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A Summary and Analysis of Dylan Thomas's 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'

A Summary and Analysis of Dylan Thomas's 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'
We have all had fierce struggles with the idea of death, be it of someone close to us, or our own, at some point in life. But even when the lights almost turn off, there is a lingering hope within us that urges us and the ones we love to keep fighting. We bring you one such poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas that addresses that battle, along with its summary and analysis.
Rashmi Sunder
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
From the Mind to the Silver Screen
The Characters played by Matt Damon and Michael Caine in the 2014 film "Interstellar", recite lines from this poem at different points during the film.
Death is a tragic yet inevitable phase in the cycle of life that we all have to succumb to at one point or the other. Knowing this, we often resign to the fact. But what happens when it concerns someone who is very near and dear to us? Are we that complacent about death then? Do we just accept it as the bitter truth and let go? Most might say that the answer to those questions is a harsh and critical "Yes". But the truth is, that no matter how hard we try, it is very difficult to accept, much less process the loss of a loved one. At times like these, we gather every ounce of hope that our hearts can muster, in the faint belief that something or someone might shift back the hands of time and give back life to that person.

In the 1945 poem " Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" written by Dylan Thomas for his dying father, the poet urges his old man (through an alter ego) to keep fighting to stay alive even when the outcome is bound to be unfortunate. He draws parallels to the way men from different walks of life must fight hard for their lives and everything it stands for when the end is near, and thus pleads his father to do the same. We bring you a brief summary of the poem, along with an analysis which includes the literary devices used.
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.
Stanza 1
The poem begins with the speaker addressing an unknown listener, urging him not to "go gentle into that good night". This seems like a confusing metaphor, but once you read the two lines that follow, the meaning becomes clear. Thomas uses "good night" as a metaphor for "death" and he tells the other person that as old age nears, the person should put up a fierce struggle and not go out without a fight.

Stanza 2
The speaker now goes on the describe how men from different walks of life would deal with the issue of death. The syntax of the poem is puzzling due to the structure that Thomas follows throughout the poem. What he says is that the wise and learned men are aware that the end is near and it is inevitable, but they realize that their "words" or rather their thoughts and actions have not reached their full potential or had their complete impact. In Thomas' words "their words had forked no lightening". Such men would not go out without a struggle.

Stanza 3
This stanza gets a little tricky. The speaker says that "good men", the recent generation of great men cry out as they are nearing their end. They are presented as a wave that crashes on the seashore, signifying the end of life. As they reach the end they shout out that had they had a longer life( here, life at sea) which is portrayed by the greenery at sea, their actions in life might have seemed far greater. The dancing waters is their actions, the sea is the life, the present generation is the wave and their death is signified by the crashing of the wave on the seashore.

Stanza 4
The poet now goes on to describe "Wild men"- the ones who celebrated their lives and the beauty of the world that surrounded them, shown by the lines"who caught and sang the sun in flight". The sun is portrayed as life and its journey across the sky as the lifespan. These men realize a little too late that time moved swiftly and while they were out celebrating, life was nearing its end with the setting of the sun.

Stanza 5
The next set of men that the speaker describes are "Grave men". See the pun the poet uses? "Grave" can stand for both seriousness as well as the tombstone marking death. So either dying men or serious men as they reach old age and maybe be turning blind, suddenly seem to have an overwhelming sense of sight, or rather insight into the fact that even with the end closing in, they still have the power to fight till their last breath. Instead of leaving the world as snuffed candles, they leaving as "blazing meteors" with the glint of life in their eyes.

