Thoughts on Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into that G

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Thoughts on Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into that G

Postby trentm32 » 4/24/2006, 9:17 pm

Thoughts on Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”

Death and mortality are topics and issues dealt with and touched upon by virtually any writer throughout history who is worth his or her salt. It is, without a doubt, one of the most universal themes that has ever existed in the history of any form of art. It is the most monumental feeling, and event, that a person can deal with; and more importantly it is something that every single person in the world will face. Death is something that reaches every faith and every soul in existence. It exists without prejudice, seeming to be to our unknowing eyes nothing more understandable than the scattering winds of a great storm crashing through our lives with neither rhyme, nor reason. Many poets and artists have made their varied attempts at dealing with death; some seeing it as progressive and neutral, others urging to fight it with every fiber of their being.

The poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” by one of the great writers of the early twentieth century Dylan Thomas, falls on the side of the latter in the aforementioned approaches. Dylan’s personal story, and eventual inspiration for the poem, began back in Swansea, Wales; on a late October morning in the year 1914. Thomas’ father, David John Thomas, was both a talented teacher, and fledgling poet, passing his time practicing the former as an English teacher at the local school in the town in which they lived. Thomas’ life is, as most boys’ are, deeply influenced, and
almost defined, by his relationship with his father. According to Thomas, much of his personal education didn’t come from the days he spent in school, but instead came to him as he rummaged through his fathers rather extensive personal library (Goodden).

Thomas was strongly driven to prove himself as a writer. Some scholars think that Thomas’ career was birthed out of one part vicarious living thanks to his father, and another part wanting so desperately to prove his worth to his father (Napierkowski 49). As a young child, his father had always encouraged him to write; and write, from whatever personal conviction it may have been from, he did. In the year 1934, while living in London, Thomas’ first official collection of poetry was finally published. It was simply dubbed 18 Poems, and it was met with moderate acclaim in the literary world. As with most writers that cycle intermittently throughout history, gritty themes such as death, nature, and burning youth were prevalent in much of Thomas’ works.

It is with these directions and inclinations, spurned on by circumstance and inspiration, that one of Thomas’ most famous poems came into being: “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” As is natural with existence and mortality, the health of Thomas’ father, David John, began to decline as he continued to rack up years of experience in life. As could be expected, Thomas didn’t take his father’s decline in health very well. As he dealt with most strong feelings and pains that found his heart, Thomas put pen to paper to work through his emotions. The eventual result would be the beautiful, fiery yet somehow gentle poetic work that is “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

The poem first appeared in a letter from Thomas to his friend Caetani, in which he explained so well why he had been holding onto, and not publishing the poem. Thomas said: “[The] only person I can’t show the little enclosed poem to is, of course, my father who doesn’t know he’s dying” (Napierkowski 49). In that short sentence, Thomas sums up everything so nicely. The poem is obviously for his father, and I personally believe that by not showing it to him it reveals some deeper opinions beyond the face value of the poem, that Thomas may have harbored. It is my thought that perhaps by not showing the poem to his father, Thomas is saying that, though he so passionately spurs the weak and impassioned to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” in the poem, somewhere deep inside himself he knows that none of it would really do any good if he even tried; because death comes (Thomas). No matter what he could tell his father (or the reader) to do; there is no way to stop death.

On a more subtle level, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” deals specifically with four different types of people at the verge of death. I think this is an interesting approach for Thomas to take, giving it a bit more universality; but also in some way it implies that he saw glimpses of each type of man listed all rolled into his father in some fashion or form. By dividing it up, he only dug a little deeper into masking his pain. The first type of man it deals with equivocally what Thomas views as men with wisdom. It is interesting to note that this is the only addressed type of person when the thought describing them travels on into the next sentence. For example: “Because their words had forked no lightning they / Do not go gentle into that good night (Thomas).” When expressing his musings on the wise men, Thomas leaves his thought unfinished, forcing the reader to travel to the next line to find its conclusion. It is a general consensus among scholars that Thomas did this to show that all of their wisdom and theories and philosophies will remain just that, unfinished, when they “go gentle into that good night” (Thomas).

