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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
A Study Guide
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Background
Point of View
Type of Work
Structure
Rhyme Scheme
Meter
Theme
Figures of Speech
Text
Notes and Comments
Questions and Writing Topics
Biography
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2005
Background

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was born in Swansea, Wales. There, he attended a school where his father taught English. Although he was a mediocre student, he became interested in writing and served on the staff of a school publication. At seventeen, he accepted a job on a local newspaper and in 1934 moved to London, where he published his first collection of poems. In 1951, he wrote “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, ” one of his most popular poems. He addressed it to his octogenarian father, whose eyesight and general health were failing. The poem urges his father to fight against death—to "burn and rave at close of day"—rather than surrendering meekly to it. The poet himself certainly burned with zest for life. Unfortunately, he indulged in it recklessly, drinking heavily, and died a year after the poem was published, in 1952. 

Point of View

Stanzas 1 and 6, which the poet addressed directly to his father, are in second-person point of view (you understood). The other stanzas are in third-person point of view.

Type of Work, Stucture, and Rhyme Scheme

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is a villanelle, a form of poetry popularized mainly in France in the sixteenth century. It usually expressed pastoral, idyllic sentiments in imitation of the Italian villanella, a type of song for singers and dancers that centered on rural, peasant themes. When French writers such as Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) and Philipe Desportes (1546-1606) began writing villanelles, these poems did not have a fixed format. However, when Jean Passerat (1534-1602) wrote a villanelle whose format caught the fancy of critics, that format became the standard for all future villanelles. The format is as follows:
    Number of Stanzas: Six.
    Lines in Each Stanza: Three in each of the first five stanzas, four in the last. A three-line stanza is called a tercet; a four-line stanza, a quatrain.
    Refrains: two lines, the first and third of the first stanza, must be repeated in the other stanzas. Here is the pattern: Line 1 of the first stanza is repeated as line 3 of the second stanza, as line 3 of the fourth stanza, and as line 3 of the sixth stanza. Line 3 of the first stanza is repeated as line 3 of the third stanza, line 3 of the fifth stanza, and line 4 of the sixth stanza. 
    End Rhyme: aba in the first five stanzas; abaa in the last stanza.

Meter

Except for the second one of Stanza 5, each line in the poem has ten syllables (five feet). The first syllable in a line is unstressed, the second is stressed, the third is unstressed, the fourth is stressed, and so on. Thus, the poem is in iambic pentameter. (If you need a detailed explanation of iambic pentameter and other metric formats, click here.)

The following example demonstrates the metric scheme of the first two lines. The unstressed syllables are in blue; the stressed are in red capitals. Over each pair of syllables is a number representing the foot. Also, a black vertical line separates the feet.

......1..............2.............3..............4..................
Do NOT..|..go GEN..|..tle IN..|..to THAT..|..good NIGHT.....................(Iambic Pentameter)
......1........./..........2.....................3...................4..............
Old AGE..|..should BURN..|..and RAVE..|..at CLOSE..|..of DAY..........(Iambic Pentameter)

Theme

Dylan Thomas is saying in his own way what one of Shakespeare's characters says in Henry VI Part I : "Fight till the last gasp" (1.3.127). Even at the end of life, the poem advises, one should attempt to "burn" with life, to "rage against the dying of the light.".

Figures of Speech

Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, click here.

Alliteration: go, good (first stanza); though, their (second stanza); deeds, danced (third stanza) sang, sun (fourth stanza); learn, late (fourth stanza); see, sight (fifth stanza); blinding, blind, blaze (fifth stanza). Note: Go and gentle do not alliterate; they have different consonant sounds.
Assonance: age, rave, day (first stanza); blaze, gay, rage (fifth stanza)
Metaphor: good night compared to death (first stanza)
Metaphor: Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight (fourth stanza). Implied comparison of achievement to catching the fire of the sun and to singing triumphantly
Two Metaphors: words had forked no lightning (second stanza). (1) Words are compared to the cause of forked lightning. (See Notes and Comments for the second stanza for an explanation of the scientific term forked lightning.) (2) Lightning is compared to attention, notice—that is, the words had received no attention.
Metaphor/Personification/Metonymy: old age . . . burn . . . rave. (Old age represents and is compared to a person)
Metaphor/Personification: frail deeds might have danced
Oxymoron: good night (first stanza). Good death is oxymoronic if one does not view death as good.
Oxymoron: blinding sight (fifth stanza)
Oxymoron: fierce tears (sixth stanza)
Simile: blind eyes could blaze like meteors (fifth stanza)
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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
By Dylan Thomas

1

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.