Stanza 6
The poem shifts from 3rd person to 1st person as we realize that the whole thought and meaning behind the poem is a little more personal as he addresses his dying father. He asks him to shed "fierce tears" that would come as both a blessing (sign of the old man's willpower) and a curse (knowing that he will die soon). As he urged earlier, he now pleads his father to keep fighting against death with a burning rage, a hope that the speaker clings on to.
✿ Themes
Life and Death
Life and death concept
Life and Death
The message of the poem is based on the dual ideas of life and death. On one hand he urges both the readers and his father to fight against death, which is an inevitable part of life, while on the other he also talks about the celebration of life by different people.
Old Age
Nurse helping senior man
Old Age
We all go through cycles and while the speaker deals with the subject of life and death, and the old age which has wrought his father, brings out such pleas in the former.
Wisdom and Struggle
Illustration of man and light
Wisdom and Struggle
By drawing parallels to how strong, wise, and creative men deal with life and death, he shows us that with the knowledge that is gained, there is also a need to constantly struggle in order to keep our ideas, actions, and eventually our life afloat.
Familial Bond
Man with his little son
Familial Bond
At the end of the poem, we realize that his love for his father is what fueled the speaker to urge his father to keep fighting against all odds. Familial bonds bring in us the hope and resilience unlike any other ties out there.
When dealing with the issues of life and death, the poet draws to our attention how fleeting life can be, one second it seems like the birth of life, just like the first rays of the sun in the morning, but before you know it, sunset marks the end of that very life, that just seemed to have sprouted.
✿ Symbolisms
View of sunset from grass
The sun and light that D. Thomas uses in the poem is used to signify life and the beauty of the world. The sunrise depicts the birth of life, its journey through the day equal to a person's lifespan, and sunset the sign of approaching death.
View of full moon over sea
The main idea of using night and the darkness that it brings, is to portray death. When the sun sets, and night takes over, our time has come to bid the world good bye, which can be viewed as a paradox when the poet uses the words "good night"- because if night is equal to death, they how could it ever be good?
Form and Meter
This poem is in reality a "villanelle". A villanelle is essentially a nineteen-line poetic form which consists of 5 tercets followed by a quatrain. If you look at the structure of the poem, you will notice that the first five stanzas are made of up three lines each (a tercet) and the last stanza is made up of four lines (quatrain). There are generally two refrains and two repeating rhymes (seen in the poem with the lines "do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" and the rhyming of words ending with "ight" and "ay" ). The first and third line of the first tercet is repeated alternately until the last stanza which includes both the repeated lines. The poem follows the iambic pentameter which is a line that contains ten syllables each. The rhyme scheme is AbA' abA abA' abA abA' abAA'.
The poem takes us on a journey through sunsets, a storm that lacks the crack of lightening, the green bay by the seashore, the meteors falling from the sky, and the mountain ("sad height"). We eventually come to realize that in reality the speaker is sitting by his father's deathbed. The poem thus opens our eyes to the wonderful aspects of nature and life.
The speaker seems to reflect D. Thomas' own personality, as he had written this poem for his own father who was on his deathbed and had turned blind. Thus the speaker is Thomas' alter ego.
The tone of the poem ranges through varied emotions of zeal, passion, celebration, pleading, anger, and regret.
Point of View
Stanzas 1 and 6 are written in first person point of view, whereas the rest of the poem (stanza 2-5) is written in 3rd person.
Phases of life explained through nature
Thomas used a lot of extended metaphors in his poem. Here sunrise signifies birth of life, the journey of the sun during the day as the lifespan, the sunset as approaching death, and nighttime as afterlife. Also, "blinding sight" is a metaphor used to denote overwhelming
"Grave men" can be seen as a pun because grave stands to show both seriousness and a tombstone marking someone's death.
The phrase "sad height" can be seen as an allusion made to the Biblical valley of Death, which was a metaphorical mountain where the father stands is marked as the edge of the mortal world.
It is seen in the poem with the lines "do not go gentle into that good night" and "rage, rage against the dying of the light".
"blind eyes can blaze like meteors" is a simile.
Alliteration refers to the repetition of the initial consonants' sound when placed close to each other. In the poem, he does this with the letters "N" in "near" and "night", "G" with "go" and "good", (note that gentle is omitted because it produces a soft consonant sound, unlike the others which produce a harsh sound), "B" (also Bl) with "blind" and "blaze", "Th" in "though", "their", "that", and "they", "D" in "deeds", and "danced", "L" in "light" and "like".
It is the repeated usage of words which produce the "s" sound. See in the poem with "curse", "bless", ""tears", and "fierce".
It is the repetition of vowel sounds. See with "i" and "a".
The word "rage" is repeated twice in the refrain line "Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
It is an exclamatory figure of speech. It is seen in the refrain "Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
Thomas has drawn sharp contrast with opposing words like gentle and rage, night and day, light and dark, blind and sight, and curse and bless.
The poet states a paradox when he says that dying men who are going blind can see.
Thomas draws parallels between the best men of the generation out there- the good, the wise, the wild, and the grave men.
The phrase "curse, bless me" is an oxymoron, where the poet has juxtaposed two opposing actions one after the other.
We see a lot of imagery in the poem, with sunsets and night sky, with lightening that won't crack through, the green bay where the waves are crashing on the shore, and meteors blazing through the sky.
Dylan Thomas was born on 27 October 1914, in Swansea, Wales. His father was an English schoolmaster, and from whom his love for literature first developed. He was not a very remarkable student in school and dropped out at the age of 16, going on to become a journalist for a while. He started writing at a very early age, and many of his works appeared in print while he was still a teenager. But it was only after his poem "Light breaks where no sun shines" published in 1934, that he gained true attention. Despite this popularity, he found it difficult to earn a living, which is why he augmented his income with reading tours and broadcasts. His work with the BBC radio network in the 1940s' garnered even more attention, which was further boosted by his tours in America.

Despite his talent, he was plagued by alcoholism and a reckless lifestyle. This eventually put him in a coma, leading to his death on 9 November 1953. Despite all the fame and certain infamy, like Keats, he was one poet with immense talent and skill that is still widely celebrated, but which was met with an untimely end.
Thomas was a master of form and structure, and his work has left its mark, far beyond it what was though possible. Hopefully, this article has help you understand one of his most quoted work ever.