Search This Blog

Monday, March 28, 2011

Number 108: Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

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 that 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

Hap Notes: This is probably the most famous villanelle of all time. Dylan Thomas ( 1914-1953) is said to have written the poem to his dying father but don't get too hung up on that since it's said in most of his biographies that his father never saw the poem. Thomas is writing it for everyone, not just his dad.

Every time I read the remarkable lyricism of Thomas I'm reminded of what Bernard Shaw's Henry Higgins says about Alfred Dolittle (Eliza's father) after hearing him speak: " ...this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild...That's the Welsh strain in him." There's something about growing up in Wales that makes the voice and words love each other (Just a cursory glance at a list of Welsh actors yields up Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, John Rhys Davies, Emlyn Williams, and Monty Python's Terry Jones- all remarkable voices). Hence, nobody reads Thomas as well as Thomas. Here he is reading this

Thomas' father taught English literature in at a grammar school in Swansea. Mr. Thomas brought Dylan up to speak English even though both he and his wife spoke Welsh and he often gave lessons in it. Thomas had troubles as a boy with asthma and bronchitis and he read a lot on his own when he was sick at home. He often claimed that nursery rhymes were one of his greatest influences. There's no doubt he was a prodigy with verse and wise beyond his years. He published his first book of verse when he was 20. He couldn't have been more than 21 or so when he wrote "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," which would be an extraordinary poem coming out of a 50 year old.

Thomas was a sensation in America when he came across the pond to read his work. He has a reputation for being a heavy drinker and I've no doubts he was but he died of pneumonia and bronchitis and his liver, in spite of his drinking was still healthy. His lungs had been easily infected since he was a child. When he died was he was only 39, a year after he'd written the poem.

The poem is Thomas expressing that one should live life to the fullest and fight to the last. "Forked no lightning" is usually understood to mean that the wise men made no earth changing comments, forked lightning is when one lightning bolt hits another and it "forks" its path. In other words, it strikes in two places at once in a blaze of light.

When he says "who see with blinding sight/ Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay," he's more or less saying that blind men can see (have insight) and be bright and enlightening.

Notice his contrasts between darkness and light. Some have expressed the idea that Thomas is saying there is no afterlife, others the opposite. What do you think?

Here's a good Thomas quote: "These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damn fool if they weren't."

"Somebody's boring me. I think it's me."

"A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him."

You can find more Thomas here:

No comments:

Post a Comment