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“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.

This poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” was originally written in 1947 by Dylan Thomas. While the scholarly consensus is that it is a plea for his father to resist the inevitability of death, it’s noteworthy that Thomas’s father didn’t die until 1952. This raises the question: who is the plea really for?

Dylan Thomas’s father was a staunch atheist, while his mother was a non-conforming churchgoer. Thomas deeply loved, respected, and admired his father, perhaps to a fault. His father was such an important figure in his life that Thomas spiraled downward and died less than a year after his father’s death. Thomas was only 39 years old.

Let’s look at the title of the text, a refrain that is repeated consistently throughout the poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Thomas’s choice of the word “gentle” instead of “gently” is intentional and significant. While “gently” would have been more appropriate textually, Thomas’s use of “gentle” serves a distinct purpose. “Gentle” is an adjective that evokes a specific, comprehensive quality of being, rather than merely describing a manner of action. For example, saying “He spoke gently” describes how someone speaks, whereas “He is a gentle person” describes the person’s overall nature.

The word “gently” would convey a manner in which something is done. Had Thomas written “Do not go gently into that good night,” he would be advocating for a manner of approaching death that is resistant. Instead, by writing “gentle,” Thomas emphasizes the quality of the resistance. This choice underscores the intensity of the fight against death, stressing to both the reader and the subject of the poem (his father) that there should be a fierce, unwavering struggle, as if Thomas’s own life depended on it.

Thomas tragically had a co-dependent personality and struggled to face life on his own. This is evident in his drinking and his desperate plea for his cancer-stricken father not to die, knowing he could not face life alone.

In the poem, Thomas writes:

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.

Thomas’s poem can be read not as a plea to persevere, but as a bitter backlash against the cruelty of life. It was written during a period when Thomas watched his alcoholic father succumb to apathy, illness, blindness, and ultimately death. His father, a schoolteacher, was profoundly disappointed with his station in life. Dylan Thomas inherited his father’s alcoholism and bitterness, with both men using rage to shape their worldview and conception of what it meant to be a poet. The son was saddened to see his father’s rage subsiding. The poem reflects a son unprepared to accept his father’s death, hoping the dying man will also rage against that acceptance.