Analyzing Dylan Thomas's Promise: To Rage Against the Dying of the Light
"Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night", by Dylan Thomas is a plea from a dying man's son to steel his reserve and fight against imminent death. Thomas begins by presenting the example of wise men that fight their impending death valiantly, despite knowing that defeat is inevitable. Good men also "rage against the dying of the light" (Thomas 9); a suggestion that Thomas hopes that his father will take to heart. Wild men war against their impending doom in an attempt to prolong their doomed existence, and grave men who stand on the threshold of oblivion still do not accept death with complacency. Dylan's plea extends so far as to encourage his father to, "curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray"( Thomas 17), making it obvious that Thomas is unconcerned with what his father chooses to fight for or against, as long as he makes a stand for something before he is extinguished. Dylan Thomas implements repetitive metaphors and strict form to underline the case he makes to his father; the gift of life should be passionate and valiant up to its last fleeting seconds.
Dylan Thomas's poetic form and usage of metaphors create a representation of all the men that he desires his father to emulate. Thomas begins by invoking the wise men who, "Because their words had forked no lightening they/ Do not go gentle into that good night"(Thomas 4-5). The wise men Thomas speaks of refuse to resign to their fates as dead men because they have not yet accomplished what they set out to do. Thomas's "lightening" is a representative metaphor of the goals set forth by the strong that serve as motivation to continue living robustly. By idolizing these wise men, Thomas implicates that he desires his father to emulate them; to press on toward anything that may at least give him some purpose besides waiting complacently for death to lower its scythe upon him. Thomas's use of other men as examples of a desired state for his father is repeated through each stanza of the poem. In Thomas's third stanza, he invokes the merits of "Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright/Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay"( Thomas 7-8). These "good men" strive endlessly to make their mark on the world, unsatisfied with their subjectively "frail" deeds until finally death catches up with them. These men "rage against the dying of the light" (Thomas 9) because they have not yet met their goals, much like the wise men proceeding them. This passion for improvement and strength to persevere are exactly the qualities that Dylan Thomas begs his father to put forth, for Dylan's own sake as much as his father's.
Thomas's next template for his father's state lies in the merits of, "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight/And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way" (Thomas 10-11). Dylan desires his father to step forth and be optimistic, while ignoring the grief that besets men all through their existence. "Grieving it on its way" is a metaphor representing the pain and struggle endured by the men as they live their lives, which proves unimportant due to its discovery too late in life for it to be detrimental. Similar to the previous stanzas, these wild men serve as a representation of the behavior that Thomas beseeches his father to follow. The next stanza continues with the motif of valiant men. Wild men, in Thomas's estimation, "do not go gentle into that good night" (Thomas 12) because they love life so passionately. To have, "caught and sang the sun in flight/And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way" (Thomas 10-11) employs the metaphor of the sun's path as the journey of life, demonstrating that the wild men live fully and pay little attention to life's sad moments as they pass through them.
Thomas concludes his repetitive demonstration of ideals with those who knock on death's door. Grave men according to Thomas, even through their final moments, can "blaze like meteors and be gay" (Thomas 14). Thomas imparts this final simile to represent the happiness that the men look back on in their final moments of life, preventing them from feeling the despair and worthlessness that Thomas wants his father to steer away from.
Thomas concludes his poem with a final plea for his father to "Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray" (Thomas 17). He cares not how his father display passion; he would sooner be hated by his beloved father then watch him die so far away from his past grandeur. "[F]ierce tears" serve as yet another metaphor for the indomitable character that Dylan wishes for his father to present. He concludes with a final request: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light" (Thomas 18-19). These final two metaphors link his desire for his father's behavior with the men Thomas described throughout the poem.
Dylan Thomas wrote, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" as a plea for his father to show the strength that he did in years past. Each man Thomas describes within his poem serves as a character reference for the type of man Thomas needs his father to be in his last days. Thomas first describes the virtues of wise men, who refuse to capitulate to death before they accomplish their lofty goals. Good men are next brought forth as a template for his father's behavior, who fight against death because they are unsatisfied with the marginal weight of their deeds in the world. Wild men extol virtues desired for Dylan's father as well, for they live life to the fullest capacity and refuse to succumb to the sadness that pervades human existence. As the final example and perhaps the most applicable, grave men, according to Thomas, spend their last moments on earth reminiscing about the happy moments of their past instead of sinking into a depressed stupor. The final stanza of Thomas's poem links all of these men's behaviors together and implores Thomas's father once more to stand up and fight against the darkness that will inevitably consume him. Through this tightly structured form and beautiful metaphors applied to each type of man as well as the father, Thomas makes his case known; he needs his father to be strong in his last days, not only for his own sake, but for Thomas's as well.
Thomas, Dillon. "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." Literature and the Writing Process.
Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River:
Prentice, 2007. 642.
The assignment is to analyze the poem in 3-4 pages, focusing on one to two literary elements that seem most significant to the work ( such as persona, tone, allusion, imagery, metaphor...etc). I feel like the introduction is clunky, and I'm not completely confident with the organization of the paper itself. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks in advance!