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Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, is a poignant commentary on death, inspired in part by the impending death of his own father, who faced deteriorating health and frailty during the last few years of his life. After analyzing this poem it gave it more depth and me a better understanding of the poem. I will be covering the structure/form, theme, and symbolism.
The first element I will use to analyze this poem is structure/form. This poem is a nineteen line poem with five tercets and a quatrain. This poem is written using the fixed poetry format of villanelle, in which there are only two rhyme sounds. The refrains are; “do not go gentle into that night” and “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (Clugston, 2010, Ch. 12) Line one refrains on six, twelve, eighteen, while line three refrains on nine, fifteen, and nineteen. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABA and is written in iambic pentameter. Thomas’s use of simple repetitive language keeps the iambic pentameter, which is ten syllables per line.
The theme of “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” is darkness, death, and aging. In every stanza the reader receives an image of death or darkness. An example of the theme is “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” (Clugston, 2010, Ch. 12) which represents the sun setting; in other words it is the dying of the day. Thomas tells readers to live strong lives and fight against death rather than accepting it. The whole poem speaks of fighting and raging against dying. Everyone knows that death will come to them in some way, whether that is today or tomorrow but the author wants us to not welcome it. He wants them to embrace life no matter how hard it gets and whenever death is near, to fight against it. Thomas Dylan uses different types of people to prove that his thoughts apply to all men. The wise men whose intelligent is not going to save him from dying, the good men whose good deeds won’t save him, the wild who learns too late and the grave men who sees with his blind sights.
All these men lived a different life but in the end, they all reach the same conclusion which is struggling against death. The words that the author uses to illustrate these themes are “rage, rage against the dying of light and old age should burn and have rage at the close of the day”. His choice of words supports his attitude towards this theme because in these lines, he’s telling his readers to rage against dying which means to fight against death. As we grow old, life becomes a struggle for some people. Even though struggling is hard, the author believes that life is worth fighting for. The theme and symbolism in this poem kind of go hand in hand. Thomas explores the contrast between the natural symbols of light and dark. Light traditionally stands for “good” while dark traditionally stands for “bad”.
In this poem the night is a symbol of death, signaling an end. “Sad heights” is also a symbolism of his father’s life. His father’s life was indeed sad because it did not amount to what the poet hoped it would. “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray” (Clugston, 2010, Ch. 12) lets the reader know that he had more rage and strength in his dying hours than he did in life. One of the strongest images of darkness and death is shown in the last two lines of the poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (Clugston, 2010, Ch. 12)
The death of the light here shows us blackness: the ultimate darkness. This one line brings to light all of the darkness, death, and evil that is in this poem. In conclusion, Thomas’ uses the literary elements, structure/form, theme, and symbolism to enhance the poem “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” The structure/form being that of a villanelle adds to the rhythm of the poem. The theme is darkness, death, and aging which is in evident in every stanza of this poem. There is a lot of symbolism in this poem and it adds to the theme. Without the structure and the symbolism Thomas uses it may have been a different poem.
Clugston, R.W (2010) Retrieved from http://content.ashford.edu/books/AUENG125 http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796