ICSE Literature …Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953


Introduction to the poet … Born on October 27, 1914, in Swansea, South Wales to a father who taught English Literature, Dylan Marlais Thomas had his initiation to Shakespeare very early in his life, even before he learned to read. His father read aloud portions of Shakespeare to him. Dylan was enchanted by nursery rhymes. Later, he began to passionately read ballads of W. B. Yeats, Edgar Allan Poe, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Thomas was a jumpy, oversensitive, sickly child who loathed going to school, choosing to study on his own. D. H. Lawrence‘s poetry, interspersed with scenes of the natural world, fascinated him greatly. He passed his English test with flying colours, but the success came at the expense of other subjects. By this time, the lunatic streak in his mind was unravelling fast. At sixteen, he decided he had enough of the ‘formal’ school, and dropped out. He began his career as a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post.
Soon, he left the job and plunged into literature as a soul possessed, churning out scores of poems.
In 1934, Thomas won the Poet’s Corner book prize, and published his first book, 18 Poems (The Fortune press). The book received rave reviews. The success, sadly, pushed Thomas to alcohol abuse.
Thomas’s writings had intense lyricism and highly charged emotion as their hallmark.
Two years after the publication of 18 Poems, in a Lodon pub, Thomas met the dancer Caitlin Macnamara. He married her in 1837. The marriage was marred by frequent discords as both seemed to have clandestine affairs.
Thomas was an volatile and erratic personality, given to violent swings of mood. It rocked his family life, career and finances. He moved from job to job, crippling his peace of mind and his finances. Alcohol ravaged his life. The love for the bottle pushed this great genius to penury quite often.
Thomas toured America four times on literary assignments. He made his appearance at the City College of New York. A few days later, after splurging on drink, he collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel. He breathed his last on November 9, 1953, at the relatively young age of 39. He is much talked about for the quality of his work, and for the way he consumed himself with alcohol and a disruptive life style.


Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

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.

Meaning .. The poem calls upon humans not to meekly succumb to the inevitability of death. Instead, a mortal, as he walks the last few steps to his grave must resist, fight, and confront death with renewed vigour, grit and stoicism. Not allowing the spectre of death to benumb us is the boldest and cleverest thing to do, implores the author. The nearer one is close to death, the stronger should be his will power to defy it. Old age should be the age to reach new heights of gallantry and resoluteness to stare death in its eye valiantly.

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.

Meaning .. Men in the sunset days of their lives tend to be passive, sagacious and resigned to the prospects of departure from this world. Some gifted people rue that they have not accomplished anything spectacular that they could have, using their intellect. Such people become restless as their final day draws near. With a pensive mood and so many unfulfilled desires gnawing at their dying soul, they depart.

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.

Meaning .. Men and women of calibre and creativity are filled with turbulence and trauma as they near their death. They feel they could have achieved something more, if they had some more time on earth. The world is a theatre of action, striving and success. So, for a creative mind, departing from it is painful. These men and women, therefore, must resist death with all their might and resource.

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.

Meaning … Daring, dare-devil, risk-taking geniuses celebrate as they live out the short spans of their lives on earth, but they become despondent to see that the world didn’t keep pace with them and fell behind. So, the author prods all humans with zeal burning inside them to rage against death with all the force in their command.

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.

Meaning .. Like in the earlier lines, the speaker describes how some gritty people refuse to capitulate before impending death, using a combination of will power and heroics. They, despite being on the throes of death, manage to develop a vision that is piercing and incisive. The imminent arrival of death accompanied by darkness and gloom fails to enfeeble their vision. Even in the eleventh hour of their existence on earth, they can dispel the gloom and doom and develop extraordinary eyesight. Hence, says the speaker, refuse to be cowed down by death, stand your ground, and do not flinch at all. Take death head on.

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.

Meaning … Finally, the speaker clarifies who his target was when he spoke those inspiring, death-defying words. It is his father who is on the brink of death. The son (the author) implores his dying father to shower his fondness on him, as if life goes on as usual. He wants his father to ignore the approaching death and confront the calamity with sangfroid and chivalry.


[To be continued with questions and answers

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