Last updated: 06 November 2008
Thomas' poem for his dying father, exploring the themes of grief and death.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was completed in 1951, late in Thomas' career. It is one of his most popular and easily accessible poems. Written about his dying father, the poem explores the personal experience of grief and death, and places it within a wider context. Like Fern Hill before it, the poem reflects Thomas' developed, more simple style.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Do Not Go Gentle is the contrast between its form, which is strict, regular and controlled, and its message, which incites the man to "rage against the dying of the light". The form itself is a villanelle which includes a series of repetitions, and maintains just two rhymes throughout. It enables Thomas to build his poem in gradual stages while keeping the focus on his most important message.
The actions of each small man are placed in contrast to the vastness of universe. The light shed on the world by the wise man is pale in comparison with lightning, and waves produced by the good man disappear in a green bay. Similarly, we are subtly reminded throughout, an old man's rage will be ineffectual in the face of death.
It is the urgent call to his father to fight death which distinguishes this poem from two others which were written on a similar theme. Both Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed and Elegy call for peace and calm as an antidote to suffering.
In all three poems, perhaps in deference to his father's atheism, Thomas does not resort to biblical or Christian imagery as a comfort at a time of death. In Do Not Go Gentle there is a sense of the natural world as a spiritual force which is bigger than individual man, while in Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed there are hints of Viking and Classical paganism in the reference to the "wandering boat".
The power of Do Not Go Gentle lies in its straightforward approach to the theme, which is aided by the artificial restraints that are placed on it by the rhyme scheme. Once again, Thomas displays his strength as a scholarly poet who was self consciously aware of the traditions with which he was aligning himself.