Thursday, March 7, 2024


             This is one of my favorites:

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.

                                                                             --Dylan Thomas

            The form of the poem is what’s called a villanelle. You can google the details, but suffice it to say the form mandates a lot of rhyme and repetition. But that is not what strikes me today.

            I was told by a professor that Thomas wrote the poem in response to his father’s growing blindness, though most readers, me included, see it as about how to respond as death approaches. Why not both?

            What is most striking to me is the word “rage.” Really? Is that how we are to respond to death’s approach? Isn’t it wiser, and thus better, to “go gentle into that good night”? But let’s look at the word “rage.” The dictionary says that the word means an intense and uncontrolled anger. Perhaps. But words change meanings. Take the word “sick.” For a while it was seen as a forgivable alternative to “evil.” He’s not morally responsible for his actions because he is mentally ill, or “sick.” Then the word changed into a positive, as I’ve heard it recently: charged with creative energy. Mental illness opens a new path, a vision. William Blake was sick. The word “bad” has undergone a similar transformation. And so has “rage.” Think of the way some fashion trend is described as “all the rage.”

            So, back to the poem: Perhaps the passionate energy of rage is preferable to a peaceful and gentle acceptance of dying and death. If so, then how do we put this into practice?

            Kim and I, despite some mobility issues, are planning photography trips for spring and summer, mostly in pursuit of birds and butterflies. This feels good, as it’s feeding our passions. We also continue to pursue housing, which has become a creative adventure. (You may know the term “starter home.” Well, we are looking for our “finisher home.”) We have visited about half a dozen, made about that many offers, remodeled and decorated most of them, planned how to build a few more. Kim is photographing birds in the yard, then perfecting them on her computer. She is updating scrapbooks and working on other art projects. All this, despite her pain and fatigue.

            Setting all this aside, Thomas no doubt used “rage” to mean “intense anger.” That, reinforced by the villanelle repetitions, is what makes the poem sizzle.




  1. I recommended my first wife, Nichole (yes, Dave, that Nichole), use the "Dying of the light" line from the Thomas poem in her letter of "Please, please let me in to MSU's Vet-school." In the same conversation, I also quoted her Henry David Thoreau's line: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." She used them both, together, and she got in. She had told me she wanted to stand-out from the other candidates, and I thought "Hey, maybe this is where I can use that English degree everyone told me would be useless."

    As you know, I now find that degree one of the best parts of who I am.

    1. I wish I knew who wrote the above comment so I could reply personally.

  2. Hello Dave:
    The comment on March 27th was from me, Ron Koenig. I had not intended to be anonymous, I simply failed to change the “Comment as” from its default. 😊

  3. Ah, make that March 7th, not the 27th.