The second stereotype dealt with by Thomas is the virtuous, morally right man; what he calls “good men.” In this section of the poem, Thomas deals with people who have lived their lives morally well, looking back upon it all on their death beds. It seems to me that Thomas is belittling the deeds, referring to them in a condescending way by calling them “feeble.” By this choice of words, I think Thomas is saying that these deeds serve no purpose to save or exempt a man from death. He is saying that they are not something that can be hidden behind, or used as bargaining chips in the greater beyond.

The third type of archetype dealt with is that of the “wild men.” It is this type that most reflects Thomas himself, having lived a life of debauchery, alcohol and drug use, and promiscuity. Even beyond his own personal stock in the poem, it also spins out as virtually a part of every man. Hinting at that air of mystery we all seem to bear deep within. When referring to this type of man, Thomas says that though they may have “caught and sang the sun in flight,” they still “learn, too late, they grieved it on its way.” This part of the piece seems to imply that they’ll regret having wasted their time. This, though, seems to be in contrast to what he had almost immediately said above that about the lack of worth in a virtuous life. It seems that Thomas is making the point that he doesn’t believe in a ‘right’ way to live, as it all just seems to end in death, anyways. No matter what type of life a man lives, the common thread between them all is the death bed. No matter what you’ve done in your life, it still won’t save you from death.

The fourth type of man that Thomas encounters in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is what he calls the “grave” man. It seems, most simply, that Thomas is saying that at death is when he thinks it all seems the most clear. When it is all on the verge of being over, is the best chance we can have to understand what it is all about. He doesn’t really hint at what the grave men see with their “blinding sight” that can “blaze like meteors and be gay.” Only that they see something—which is more than can be said for the wise, good, and wild men. It seems most probable that he leaves this part somewhat open-ended because even Thomas didn’t know how things look from the death bed when he wrote this piece. And instead of making vain assumptions and leaps into attempted profundity, he just admits his own inadequacies in knowledge on the topic, and moves on.

In the closing section of the piece, Thomas addresses his father directly. He does not seem to know what exactly he is asking for from his father as he says “Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears I pray,” only that he is asking for emotion. Above all else, he is merely pleading for fiery passion from a man on the verge of dying who has no curses, no blessing left to dispense through fierce tears. Thomas also references his father as being in a place he calls “the sad height.” Some believe this to be the anger of a young man unable to deal with the potential passing and illness of his father (Napierkowski 49). As he never showed the poem to his father, I suppose it proves that even Thomas himself didn’t have much faith that he could get any burning passion from a dying man.

The eventual end of Thomas’ life is quite a bit different than you may think it would be after reading “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Dylan Thomas passed away in a drunken stupor in New York City. His life of debauchery, and most specifically alcoholism, caught up with him and was his reckless downfall. A friend who was with Thomas the night he died, Jack Heliker, recalls the last intelligible words Thomas spoke before he passed as, “After 39 years, this is all I’ve done.” Judging from these words, Thomas found himself in the shoes of all four men he dealt with in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” When faced with death, Thomas cracked just as those he loathed, and merely whimpered into oblivion cursing the life he felt he had wasted. He found no energy to fight, and no passion to ignite his soul. In a way, I suppose that must just be the point.


Paper for a Lit class I've gotta turn in Wednesday, just lookin' for some feedback...
"When looking up there, I just felt whole, like I belonged. Like one day I too would shine my most brilliant. Sitting there also made me think about sitting through services at my little country church back home. About that never-changing congregation of the same sixty-seven people and everyone has known you since before you were born. Now, out here in the real world, everything just seemed more vivid than when I used to sit in that little pew. That pew that was now so, so far away from where I was. I feared I had somehow left God behind there, too. I feared he was somehow just sitting there, saving my seat on the fifth pew from the front row, just waiting on me to come back. I left so quickly, I worried that he may not have noticed I was gone. And, now, I’m just too far away to find. So he’s just sitting there, patiently waiting on me to come back. I closed my eyes and prayed a moment. I hoped more than anything that he could still hear me." -an excerpt from my novella, A Sea of Fallen Leaves.

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Postby happening fish » 4/24/2006, 10:50 pm

is this a research piece? you do a lot more restating of facts than analysis or anything else. you need a better title, and the beginning is unsuitably dramatic.

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