remember, was
Coleridge's Kubla Khan - Minstrels Poem #30). And though I'll never
forgive him for pre-empting me :-) I can at least derive some small
consolation from being able to add my own comments.

Having said that, though, I must confess that I can think of no comments
that could possibly do justice to this magnificent poem. If ever a
writer approached perfection in lyrical and emotional intensity, this is
it. The rhetoric is never forced, always clear and ringing, and always
profoundly moving; the images are shimmeringly beautiful, yet terribly
true; the language is simple but potent; the metre and complicated rhyme
scheme simply add to the magic. All in all, sheer genius.



Background Info:

  written May 1951.
  published in 'In Country Sleep', 1952.

  "Addressed to the poet's father as he approached blindness and death.
  The relevant aspect of the relationship was Thomas's profound respect
  for his father's uncompromising independence of mind, now tamed by
  illness. In the face of strong emotion, the poet sets himself the task
  of mastering it in the difficult form of the villanelle. Five tercets
  are followed by a quatrain, with the first and last line of the stanza
  repeated alternately as the last line of the subsequent stanzas and
  gathered into a couplet at the end of the quatrain. And all this on only
  two rhymes. Thomas further compounds his difficulty by having each line
  contain 10 syllables".

  from Dylan Thomas: Selected Poems
  edited by Walford Davies,
  JM Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1974
  pp 131-32

On Villanelles:


  rustic song in Italy, where the term originated (Italian villanella from
  villano: "peasant"); the term was used in France to designate a short poem
  of popular character favoured by poets in the late 16th century. Du
  Bellay's "Vanneur de Blé" and Philippe Desportes' "Rozette" are examples
  of this early type, unrestricted in form. Jean Passerat (died 1602) left
  several villanelles, one so popular that it set the pattern for later
  poets and, accidentally, imposed a rigorous and somewhat monotonous form:
  seven-syllable lines using two rhymes, distributed in (normally) five
  tercets and a final quatrain with line repetitions.

  The villanelle was revived in the 19th century by Philoxène Boyer and J.
  Boulmier. Leconte de Lisle and, later, Maurice Rollinat also wrote
  villanelles. In England, the villanelle was cultivated by W.E. Henley,
  Austin Dobson, Andrew Lang, and Edmund Gosse. Villanelles in English
  include Henley's "A Dainty Thing's the Villanelle," which itself describes
  the form, and Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."

          -- E.B.

And on a more amusing note:

  The Art of the Villanelle

    Attend this line, which you'll have heard
    repeated in this villanelle
    until you're sick of every word --

    a repetition as absurd
    as any babbled cries in hell.
    Attend this line, which you'll have heard

    re-echoed like a mocking bird,
    returning like a carousel,
    until you're sick of every word.

    (And then the rhymes! Would not a third
    with "ell" and "erd" have worked as well?)
    Attend this line, which you'll have heard

    until your vision's gotten blurred,
    until your ears ring like a bell,
    until you're sick of every word

    each time the line is disinterred!
    You'll whisper in a padded cell,
    "Attend this line, which you'll have heard..."
    until you're sick of every word.

       -- Peter Schaeffer,
       <[broken link]>


60 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

rjusufi said...

i loved this poem. the words the tale is all fantastic.

Vincent Lee said...

My favourite poem
can you guys interpret it line by line?
thanks in advance

Dave Hash said...

I'm going to try and analyse this poem line for line:

