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The poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” is a desperate plea to a man who can do nothing but postpone the inevitable. His father is dying but the narrator wants him to fight this state. Through the use of imagery, the poet conveys the futility of his protagonist’s wishes, and makes one relate to the hopelessness of his father’s situation.
Dylan Thomas uses plenty of imagery to evoke emotions of desperation. The second line in the poem epitomizes this aspect. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day.” (Thomas 194). In the analysis, the author believes that one should fight for life in spite of one’s age. The metaphors ‘burn’ and ‘rave’ stir up images of violent motion. They cause one to think of an intense fight or wild movements. Thomas is associating these images with old age. Immediately, one can see the irony of the two concepts because passivity and resignation typify old age. If the protagonist calls for the raving of old age, then he is advocating for something that directly contravenes the norms of old age. It is unlikely that his father has the will-power or energy to follow these instructions. Furthermore, his raving and burning will not change anything as he will inevitably die.
The third line in the poem carries the theme of hopelessness even more profoundly. “Because their words had forked no lighting…” explains why many dying, old people find themselves in this state of desperation (Thomas 194). Individuals in this situation often realize that their time has ended, yet they have not left a mark in society. Consequently, they will fight death in a last-minute attempt to create a legacy in their society. When the writer connects ‘words’ to ‘forking’, he means that the assertions made by dying men, earlier on their lives, did not stick into the minds of their listeners. In other words, they had no lasting impact. The words were meant to cause enlightenment, hence the use of the term ‘lighting’ in the phrase. Such individuals may attempt to undo this predicament by fighting death. Once again, it is quite clear how futile such attempts are. When death is imminent, it does not matter how strongly one tries to oppose it because it will still triumph. If the dying man had lived an insignificant life, then eleventh-hour attempts to rewrite history are bound to fail.
In line seven, the poet describes how good men’s frail deeds might have danced in a green bay. Thomas uses personification to illustrate the inescapability of death. In this line, he is talking about an extinct class of men who lament upon the greatness of their actions in the past. He calls their great deeds frail and then claims that they can dance in a green bay. A green bay is an endless sea; therefore, the word green bay invokes feelings of endlessness. Anything that is compared to this physical feature also shares the same traits of continuity.
On the other hand, Thomas does not just liken their great deeds to an endless sea; instead, he affirms that the deeds dance on the sea. The fact that he calls good men’s deeds frail implies how flimsy they are. When they dance on top of an endless sea, then they have even fewer chances of survival. The writer thus proves that even good men, who belong to a dying breed, cannot change death’s relentlessness. Society will still forget a person’s actions even when their achievements were great. Trying to emphasize one’s actions in life is similar to floating fragile items on the sea. Therefore, dying men are not doing anything productive by counting their accomplishments.
Dylan Thomas employs figurative language in the form of metaphors when he addresses another category of dying men. These individuals were wild and free. In line ten, he asserts that “the wild men caught and sang the sun in flight” (Thomas 194). In this verse, the word ‘sun’ evokes feelings of happiness, pleasure and excitement. On the other hand, by adding the term “in flight” at the end of the line, the author demonstrates that these feelings were transitory. The dying, wild man eventually realizes that he has wasted away his life on these adventures. The person learns too late that he is a mortal soul. In order to right one’s wrong, a dying, wild man will hold onto to life. This will be a futile attempt to remember one’s youth and hopefully change one’s past. Such an attempt is like trying to chase after the sun, as this meaningless.
The author also employs imagery to bring out the theme of desperation in another category of men. Here, the poet talks about “grave men who see with blinding sight” (Thomas 194). The term grave refers to people who have lived their life with a lot of sadness. It could also encompass nearness to the grave. These individuals have failing bodies that do not function well. However, by using the expression ‘seeing with blinding sight’, the author shows that these men have a clear understanding of what life is about. ‘Blinding sight’ evokes feelings of very clear vision. The perception of a person with blinding sight is so sharp that it could cause physical effects in one’s body.
In line 14, the author likens these men’s blind eyes to meteors. Thomas wanted to stress the passion in their minds regardless of their failing physical bodies. It is likely that the protagonist wanted to urge his father to hold onto life because even grave men, like him, had something unique in them. Vanity still exists in such an argument because failing physical body parts precede the failure of one’s whole system. Grave men are in an irreversible position, so nothing can save them from death; even their passion and clear understanding of life.
Line seventeen is a plea from the protagonist to his father to fight for life. Once again, the poet uses imagery to emphasize the futility of this endeavor. The caring son asks his father to bless or curse him with fierce tears. The assonance ‘fierce tears’ makes one think of the passion and pain of the speaker. If tears are fierce, then the person shedding them is not doing so out of resignation; his crying is like a fight. To the protagonist, fierce tears can scare away death. However, it is obvious that death cannot be scared because it is not an animate creature.
The stanzas in the entire poem either end with “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” or “Do not go gentle into that good night” (Thomas 194). In the latter phrase, the word ‘night’ symbolizes a quiet and dull time. This is a moment when one has completed the day’s responsibilities and is highly subdued. Therefore, the word invokes images of passivity, relaxation as well as dimness. The author probably calls the night good because it is an opportunity for people to forget about their responsibilities and relax. On the other hand, the phrase “rage, rage against the dying of light” makes one think about the opposite situation. People are often quite busy during the day.
They find purpose and meaning in their lives during the day when they engage in various activities. Therefore, when they let go of light, which is synonymous with day time, then they are also letting go of meaning and purpose in life. The poet is contrasting these situations and asking his father to choose light. The imagery of the two lines creates a contrast and emphasizes the value of having purpose in one’s life. On the other hand, they also further the theme of hopelessness because one cannot change time. Day will always precede night irrespective of what one does. Therefore, if one is old and about die, fighting these changes will not yield any effective results.
The protagonist in the piece encourages his father to approach his death with enthusiasm. It is a desperate plea to a father who can do little to change his circumstances. Through imagery, it is possible to see the futility in his requests. All the examples he uses only reinforce the irreversibility of one’s youth and the fleeting nature of human existence. Wise men, wild men and grave men cannot change death even if they rage and fight it.
Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Literature and Society: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction. Eds. Pamela J. Annas and Robert C. Rosen. 4th Ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006. 194. Print.