Reading module nº 8


England and other dialects’


Dylan Thomas’1951  

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’


      18 PoemsDylan Thomas

             Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good NightDeaths And Entrances







Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX

Curso 2005-2006

Profesor: Vicente Forés

Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

by: Dylan Thomas


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

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

7 Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
8Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
9Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

10Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
11And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
12Do not go gentle into that good night.

13Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
14Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
15Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

16And you, my father, there on the sad height,
17Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
18Do not go gentle into that good night.
19Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In this reading module we are going to analyse Dylan Thomas’ poem titled ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. It is a poem written a short time before his father died, so it is supposed to have a very strong sentimental charge both for him and for the reader, for the poem is directly dedicated to him, as we can appreciate in line 16.

Dylan Thomas was born on the 27th of October 1914 in Swansea, Wales. On September 1925, Thomas became a pupil at Swansea Grammar School, where his father teached English(3). In my opinion, this could be one of the reasons for the poet to write such a sentimental poem to his father. Maybe, the author was in debt with his father for he could have introduced his son into the literary word, apart from the logical love and admiration of a son towards a father, of course. The title, then, has got a very clear and simple interpretation. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ is an order the son is giving to the father not to die, where ‘Do not go gentle’ would be a way to encourage the dying man to fight against it and the ‘good night’ would stand as a metaphor for Death itself. The mention of an order so difficult to be done shows the despair of Thomas in front of the incapability of stopping death from taking his father away.

The poem is composed by 19 verses of 10 syllables each divided into 6 stanzas of 3 verses each, except for the last stanza which contains four. The reason for this irregular stanza is that it contains the most sentimental charge of the poem, the appeal to Thomas’ father. The rhyme pattern followed is ABA for the 5 first stanzas and ABAA for the last one and it is based basically on the repetition of full verses (‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, lines 1, 6, 12, 18 and ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’, lines 3, 9, 15, 19).

It is also remarkable that perhaps the most striking thing about Do Not Go Gentle is the contrast between its form, which is strict, regular and controlled, and its message, which incites the man to "rage against the dying of the light". The form itself is a villanelle which includes a series of repetitions, and maintains just two rhymes throughout. It enables Thomas to build his poem in gradual stages while keeping the focus on his most important message. (2)

All this elements when combined give the poem a very strong feature of musicality, as we can also appreciate in the reading that Thomas itself did of the poem (1). Obviously, the musicality of the poem makes it both easy to remember and nice to be heard. Musicality is a very important feature of Dylan’s poetry, as long as we take a look at his background. As a good Welsh, the poet enjoyed both drinking and singing and these two aspects are clearly reflected in the poem.

We can also say that by making the topic of death something absolutely personal, Thomas is also making it universal. Therefore, the fight he wants his father to make against ceasing to be will also become an allusion to the eternal struggle of the man everywhere between life and death.

It is also interesting to point out that the power of Do Not Go Gentle lies in its straightforward approach to the theme, which is aided by the artificial restraints that are placed on it by the rhyme scheme. Once again, Thomas displays his strength as a scholarly poet who was self consciously aware of the traditions with which he was aligning himself. (2)

The grammatical person used in the poem is not easy to define. The poet uses mainly the second one in most of the verses of the poem, for instance when he is giving orders (lines 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 19) or when addressing his father (lines 16, 17). But he also uses the third person in the rest of the verses (lines 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14) because Thomas is describing other people’s actions and he is also constructing images which are impersonal. We can appreciate the change of person in the possessive ‘Their’ (lines 5, 8) or the personal pronoun ‘They’ (line 11).

I would really like to point out the strong contradiction that the poet builds in this poem through images. There are two main ones repeated all through the poem. The first one is that which gives the title to the poem, appearing in lines 1, 6, 12 and 18 and that I have explained when referring to the title. The second one is the one appearing in lines 3, 9, 15 and 19 (‘Rage, rage against the dying of the line). In this verse, we can easily see the metaphor built to express death, which is the extinguishing of the brightness, where the light represents life and darkness is death. And it is around these two contradictory semantic fields that the poem is built, from light and darkness. In the light side and representing life we can find the terms ‘burn’, ‘day’ (line 2), ‘light’ (line 3, 9, 15, 19), ‘lightning’ (line 5), ‘bright’ (line 7), ‘sun’(line 10), ‘blinding’(line 13), ‘blaze’ and meteors’(line 14. On the dark side and representing death we can find the terms ‘night’(lines 1, 6, 12 and 18), ‘dark’(line 4), and ‘blind’(line 14). Finally, I would like to point out a repetition in lines 4, 7, 10 and 13 which are the first lines of the stanzas number 2, 3, 4, and 5 and that stands for ‘wise men’, ‘good men’, wild men’, and ‘grave men’. These four groups of people describe the persons the author is referring to those stanzas. Thomas is also alluding to the way they face death and which are their last thoughts or, at least which one should be.

But in a more personal interpretation, I would like to make reference to a more Marxist way of seeing the poem. As we know, Dylan Thomas was known for his left winged political tendencies, a man fully conscious of social conditions, a thinker with a grounding in Marxism, and a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist(4). From this point of view, the light and the darkness which are in conflict in this poem, could also represent the revolutionary socialism that Thomas claimed for against the capitalism or the fascism contemporary to the writer. Therefore, the ‘rage’ could represent the fight for the human rights and for another political system if we just take a look at one of his quotations: "I take my stand with any revolutionary body that asserts it to be the right of all men to share, equally and impartially, every production of man… from the sources of production at man’s disposal". Dylan Thomas, New Verse (1934).

Personally, I have really enjoyed both the reading and the analysing of this poem, for it shows a very simple and clear vocabulary and structure and a straightforward meaning. I also think that the poet perfectly transmits sensations and feelings to the readers about the topic he is dealing with by all the literary devices explained before. On top of this I would like to add that for me it has been a really nice experience to analyse a poem I could hear from its creator’s own lips.



(1) TEXT FROM  The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.


(2)WWW.BBC.CO.UK Dylan Thomas :Do not go gentle into that good night British Broadcasting Corporation © 2002-2005Broadcasting House,Portland Place,London,W1A 1AA


(3)WWW.BBC.CO.UK Dylan Thomas :Timeline

British Broadcasting Corporation © 2002-2005Broadcasting House,Portland Place,London,W1A 1AA


(4)SOCIALISM TODAY Red Dylan: The social vision of Dylan Thomas

Article by Victor Paananen which appears in Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of Critical Essays, Volume 8/2003 [ISBN 0-70831-829-0], edited by Tony Brown, published by New Welsh Review Ltd (tel: 01970 626230) and distributed by University of Wales Press


All the research was done on the 13th of April 2006