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Dylan Thomas’s villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is addressed to his aged father. The poem is remarkable in a number of ways, most notably in that contrary to most common poetic treatments of the inevitability of death, which argue for serenity or celebrate the peace that death provides, this poem urges resistance and rage in the face of death. It justifies that unusual attitude by describing the rage and resistance to death of four kinds of men, all of whom can summon up the image of a complete and satisfying life that is denied to them by death.
First body paragraph
The first tercet of the intricately rhymed villanelle opens with an arresting line. The adjective gentle appears where we would expect the adverb gently. The strange diction suggests that gentle may describe both the going (i.e., gently dying) and the person (i.e., gentleman) who confronts death. Further, the speaker characterizes “night,” here clearly a figure for death, as “good.” Yet in the next line, the speaker urge that the aged should violently resist death, characterized as the “close of day” and “the dying of the light.” In effect, the first three lines argue that however good death may be, the aged should refuse to die gently, should passionately rave and rage against death.
The second body paragraph describes the second tercet.
The third body paragraph: the “good men”
The fourth body paragraph: the “wild men”
The fifth body paragraph: the “grave men”
The speaker then calls upon his aged father to join these men raging against death. Only in this final stanza do we discover that the entire poem is addressed to the speaker’s father and that, despite the generalized statements about old age and the focus upon types of men, the poem is a personal lyric. The edge of death becomes a “sad height,” the summit of wisdom and experience old age attains includes the sad knowledge of life’s failure to satisfy the vision we all pursue. The depth and complexity of the speaker’s sadness is startlingly given the second line when he calls upon his father to both curse nd bless him. These opposites richly suggest several related possibilities.
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