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.
My understanding of this is that Thomas may have actually accepted the
Christian concept of death as that 'good night', yet refers to it not no so
much in vai sarcasm as a dismissal - yes, death may be the 'good night' but
it does not mean acquiesence to its inevitability. He also links death to
the 'close of day', to 'the dying of the light' - so death is both a night
and a darkness as oppossed to the day and light of living - finally the use
of 'burn and rave' suggests a fever or delirium - immediately showing you
his father either in the grips of illness, but perhaps not 'raving' but
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.
Wise men know at the end of their alloted time death is inevitable, yet for
all their wisdom (and wise words) they know that they cannot avoid - they do
not acquiesce - This in my humble opinion is the most tricky line of the
poem: "Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle
into that good night." - does this suggest their words would not lighten
their path into the dark of death? Or tongues and forked - suggesting that
somehow they lie to themselves in their wisdom that "dark is right" and that
this sheds no light, so they do not go gentle? Tis a difficult one.
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.
Good men weeping over what furture deeds could have achieved, however frail
they may have been, again in a juxtapositioning of the dancing, light of a
green bay (the living) - they also struggle against dying
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.
Wild men, full of life and song, catching the sun, the temporal, the
changing of the day (as if life is one long day from dawn to the dying
dusk), and yet realise the temporal nature of their actions too late, grieve
perhaps that this was their only focus as the dusk approached, they too
fight death
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.
Grave (serious) men, who only in death with now age/illness blinded eyes
realise that those eyes could have blazed with life and joy when they had
the time, if they had but enjoyed the joys of living more, now they too will
fight the dying as they realise too late, too late.
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.
And finally he asks his father - upon a 'sad height' evoking a painful
acknowledgement of his loneliness (where he goes Thomas cannot follow) and
also evoking an image almost of sacrifice - 'curse (and) bless me now' -
curse me for my having life still to live and bless me for that as well -
and finally he begs him to also fight the inevitable.

In summary it seems to me that too often much is made of Thomas anger/rage
at death - I believe he actually acknowledges its inevitability and purpose
in this poem - and yet he lists why all men, whether wise, good, carefree or
serious should struggle against death for the sake of it - this rings true
then with slightly mythic background behind this poem which has Thomas
composing it as he sees his father on his deathbed apparently giving up this
same final struggle.

Peter Collins said...

Its more. Dylan was exceptional for one so young. His wisdom came so freakishly early that it is small wonder he burned out so soon. He could not articulate his certain vision of an unending God being pressed by the strictures of his time. Admonishing his father to rage against the dying of the light was the closest he came to telling not just his father but all he sought to reach that there is no dying of the light. Death is no more than changing a light bulb in the bigger picture. The admonishment was directed at his father's narrowness of accepting death as finality. The whole poem speaks to this issue and Dylan's anger of his dad's seeming inability to welcome death as a new beginning. The dying of the light is not about the dying of a human form but the dying of a belief in God and the next certain life. It is against that that his father should rage and his frustration of his dad's inability to do so is the evocative kernel of the poem. Dylan is positively angry and is probably taking his frustration out in the wrong quarter. But when we read and learn from the poem that issue isn't important. Never a man to suffer fools gladly he makes no exception with his father. When he speaks of "wise men at their end know dark is right...." he is disapproving. His poem is so obviously dialectical. "Rage against your silly narrowness" is the message. The "light" doesn't die with you! Try and take that onboard dad! While the words are a raging "against" they are in reality a plea to rage "in favour" of acceptance of a human carcass which, next time round, will be wiser. To go "gentle" to death seems to me that Dylan is saying to his father that he is giving up God's greater plan - something that Dylan never did. I don't know who I'm writing to but I hope it reaches you.

Peter Collins (Botswana)

Laura Murdoch said...

Dave Hash's interpretation of Dylan's dialogue with his father is

However, his cool, Chapel certain, headmaster father was much more
accepting of both his blindness and his impending death, more certain
clothed in his Methodist faith than his raw and impassioned son.
Dylan's genius was devoured by his alcoholism. His concerns were far
more secular and his explorations far more concerned with the nature of
man, and woman. I spent my childhood listening to his regular radio
broadcasts in the UK, the ferocity of his conviction and emotion burst
every syllable apart. This was not a man transported by his qualities
of spirituality but by his absolute human qualities, for he was Green
and Golden famous amongst the barns as he described himself in Fernhill.

Laura Murdoch

Regards as ever,
Laura Murdoch
906 Dominion Drive

Chellappa Mallika (Mallika) said...

I hardly think this poem shows any belief in the hereafter.
The whole purpose of not going gentle is that you
don't know where you're going, and this is your last chance
to make an impression on ..??

This is a beautiful poem, which says "live life to the hilt
and don't go quietly when death comes"


Staci said...

can you guys interpret it line by line?
thanks in advance

ATarsh2 said...

Hi there,

I always liked the dylan thomas poem "do not go gentle into that good night"
and last night, with time on my hands, i looked online for interpretations of
this poem and came across your very insightful interpretation of it on

I am a religious Jew and now know why this poem touched me to the core. it's
concepts are very Jewish regarding one's life, legacy and the continuation of
one's journey into "the next world". Thank you for so clearly putting into
words what it was that makes that poem ring true to me -- it's like looking
through an everlasting "keyhole" that goes on and on.

best wishes for a good year!!!


