An Analysis of "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas
The poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, by Dylan Thomas is a son’s plea to a dying father. His purpose is to show his father that all men face the same end, but they fight for life, nonetheless. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day,” (line 2) is almost the thesis for this poem. Thomas classifies men into four different categories to persuade his father to realize that no matter the life choices, consequences, or personalities, there is a reason to live. It is possible that Thomas uses these categories to give his father no excuses, regardless of what he did in life.
Wise men are the first group that Thomas describes. The first line in the stanza, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right,” (4) suggests that they know that death is a natural part of life and they are wise enough to know they should accept it. However, the next line reasons that they fight against it because they feel they have not gained nearly enough repute or notoriety. “Because their words had forked no lighting” (5) is Thomas’ way of saying that they want to hold on to life to be able to leave their mark, thereby sustaining their memory in history as great scholars or philosophers.
Thomas moves forward and describes the next group as good men. They reflect on their lives as the end approaches. “Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright,” (7) This line can be broken down into two parts. First’ good men are few now, as it says “the last wave by,” perhaps this is emphasis on the fact that Thomas believes his father to be a good man and that the world can still use him. Second, the line “crying how bright,” refers to men telling their stories in a limelight. They self-proclaim their works as good, but as Thomas goes on into the next line “their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,” (8) it describes men knowing that their deeds will not be remembered regardless of their seemingly significant achievements. Green bay refers to an eternal sea, which marks their place in history. After reflecting on the past, they decide that they want to live if for nothing more than to leave their names written down in history.
Wild men, however as the next group is revealed, have learned too late that they are mortal. They spent their lives in action and only realize as time has caught up with them that this is the end. “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,” (10) exaggerates their experiences and how they have wasted away their days chasing what they could not catch. Even more so “caught and sang the sun,” refers to how these wild men lived. They were daredevils who faced peril with blissful ignorance. They wasted away their lives on adventures and excitements. The next line, “And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,” (11) refers to the realism of their own mortality. They grieve because they have caused much grief living their lives in folly. Even though the end is approaching, they will not give in because they want more time to hold on to the adventure of their youth and perhaps right a few wrongs that they have done.
Grave men, are the last group of men Thomas describes. “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,” (13) in this line his use of grave men has almost a double meaning, referring to men who are saddened as well as being physically near death. They feel the strains of a long life, and they know they are physically decaying. Their eyes are failing along with the rest of their body, however there is still a passion burning within their eyes for an existence, even if it is a frail state. “Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,” (14) is an expression that represent man’s struggle for survival. He is possibly offering that even in this frail state that his father could be happy living longer.
Finally, in the last stanza the intent is presented, Thomas is showing that all men no matter their experiences or situations fight for more time. He urges his father to do the same. “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,” (17) describes his pain and passion that are causing him to beg his father not to die. Thomas is watching his father fade and is begging for his father no to give in. It appears that his father has either peacefully surrendered himself, or rather that he has resigned himself to his fate.
Thomas starts the poem referring to wise men, then to good men, then changes pace to wild men, and finally fades out with grave men. One reason he uses this progression is to start with where he sees his father’s character lie, and then finally move toward what Thomas believes his father has resigned himself as. Thomas’ father was a military man and his father’s resignation to his current state is eating away at him. He suggests that every man needs to make his mark in life and his father has not done so. He is trying to postpone the inevitable by pleading for a little more time, feeling that his father is giving up, and maybe if he can prove to his father that no one gives up regardless of his or her disposition then his father will be able to get off his deathbed. His final plea to his father ends the poem, giving a passionate, but ultimately hopeless expression, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (19)
The use of the metaphor “that good night” (1, 6, 12, 18) gives the impression that Thomas knew that death was right. He calls it that good night instead of another ghastly term for death. However, he also calls it “the dying of the light,” (3, 9, 15, 19) which suggest a peaceful surrender. He urges his father to rage against a peaceful end and endeavor to resist his demise. Thomas uses the words night and light as metaphors for death and life and alternates them to hammer home his point. Part of this poem seems to be almost a lighthearted when he declares “Old age should burn and rave at close of day,” (2) almost as if saying old people should be allowed to live long and complain as long as they do not give up. The purpose of his use of division into categories remains, however to emphasize the importance of living, leaving his father with an unmistakable argument…choose life.