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The end our road that is life, is death and the second we begin to live, we begin to die. A rendition of death and the loss of a loved one is expressed in two different lights in Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that Good Night” and Anne Sexton’s “for Eleanor Boylan talking with God”. Both express the fear and vulnerability of losing someone you thought should live forever Thomas’ message is an imperative one a dark and tangible energy whereas Sexton’s tone is more passive and quiet and more driven by sorrow than anger. But as there is an underlying sense of sorrow in Thomas’ villanelle, there is also a sense of quiet anger.
In “For Eleanor Boylan Talking With God”, Sexton expresses the pain of losing a loved one. There is a surreal quality to the poem, Sexton seems to write as she thinks with a thought inciting a memory; she communicates her feelings in a very literal concrete way but the poem is still very abstract because there is so little linking these images, adding on to the feeling that you are looking into Sexton’s very mind and heart. She talks about Eleanor, a friend who is more beautiful than her mother; this intimate compliment can be interpreted as more dear than even her mother. An aspect of Eleanor that Sexton respects is her closeness with God, there is a child-like trust depicted when the author writes about Eleanor in the kitchen “motioning to God”. Possibly because Eleanor is wearing a lemon-colored sundress, the reader imagines her with a smile and she feels the acceptance at her own death that Sexton cannot find. Eleanor has more faith than the author in God and who has maintained this faith even when she is dying.
Sexton wrote that God “had a face when she was six and a half” meaning he was a tangible figure. The six-year-old Sexton had a familiarity with God, she knew what he looked like; he was her friend, as is the feeling in most children about God. But this image of god has become a huge jellyfish that covers the sky. There is no comfort in a slimy jellyfish and Sexton does not find any comfort in God.
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Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go Gentle into that Good Night” is a poem that expresses sorrow that is clouded by anger and the use of anger to fight sorrow. Thomas expresses a deep resentment in his father for being weak enough to die, as if by “raging” enough, Thomas, Sr. could have lived longer. He says “bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night.” Because Thomas describes death as a “good night” and not as “dark night” or “cold night” which correlate more with his message, there is a sense that Thomas believes that a part of everyone wants to die to end the struggle of life. It is this secret wish that inspires his blame. His father was once an energetic man of “fierce tears” reduced in his son’s eyes to the weakness of death. Where is this energy now? Thomas seems to ask. He’s bitter that his father was used up in life almost like Eleanor was eventually used up in death.
A pervading theme in Thomas’ poem is regret. Wise men “do not go into that gentle light” because their life is incomplete, they have not made their mark on the world, have not lived as they should have. Thomas expresses that this is always true for any with the wisdom to realize it; life will always be end before it should even if your life lasts a million years. However, the reality is that added wisdom would find just the opposite; the time you have is enough, simply because it has to be and there is no way to change that. Of “wild men” he says, they “learn too late”. The term “wild” conjures the word hedonist. These hedonists realize only before death that they have not lived as they should have. Grave men, see before death that they have not appreciated life but now no longer have it to enjoy. Good men, like wise men, see their life incomplete, though for less selfish reasons and dream of what could be in a “green bay” or youth. Depicting the arrival of death in such a negative light in all these different personalities is part of Thomas’ ultimate message that death is THE END, in all aspects; mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Of the six stanzas, the first five follow a supplementary rhythm established by the first and second stanzas. The first stanza ends by with the command “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The last line of the second stanza is “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But in the last stanza, this pattern is broken as the last two lines are “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.” This broken pattern communicates a loss of control and final reluctant acceptance.
The greatest difference in the two poems was the expression of anger and the image formed of the two authors. “Do not go Gentle into that Good Night” inspires the sense of anger and is a poem to be more shouted than read; a poem that inspires emotion. It forms the picture of Thomas as a brooding poet, much like Anne Sexton, but without her quietness, he is much younger than Anne and much more unforgiving, more prone to extremes. Perhaps because the first line of “For Eleanor Boylan Talking with God” describes God as having “a brown voice, as soft and full as beer”, the poem takes on this kind of voice; like the poem is the voice of God. Also because of these first lines, is included in the image of Anne Sexton that her voice is soft and quiet. There is a calmness to her quiet anger that is pleading in its restraint.
Sexton’s description of Eleanor, from her clothing to her acceptance conveys an imagery of Eleanor as a more trusting, more fragile and maybe even younger than the author. There is tenderness towards a woman who talks with God in a lemon-colored sundress. Eleanor was someone that was full of light, a contrast to Sexton dark-brooding-poet-ness and Sexton would have preferred her own death than Eleanor’s. But in the end there is a message as Sexton reaches out to keep even a little bit of Eleanor’s light. She asks her to deliver a message to God; perhaps a plea for understanding or forgiveness, a final argument on why Eleanor should stay. Or perhaps just for the ability, the privilege to be able to see his face again.
Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Literature and Ourselves. Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 1997.