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Death and Transiency in Thomas’s and Frost’s Poems Essay

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020

Introduction

This paper delves into the topic of death and impermanence through a comparison of the poems “Do not Go Gentle into the Night” by Dylan Thomas and “Nothing Gold can Stay” by Robert Frost. It is the intention of this analysis to focus on the different perspectives of the poets when it comes to the concept of death. For instance, “Nothing Gold can Stay” focuses on the acceptance of a natural passing (i.e. the natural way of things) while “Do not Go Gentle into the Night” focuses on a form of resistance to it. Do note though that in both poems there is an inherent similarity wherein they broach the topic of inevitability, impermanence and natural death, however, it is in the way that the author’s view these aspects that truly showcases the differences between the two. Frost focuses more on the concept of letting things go with their natural flow. This is particularly exemplified when he stated that “Nothing Gold can Flow” the concepts of gold and flow in this particular instance refer to the natural cycle of nature wherein gold refers to the seeds of plants while flow refers to the process of their growth.

The use of metaphors to emphasize particular points in relation to nature and an individual’s surroundings is a hallmark of the work of Frost and, as such, it is not surprising that he utilizes the same technique in this instance in order to show that in all things, time and death are inevitable. Thus, it is futile to resist the constant rush and instead it is better to accept things as they are and live in the manner that you so choose. On the other end of the spectrum, Thomas presents an entirely different perspective wherein instead of accepting things as they are, he posits the notion of resistance. This is understandable given the nature of this poem which focuses on the death of a loved one and the desire of the author for them to resist the inevitability of death. The use of personal experience as a “jumping off point” is a common theme in the work of Thomas and showcases his desire to bring more “personal emotion” so to speak into his written work (Heaney, 1993). This practice helps the poet to better connect to those reading his work by enabling him to utilize an experience they have gone through in order to create a mutual understanding. It is based on these two perspectives that this paper will conduct an analysis of both poems in order to help understand the intentions of the poets and how both poems are similar in origin (i.e. acknowledging inevitability) yet have intrinsically different outcomes.

Analysis

The main theme in the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, is an argument to fight against the encroaching arms of death. While the word “fight” is never actually utilized despite its similarity to the meter of the words utilized within the poem such as rage, burn, and rave, the fact remains that these phrases are used in such a way that it portrays a type of fight against death itself. From a certain perspective, it can even be stated that the author has taken a metaphysical concept (i.e. death) and then subsequently transformed into something that is material. In order to understand the context that the author was attempting to focus on in the poem, it is important to examine the last stanza which states:

“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”.

It is based on this particular phrase that the entire context of the poem becomes clear. From my perspective, it appears as if the author wrote the poem as an appeal to his father who is near death in that he wanted his father to continue to live and to fight. This is a plausible assertion given that most people who experience the slow death of their loved ones would desire that the person attempt to stave off their impending demise by “fighting” against death. This actually a common theme in various types of literature wherein during death scenes where a loved one is located nearby, some iteration of “fight against death and live” has been utilized. It is unknown though whether the author is focusing on his own personal experience, the experience of someone that he knows or is merely utilizing his own perception of trends in literature involving death. Regardless of the inspiration that was behind the formation of this poem, it can be stated that it does help to exemplify the feeling of despair and hopelessness as well as the desire to fight against the inevitable.

First and foremost, what must be understood is that one of the underlying themes in all the works of Frost is a certain level of “interconnectivity” which implies the presence of a grand design of all things and an implied question as to whether or not a grand entity shapes our destiny or if we ourselves shape our future (Dickstein, 2010). It is due to this perspective of a grand design that influences nature that Frost has developed the concept of “going along with the flow” when it comes to the various “messages” embedded in some of his work (Dickstein, 2010). From this, it can be implied that all of us may be part of some greater design with coincidences appearing that may not be coincidences at all but rather are part of a plan for our lives. Thus, to resist is futile resulting in more pain and anguish than what is necessary (Jensen, 2009). It is due to his particular perspective that the works of both authors truly diverge and showcase their different opinions on what it means to handle the concept of inevitability (Logan, 2010). It is due to this, that Frost at times questions whether we have any free will at all and in fact are nothing more than moving parts in some great machine, being moved at the whim of some all powerful entity (Logan, 2010). Thus, the concept of inevitability for Frost is something that one cannot truly go against for everything has already been planned beforehand with the outcomes already decided. This is exemplified in the “process of birth, growth and death” that can be seen in the poem “Nothing Gold can Stay”.

