Daily Archives: February 23, 2007

Literature: Do Not Go Gentle

Hut Point PeninsulaWelsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night” in 1951 for his dying father.  Loving it when I first read it (who knows when?), I find now that this poem has just sort of stuck with me, and I like to revisit it every now and then.  In moments lacking inspiration, it seems to reignite the fires.  Since I’m not old or (knowingly) on the verge of death, I read the poem as a powerful plea to live each day fully, and I’m thinking of it now particularly as I think of McMurdo Station, Antarctica’s winter-overs, who will officially start their winter season today.  In just a few hours, I will be flying north with the remaining summer contract workers, and for four of the next six months, those who remain at McMurdo will be living and working in the dark.  I thought that Thomas’ words might lighten their steps:

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.

A note on the poem’s structure:
It’s a villanelle.  This poetic form follows a pattern that has only two rhymes, and its first and third lines get alternately repeated as the last line in each following stanza (and forming a couplet at the end).  Other rules: nineteen lines total, arranged into tercets (three-line stanzas).  So, no, Dylan Thomas wasn’t just being repetitive because he couldn’t think of anything better to do.  The repetition, as it turns out, is what I like most about the poem.  By the time I reach the end, I feel like I’ve really been bombarded with the message, which is a good one. And simple: people, do not go gentle!

P.S.–Hey, folks, so that’s it.  I’m so outta here.  In a few hours, I will leave McMurdo and will be in New Zealand for the next few weeks.  Hopefully some non-frozen adventures upcoming…