Friday, October 05, 2007

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas

You've probably read this classic Dylan Thomas poem before. It's written in a French form called the Villanelle, and a lot of its structure--the meter (iambic pentameter), the rhyme scheme, the stanza lengths, the repetition of the first and third line--is predetermined. The Villanelle is a good choice when a poet wants to keep pushing a certain sentiment, or, say, convey an obsession. In this case, Thomas uses the form to energize a son's pleas to his father, quickly infusing a high level of emotion. The speaker wants his father to fight for life while he still lives, and the poem seems to fight as well.

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 was born in Wales in 1914. Fascinated by language, he excelled in English and reading, but neglected other subjects and dropped out of school at sixteen. His reading tours of the United States, which did much to popularize the poetry reading as new medium for the art, are famous and notorious, for Thomas was the archetypal Romantic poet of the popular American imagination: he was flamboyantly theatrical, a heavy drinker, engaged in roaring disputes in public, and read his work aloud with tremendous depth of feeling. He became a legendary figure, both for his work and the boisterousness of his life.


Anonymous DonQ said...

Thomas's poem has become a common frame of reference, even for those who don't share its sentiments:

“Rage, rage, against the dying of the light?” [Harold Pinter] said. “There isn’t much point.”
NYT 7 Oct. 2007

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only one more thing I wish for on this site is a the poem to be read with understanding on either an audio or better yet a video. The video need not be of the person reading it if the person is shy. It could be a tree waving it's leaves in a breeze or the sky or what ever.
Please consider my request. I love poetry but can't read it. I always read:
ta da, ta da, ta da;
ta da, ta da, ta da.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Ken Burns said...

Here's a link to Dylan Thomas reading the poem. I like your idea--and I'll try to find more audio recordings week to week. I'm happy to read the poems myself if I have to--I'll see if I can figure that out.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Zahhar said...

Some years back I decided to make a study of the villanelle and terzanelle, and I started with this poem.

My goal was to explore the forms, at first writing a few poems exactly as the forms dictate, and then veering from structure with alternative prosodies. My hope was that this exercise, lasting a few years, would help train me to understand and use advanced prosody, sensitize me to its functions, and perhaps even bring me to a place where I might begin to evolve prosody in directions long abandoned by Modernism.

It has been a fruitful endeavor.

This poem exploits the form very well. Though it seems to be written almost as an exercise, it's also personal and carries the fire of passion. Usually, when a poet attempts to write to a given form, it becomes an exercise of existing prosodies and syntax—to the detriment of any feeling or voice.

Here we have a plea burning on the tongue of the author to his father: Don't go yet! I'm not ready to lose you! And he backs it up with his some of his personal philosophies on life, "Old age should burn and rave at close of day;"

Thomas also brings a new angle to each refrain—yes it's called a refrain when you repeat a line or a stanza of poetry—which is difficult at best with the villanelle or terzanelle structures.

It's a good and powerful piece of poetry. There's a reason it's still recirculating round the world of English poetry.

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