Do not go gentle into that good night
"Do not go gentle into that good night", a villanelle, is considered to be among the finest works by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914–1953). Originally published in the journal Botteghe Oscure in 1951, it also appeared as part of the collection "In Country Sleep." Written for his dying father, it is one of Thomas's most popular and accessible poems.
The poem has no title other than its first line, "Do not go gentle into that good night", a line which appears as a refrain throughout the poem. The poem's other equally famous refrain is "Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
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Thomas' father, formerly in the Army, grew weak and frail with old age. The poet relates this experience in this poem. The author tries to convince his father to fight against imminent death. He speaks to his father by using wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men as examples to illustrate the message: that no matter how they have lived their lives or what they feel at the end, they should fight death. It is considered one of Thomas' most popular, most easily accessible poems, and implies that one should not die without fighting for one's life, or afterlife.
The author concedes that death is unavoidable, but encourages all men to fight it. This is not only for their own sake, but to give closure and hope to the kin that they will leave behind. To support this, he gives examples of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men to his father, who was dying when he wrote this poem. There is little textual evidence for this interpretation, however, except the words "curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray." Also, it has been historically stated that Thomas never showed this poem to his father; if true, it would seem that Thomas composed it more for his own benefit than his father's.
Another analysis of the poem observes the possibility that the author's listing the various reactions of men in their final hours is a self-addressed rationalization of his father's scolding catharsis before passing on. The line, "Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray," might suggest a negative interaction between the two generations, and because historical evidence suggests the poet never showed this poem to his father, it is possible that Thomas wrote the poem knowing that his father was not the designated audience. Thomas cites all human beings' rage against death, regardless of disposition, and perhaps attempts to write off this negative interaction as a natural byproduct of death's impending arrival.
Another interpretation is that the poem reflects a sad recognition of the author's father's inadequacies, and a final plea that he (his father) should not die without proving the poet's perceptions (of weakness/inadequacy) wrong. If Thomas did not show this poem to his father, it supports the theory that Thomas is addressing thoughts profoundly that are particularly difficult to express to the person in question. The many men (wise, good, wild, grave) listed are not examples that the poet is imploring his father to follow in order to cheat death - the extended metaphor of sunrise/sunset proves death is inevitable and attempts to cheat it are futile. Instead, they are evidence of what his father is not. Implicitly, the poet's father "is" going gently in to that good night. It follows that his father is not one of the wise, good or wild men that rage. Repetition of the poet's imploring to, "rage against the dying of the light," implies desperation, not to avoid the inevitability of death but to show in his dying hours evidence that he belongs to the 'type of man' that would fight. Evidence that would allow the poet to think well of his father's memory, allow him to associate his father with the wise, good, wild or even grave. The last stanza supports this further - "sad heights" is not then a composite of the (sad) emotion of the poet with the "height" (end) of his father's life, but a more literal description. The height of his fathers life is indeed sad because it amounted to less than the poet hoped. "Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray" - curse or bless are subordinated to the fierceness of the tears, the poet does not care which - he asks only that the tears are fierce. ie that in his dying hours he demonstrates rage and proves more strength of character than he was able to demonstrate in life.
Another reading of this poem shows the author's own fear of death. He seems to fear having little separation between life and death such as in John Donne's poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", where:
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
- And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
- "Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."
It shows the author's fear that there is very little that separates life from death. As such he feels the need for a strong indication of the difference between the two. It does not even matter whether he is being blessed or cursed, he wants to see a reaction (l. 17). The poem could be written as well in the hope that the speaker would be able to see his dying father. He gives the impression that since wise men, good men, wild men and grave men all regret leaving this world his father as well should not be wanting to leave this world without a fight. It seems to be a wild hope, that he will be able to see his father before he passes; that each will be able to say those last words to each other—whether curses or blessings.
The poem is structured as a villanelle, which seems to imply a light gay tone. This already alludes to a profound paradox: unavoidable death in the face of the perpetual rhythm of rebirth. The haunting refrains seal the poem between courage and frustration, strength and grieving. The different epithets "wise", "good", "wild", and "grave" allude to the attitudes of men in front of their last challenge. By the time the poem was written, Dylan was facing not only the severance of the last solid bond in his life – the relationship with his father – but also the imminence of his own demise. As his wife Caitlin notes in her memoirs, a sinister foreboding accompanied Dylan since his teenage years, when, after an illness, a doctor gave him four years to live. Also D.J. (his father) used to say that his son would not have reached the age of 40. The same ominous feeling informs "Poem on his Birthday", composed shortly after "Do not go gentle into that good night".
In popular culture 
- Ferris, Paul (1989). Dylan Thomas, A Biography. New York: Paragon House. p. 283. ISBN 1-55778-215-6.
- "Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". BBC WalesArts. 6 November 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2010.
- John Donne: A Valediction Forbidding Mourning
- The Life and Work of Dylan Thomas
- National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales
- A short analysis by the BBC
- Read the poem and listen to it read by Dylan Thomas at poets.org