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Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

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Do not go gentle into that good night, a villanelle composed in 1951, is considered to be among the finest works by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (19141953). Originally published in the journal Botteghe Oscure in 1951, it also appeared as part of the collection "In Country Sleep." It is one of his most-quoted works. It was written for his dying father.

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 famous refrain is "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Analysis

Thomas watched his father, formerly in the Army, grow weak and frail with old age. Thus, the speaker in his poem tries to convince his father not to give up to death without a fight. The speaker addresses his father by using wise men, good men, wild men, and grave, or serious, somber men as examples to illustrate the same message: that no matter how they have lived their lives or what they feel at the end they should go out fighting. However, we are subtly reminded throughout that their rage will be ineffectual in the face of death. It is one of his most popular, most easily accessible poems, and implies that one shouldn't die without giving death a battle or fighting for one's life. [1]

Another explication is that the speaker admits that death is unavoidable, but encourages all men to fight death, not for their own sake, but to give closure and hope to the kin that they are leaving behind. To support this, he gives examples of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men to his father, who was dying at the time this poem was written. 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 so, it would seem that Thomas composed it more for his own benefit than his father's.

A third reading of the poem observes the possibility that the speaker's listing of 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 then suggest a negative interaction between the two generations, and because historical evidence leads readers to believe that the poet never in fact showed this poem to his father, it would not be ridiculous to think that Thomas wrote the poem knowing that his father was not the designated audience at all. He cites all of human beings' rage, regardless of disposition, against death, and perhaps attempts to write off this negative interaction as a natural byproduct of death's impending arrival.

Another reading of this poem shows that 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."[1]    

It shows the authors 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 wanted to leave this world. 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.


Poetic Analysis

-Speaker

In popular culture

Parts of the recording of Dylan Thomas reading this poem were put between stanzas in the song "Two-Twenty-Nine" by Brave Saint Saturn.

In the Doctor Who episode The Shakespeare Code the poem is referenced when The Doctor quotes the line, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Shakespeare said he might use it and the Doctor responds by saying " You can't. It's somebody else's".

This poem was also read (in part) in the movie The Rundown by Declan (Played by Ewen Bremner) and also in Dangerous Minds.

In the Family Guy episode "Fore Father," Stewie becomes ill and delirious after receiving booster shots and, just before passing out, says "Getting dizzy! Fight it, Stewie. 'Do not go gentle into that good night,' to quote Bob Dylan. No, no, Dylan Thomas."

In the drama series Rain Shadow Jill Blake uses the poem to persuade Kate McDonald to use stolen vaccine instead of alerting the authorities about the spread of yonies among sheep in the district. The poem is most effective as it is quoted on the tombstone of Kate's late husband.

Another Welshman, John Cale, set the poem to music in 1989 and performed it at a concert held to celebrate the opening of the National Assembly for Wales.

Australian Jeannie Lewis dramatically sang and recorded the poem in her 1973 album Free Fall Through Featherless Flight [2]

Elliot del Borgo wrote a piece in 1979 by the same name for full orchestra, using hemiola and hymns in polyrhythms to portray the struggle of the poem in musical form.

Igor Stravinsky also wrote a musical work in 1954 that included this poem to commemorate the deceased poet.

The avant-rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum uses lines from the poem in their song "Sleep is Wrong".

Rodney Dangerfield spouts this poem in his hit movie Back to School. When asked what the poem means to him, he responds: “It means... I don't take shit from no one”.

A paraphrase of the first line of the poem and its refrain was made memorable to an unwitting popular audience in the 1996 blockbuster action movie Independence Day during a critical speech by the President Whitmore character (played by Bill Pullman), demonstrating the poem's highly effective rhetorical value. The final line was also borrowed for the title of the 2001 film, Against the Dying of the Light, which commemorated the work of the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. The archive houses several rare recordings of Dylan Thomas himself, including his own reading of this very poem. This same line, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" was also used by the English black metal band Anaal Nathrakh as the title for the last track on their 2004 album Domine Non Es Dignus, which uses the poem as lyrics.

"Into That Good Night" was an episode title of the 1990's sitcom, Roseanne.

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