Point of View: Thomas begins the poem with second-person point of view, telling his father and other readers to "fight till the last gasp," as Shakespeare said. 
go gentle: Go becomes a copulative verb, permitting the use of the adjective gentle rather than the adverb gently.
close of day: end of life
good night: two meanings: (1) death, (2) goodbye
light: will to live; spirit, soul, mind; hope



2

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.

Point of View: Thomas shifts to third-person point of view. Here he is making a declarative statement when he says wise men "do not go gentle."
Sentence Structure: Whereas the first stanza contains three main clauses, the second stanza contains two subordinate clauses, beginning with though and because, and a main clause, beginning with they
right: inevitable, unavoidable; natural
forked no lightning: failed to command attention; failed to express a startling or revolutionary concept. In meteorology, "forked lightning" describes a lightning strike that divides into two or more branches resembling the roots of a plant—or, metaphorically, a fork. A common cause of the phenomenon is a second bolt that follows the path of the first bolt, then diverts away from it. Forked lightning is a spectacular sight; thus, words that "fork lighting" would be likewise spectacular. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) used the phrase "forked lightning" in a poem entitled "The Shepherd's Brow." Click here for pictures of forked lightning
they do: example of enjambment



3

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.

Point of View: Thomas continues third-person point of view. 
Sentence Structure: The stanza is a single declarative sentence. 
Parallel Ideas: Good men has the force of wise men in the previous stanza. The message expressed in both stanzas is similar: Men facing death realize they could have done more and thus fight against the dying of the light
crying: weeping or shouting 
bright their: another instance of enjambment



4

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.

Point of View: Thomas continues third-person point of view. 
Sentence Structure: The stanza is a single declarative sentence.
Parallel Ideas: Wild men has the force of good men in Stanza 3 and wise men in Stanza 2. The message is the same as in Stanzas 2 and 3. 
Wild . . . flight: These men had their moment in the sun, so to speak. But they lived most of their lives in shadows, grieving over daily travails. 
they grieved it: dismissed it; sent it. They did not seize the moment and capture what it offered them.



5

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.

Point of View: Thomas continues third-person point of view. 
Sentence Structure: The stanza is a single declarative sentence. Note that the word that is understood between the words sight and blind
Parallel Ideas: Grave men has the force of wild men in Stanza 4, good men in Stanza 3 and wise men in Stanza 2. The message is the same as in Stanzas 2 and 3. 
Grave men: Serious men. It seems that Thomas veers close to bathos here, for the words can be read as a prosaic pun. 
blinding sight: an oxymoron to convey the idea that dying men with failing eyes see with illuminating insight
blaze . . . gay: A blind man can see in other ways and even "blaze" with ideas and zest for life



6

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. 

curse, bless: In effect, "if you cursed me, you would be blessing me." Cursing his son would show that he still has fire, spirit, the will to fight.

Poems of Dylan Thomas, Copyright 1952, 1953 by Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 by the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp.

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Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Dylan Thomas advises his readers to "rage against the dying of the light." If he were alive today, what would he say about assisted suicide and euthanasia? 
  • Thomas, though a popular poet in his lifetime, managed money ineptly and thus was always in financial trouble. Moreover, he drank to excess. Research his life, then answer this question: Do you believe his drinking was a misguided attempt to "rage against the dying of the light"? Or was it a sign that he had despaired and decided to "go gentle," under the influence of alcohol, "to that good night"? (Thomas died in New York City after drinking to excess.)
  • Have you ever "forked lightning"? (See Notes and Comments, above.) If so, write an essay about your experience.
  • In 1854, Henry David Thoreau wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Was Dylan Thomas writing about the same men as Thoreau when he wrote in the second and fifth stanzas that certain men "do not go gentle" because they had "forked no lightning" or because they "grieved" the sun on its way?
  • Write a villanelle that imitates the Thomas poem. Focus on a theme of your choice.




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