In ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ Dylan Thomas addresses the helpless state to which old people are rendered to, and encourages them to not give in quietly to death and fight against its approach.
In the first stanza Thomas says what he expects people who are close to death should do. He urges them to live life to its full extent even if they know that it is at an end. The next four stanzas go on to describe the kind of people who do not give in to death easily. It starts with wise men who, even though they know that death would, in the end conquer all, they still don’t cave in quietly as they know that things that they’ve said have not made any difference to the world. They need to make people see the truth of their words. This desire to be known, heard, and understood means that they are likely to fight death, perhaps because they feel there is yet more to do. Next comes the example of good men, who remained pious and righteous throughout their lives realize, on the nearing of death, that their good deeds are weak and could have been so much more, so they fight against death with a will to live on. Brave, adventurous men who did not know how short life is, and spent it all on wild expeditions, realize that soon life would be at an end, and so they fight to live on. Even old men who are on the brink of death view the world with a twinkle in their eyes, eager to see as much as they can before giving in to the darkness.
The last stanza takes on an intensely personal tone as the poet directly addresses his father. This is a separate stanza which shows that he does not see his father as part of any of the afore mentioned categories, but rather he is a whole different category in himself. He implores his father, who is nearing old age and death, to curse at him only so that he can see the passionate man he once used to be. He pleads him to not give in to death, to fight against it with every breath in his body.
The poem is in the form of a villanelle, six stanzas with a simple rhyming scheme that belies the complex message behind the poem. This message is made clear with a number of literary techniques, the most evident of which is repetition. The lines ‘do not go gentle’ and ‘rage rage against the dying of the light’ are repeated throughout the poem at the end of every stanza. These lines make use of an extended metaphor comparing death to the darkness of nightfall, and life to the bright day. Also a paradox is used in ‘good night’ where Thomas calls the uncertainty and inevitability of death, represented by nightfall, as good. Also the good deeds of the righteous men are personified as ‘dancing in the green bay’, which signifies life; as is the sun personified ‘as sun in flight.’ These used os personification also invoke a deep imagery which makes the reader imagine the sunset and the approach of nightfall, making the message behind the metaphor clear. Punning on ‘grave men’ Thomas uses a metaphor to again compare the brightness of their eyes to blazing meteors, showing the intensity of their will power to live on.
Thus does Thomas, with the use of simple words, evoke strong emotions in the reader through this poem. A bold defiance is shown towards death, and he encourages those who are faced with it to share his passion for life. He pleads them to fight against its approach, even though he is well aware that in the end everyone has to cave in. No matter how worthless this fight against such an inevitable thing as death may seem one cannot help but commend the ferocity and fierceness of the poet, who has such a will to live on.
It is an extremely encouraging poem, despite the fact that it repeatedly emphasizes the approach of death, as it simultaneously defies what it itself proves; that death is the conqueror of all. It ignites in one an intense passion for life and living, and no matter what problems one is facing in life, they seem insignificant when one thinks of the fact that it will all soon end and death will take over.
People, especially the youth of today, have become so weak willed that the slightest difficulty in life bends them towards thoughts of death and suicide. They see in death, not an ending, but an easy way out. Thomas shows in this poem, not just asking for death, but even waiting for it to overcome one quietly is according to him, dishonorable and unjust. People should have an active will to live on, no matter their circumstances or age, as surrendering is cowardly and weak.
The full extent of enjoying this poem lies in understanding and appreciating the message that Thomas conveys through the use of simple yet strong words.