Celine said...

Always loved this poem. Really glad you guys included it in the archives

love Celine

John Frondorf said...

My own father just died, two days ago, after a month of illness.
Complication piled on top of complication; already frail and 85, he had no
chance. But he did not go gentle: at first he argued, wheedled, yelled and
cursed, and as he came undone, he raged, and in the end, he was quite
incoherent. Dylan Thomas never meant much to me until now. I do not see a
large religious component regarding an afterlife in his poem. I take it,
rather, that he was saying, no matter who you are, this is all you have -
certainly all that we can be sure we have - and that you should not let it
go easily. Unexpectedly, this poem helps me accept the way he met death.

John Frondorf

David Jenkins (private) said...

I love this poem. It has so many complicated messages and can be interpreted
in so many ways. This is what makes it so enjoyable.

If you read it all together I think it is about making a difference to the
world you have lived in

"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"

I interpret this to mean that if you have not made a difference (their words
had forked no lightning) then it is too late to regret this at the end of
your life.

I would love to know how Dylan Thomas wrote it. Did he sit for ages
deliberating on each word or did it just flow like speech. I think the

If you listen to Dylan reading this himself (
[broken link] ) it sounds sad rather than
the feeling of anger that I get reading the written poem.

Amend Edward said...

The Pieta of Poems. Only Shelley's Adonais is more beautiful. I can think
of no poem that deals with the passing of a loved one with such depth of
feeling and such an integral oppositional defiance towards "the dying of the
light." In a word: "Priceless" but who would expect any less from legend?

Edward Amend
Word Processing Department
Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner LLP
900 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Paul & Win Grace said...

Such a wonderful thought. Too bad Thomas left out half the world's population. And would that this were just a matter of semantics and not reality. But the truth is that that half is powerless and the selfishness and shortsightedness of the male half of the population has truly brought the world to its knees today. And so I will continue to Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light!
Win Grace
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HaparrKye said...

As someone who cares for those at the time of death this poem screams out
the way I would wish NOT to die. There is no peace, no acceptance and no grace.


I'm out of my mind,
but feel free to leave a message.

Wendy And Rich said...

Hello David (at least I think I'm writing to a David),

You posted a great explication of Thomas' poem. I'm a highschool student writing an essay on it for class and I would like to cite your comment and include several of your ideas. I know at the bottom of your post there is a note of exclusivity to the recipient of your email. If are opposed to me citing you, a simple no will do and I'll look other places. But if yes, would you please email back and tell me.

Thanks and regards for your insightful comments,
Matt Simpson

Im4rusty12158 said...

to conquer death, you only have to...........die?.

Im4rusty12158 said...

to conquer death we only have to die......I know I heard that somewhere,
turn off a light, blow out a candle,energy.......pure energy is lost somewhere,
we think so little of ourselfs!

MatthewsTom said...

I think this poem loses something outside the context of Thomas' other
works. Isn't this poem about men (and women) who are fully immersed in
this world and thus, as he says elsewhere, are "struck down by death's

Tom Matthews

Candice Marrufo said...

I completly agree.

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Anonymous said...

Dylan Thomas is a fucking noob

Anonymous said...

I would assume that most of us dread the thought of not being here to watch another glorious sunset... hear the sound of the birds in the morning...smell the "perfume" of your love as she lay next to you..taste the chocolate as it melts in our mouths...or feel the warm sand under our bare feet...

We long to have all of our senses remain keen....and all of those we love remain with us
as in the fairy tales...forever and ever.

So when comeith that final day of let it all walk that long walk into the darkness where who knows what awaits us...and possibly ...nothing at all.

The dread of nothing...of not being here any longer is so great that we must fight until we have no strength left with which to battle...and we succumb.

Dylan argues in this most magnificent piece that we should, therefore, fight with all that we have until the very end.

It is human nature i believe to keep up that battle until we sense the futility of this war. But, being human ...with a mind intact...still wants to see that next sunrise.

Stuart Pinkert

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Anonymous said...

I find it ironic that a poem so full of life would deal entirely with death

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this is a very thought provoking, heartfelt poem

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