Rage in Dylan Thomas’s Poetry
Death is an inevitable factor of life, one which all of humanity must eventually face. What varies among people is how they handle this ‘coming of the end’. Some accept it with grace and tranquility, while others fight it until their dying breath. Dylan Thomas is one such person who prefers the latter. In Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, the speaker utilizes repetition as well as imagery to juxtapose light against night in an attempt to encourage his father to not give in to weakness towards the end of his life.
Thomas’ speaker finds it is a necessity to stress to his father the importance to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”( Thomas 93). Every other stanza ends with this line, where he is encouraging his father to fight against the “dying of the light”, fight against this dimming of life, against death and aging. This repetition places greater emphasis on the line, constantly reminding the reader, or the speaker’s father, of his main message. Against all of this dying “the father must rage, and in doing so, he separates himself from it” (Westphal 2). He can separate himself from this weakness and submission of death. This is what is son pleads. He punctuates the stanzas with this line as the ultimate reminder to fight and resist the impending weakness.
The speaker alternates the repetition of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” with “Do not go gentle into that good night”. Every other stanza is finished with this line, acting as yet another reminder to his father and the reader. Just as the other line encourages fighting against the weakness of death and aging, this line warns him not to give in easily, and not to be “gentle” going into death. The first fives stanzas all end with one of these two, and the final stanza contains both. The importance of the two lines could not be more clear. The rhyme scheme even repeats itself with ABA, the rhyme always coming back to “light” and “night” so that the importance of them is even more clear. The speaker is “advocating active resistance to death immediately before death”. This repetition almost seems as though he is pleading, even begging his father to resist, to “burn and rave” instead (Thomas 93).
The speaker also uses his repetition to tell of other men, “wise men…good men…wild men…grave men” all coming to the same seemingly pleasant fate of death, and yet they enter it with having learned “too late, they grieved [the sun]” (Thomas 93). The sun is symbolic of their life, these men believed they celebrated life, but upon dying they realized they were too late, death is upon them and there is nothing they can do. Instead of this pleasant acceptance of the end of a life they believed fulfilled, there is a feeling of doom that it has ended. As Daiches suggests of Thomas’ poetry, there is this “note of doom in the midst of present pleasure, for concealed in each moment lie change and death” (Daiches 3). These men are all experiencing this concealed change, they knew death was coming, but it has changed for them, turned on them. They serve as examples for what the speaker wishes is father avoid.
Ending the two repeated lines of the poem are the words “night” and “light” which in and of themselves require the reader’s special attention. In this poem, “night” becomes synonymous with dying in the way that “light” becomes synonymous with living. The speaker refers to death as “that good night” as well as a “dying of the light” (Thomas 93). Thomas uses these two concepts to create his imagery that focuses on juxtaposing the two notions. The speaker mentions that “old age should burn and rave”, with the words “burn and rave” depicting light and brightness. He mentions these men who “sang the sun in flight”, the sun being the ultimate source of light and life, as well as eyes that “blaze like meteors” (Thomas 93). Meteors create bright flashes of light in the sky. These images are all of brilliant and bright lights, which make the “light” in “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” even brighter, placing greater emphasis on the line by making it stand out even more (Thomas 93). Such stress on “light” reflects an importance upon the life it represents, the death it serves to fight against. Should his father give in to such darkness he gives in to this “metaphorical plateau of aloneness and loneliness before death”, one that the speaker wishes his father evade (Westphal 2).
In contrast with the concept of light in the poem is the concept of night. The speaker urges his father to “not go gentle into that good night” (Thomas 93). He then follows this with imagery depicting darkness and night. He mentions “grave men, near death”, “blinding sight”, and how “dark is right”, all adding to the dark aspect of the poem (Thomas 93). Such dark imagery has the same affect upon the concept of night as the bright imagery had upon the concept of light. It serves to further darken the idea of death and aging. In juxtaposing such darkness and night with such brightness and light, the contrast between the two is more apparent. The speaker needs his father to see the difference between them so that he will choose the path of strength instead of weakness. It is at his fathers last moments that the speaker needs him to realize the necessity to resist death, this last moment that is a “phenomenologically distinct period before death when it is seen at last to be inevitable” (Westphal 3).
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” serves as a son’s impassioned final request to his father. In the desperate final moments of such an important figure in his life, it is one last thing he needs from his father. He encourages and even begs his father to “not go gentle into that good night” and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Thomas 93). If there is one last thing the father can do for his son it is to resist and fight against the impending death as strongly as he can, to not be weak at his end. This poem serves not only as a son’s request to his father, but also as the speakers warning to the engaged reader, to resist the inevitable doom we all must face.
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