Further analysis of “Do not go gentle into that good night” shows that the author phrases his arguments to fight death by mentioning various types of praiseworthy behavior by “wise men”, “good men”, “grave men” and wild men“. This is one of the symbolisms of the poem wherein the author attempts to parallel the traits of such individuals and attributes them to his father in order to convince him to live on. Either that or these aspects are meant to symbolize the various types of men that death captures equally. It is from this perspective that you can see that the author places a considerable amount of emphasis of the equality of all things when faced with death. Death from the author’s perspective is inevitable, however, that does not mean that people should immediately succumb to it without putting up some sort of fight (Landers, 2014). The concept of equality before death is also another literary theme that is often utilized in a vast amount of literary works, however, rarely is it combined with the concept of fighting against it. This particular poem thus combines something that is inevitable with concept of going against the inevitable. Normally, this would make little sense when taking into consideration the fact that you cannot stop the inevitable. Yet, when looking at the poem from a broader perspective, it can be assumed that it can act as a form of commentary on the present state of grief and the human condition wherein despite the fact that we know we are going to die eventually, we still continue to fight to live just one more day in order to achieve something noteworthy. This is seen in the use of the phrase “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” after each description of each type of man as if to imply that men of such character and distinction would not allow themselves to die so easily. This is a particularly interesting motif that the author is using since it shows that he is not ready to let his father go just yet. This may be due to unresolved issues, the love of a son for his father or an assortment of other factors that are not evident within the poem itself.

The phrase “then leaf subsides to lead, so Eden sank to grief” is a particular interesting element in “Nothing Gold can Stay” since taking this particular phrase and combining it with references to other symbols such as “gold”, “flow” and “nature”, these seemingly inconsequential aspects can actually be combined and interpreted as being symbolic of God’s all encompassing love. In that there is no person that God does not love and, as such, even if death should come we should not be afraid for God is with us. Aside from the main theme of death as being inevitabile, I believe that this secondary interpretation is another theme of the poem and the message that the author is trying to impart to readers. It must also be noted that unlike other poems which speak of the coming of death this poem does not have the same haunting feel of regret or dismay rather when reading it what becomes apparent is a feeling of acceptance of the coming of death that the author imparts in each stanza and phrase and, as such, shows how his belief in the love of God keeps the fear of death away.

Other interesting symbols utilized throughout “Do not go gentle into that good night” are references to day and night as well as lightning and meteors. This is particularly interesting to take note of since such methods of symbolism imply that the author acknowledges that all life must end yet before it does it must do so in a spectacular fashion. For example, a day does not transition into night without a bright sunset; lightning is a brief yet brilliant flash of light while a meteor is a blazing trail of fire that lights of the night sky (Rosenberg & Garbett, 2001). This seems to imply that the author wants to have one last talk with this father, that he wants him to go out blazing like the sun, like a meteor or like lightning. The poem seemingly emphasizes that his father should go down blazing and fighting and not apparently bed stricken as derived from the phrase “there on the sad height” which seemingly implies being placed on a hospital bed. Overall, the poem is an excellent piece of literature that portrays a son’s love for this father and how he wanted to have more time with him. Overall, I cannot state that the poem is of any considerable significance since it dwells on a theme and a topic that has been covered relentlessly by numerous poets since act of poetry started. It s based on this that I believe that the poem is a more personal work of the author, written to commemorate a point in his life where he experienced a form of personal tragedy and wanted to immortalize his feelings back then in the form of a poem.

Learning from the Poems

If poetry is an expression of life then it should be able to reflect happiness and despair, joy and suffering, as well as success and failure. The work of Thomas is based on this notion since it is not inspirational but rather personal. It relies on an individual’s life experiences and as such draws from both the good and the bad. In a sense it can be compared to a condensed autobiography in that the author uses either a specific life experience or experiences accumulated over several years to create an artistic verbal account of their life. While it is often times criticized as being akin to a form of self loathing what must be understood is that this form of poetry uses the pain of the writer in order to capture the attention the reader, instill in them the pain and despair the writer experienced and have the audience realize that a person’s life can turn out in so many possible ways with a happy ending only being one of the possible outcomes.

Conclusion

Overall, this paper concludes that “Nothing Gold can Stay” focuses on the acceptance of a natural passing (i.e. the natural way of things) while “Do not Go Gentle into the Night” focuses on a form of resistance to it. Do note though that in both poems there is an inherent similarity wherein they broach the topic of inevitability, impermanence and natural death, however, it is in the way that the author’s view these aspects that truly showcases the differences between the two.

Reference List

Dickstein, M. (2010). Career, life, and influence: On Robert Frost. Critical Insights: Robert Frost, 3-11.

Heaney, S. (1993). Dylan the durable? On Dylan Thomas. Ordering Mirror, 255-275.

Jensen, J. (2009). The Collected Prose of Robert Frost. Magill’S Literary Annual 2009, 1-3.

Landers, R. K. (2014). Writing a Life. Commonweal, 141(8), 17-19.

Logan, W. (2010). Frost’s notebooks: a disaster revisited. New Criterion, 28(6), 20-27.

Rosenberg, R., & Garbett, A. (2001). Dylan Thomas. Critical Survey Of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition, 1-5.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Death and Transiency in Thomas's and Frost's Poems." June 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/death-and-transiency-in-thomass-and-frosts-poems/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Death and Transiency in Thomas's and Frost's Poems'. 16 June.

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