The poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,’ by Dylan Thomas, contains one word that is crucial to the poem’s meaning and tone. The word is ‘rage.’ Rage can be associated with anger, fighting, outbursts, and fire, and it typically needs to be contained or results in violence. Rage is not only an emotion, but it evokes the senses. Rage is red, and it smells like fire. It sounds like a freight train, and it feels like an earthquake. If one could eat rage, it would taste metallic like blood. The negative connotations of the word are numerous, but Thomas recommends we rage. He wants us to fight.
It is rare to have a villanelle evoke so much emotion in its 19 lines. The two repeating lines must be immaculate, as they are to be heard repeatedly throughout the poem, but there must be something else. A villanelle must have something that makes every recurrence of a line have an increasing impact. The rage grows in each stanza whether or not the line is repeated. The feeling of the fire grows as the word is repeated throughout the poem.
A villanelle does not rhyme, but there is a definite rhythm to Thomas’ poem that creates the same expectations in the reader as for those who read rhymes. The poem flows from one rage to another, as it flows from one, ‘Do not go gentle” to another. These are the two repeated lines in the poem. The rhythm of a villanelle creates comfort in a reader by consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain that completes the short but dramatic idea. Thomas uses rage to get the dramatic effect his idea deserves.
Rage is also used in a similar way to an onomatopoeia. ‘Rage, rage, rage” is almost a sound in the poem. It may not have had an equal impact, but Thomas could have achieved the same meaning with an actual onomatopoeia, such as ‘Pow, pow, pow…’ Any time Thomas’ poem is read the rage is said more like a sound than an emotion. It elicits a visceral response, much like rage would in actual life.
The word, rage, means to fight vigorously against the opposition, and in Thomas’ poem, the opposition is death. In the first stanza, Thomas notes that the threat of age and death should keep us fighting. In the second stanza, he notes that the wise know their end will come, but they do not stifle because of their eminent demise. Rather, in the third stanza, they reflect upon their glorious lives, and they again rage against death. In the fourth stanza, Thomas reflects upon the adventures of the young, wild men. He notes men’s regret at the end of their adventure but encourages them to not go gently. The fifth stanza reveals a more personal aspect to Thomas’ predicament, as he talks about blind eyes that can still blaze with rage. He father went blind before Thomas’ death. Then, in the final quatrain, Thomas indicates the intended subject of his poem, his father. His father is dying, and Thomas prays he will fight and continue his life as long as possible. His father passes sometime after he writes his poem.
Some may argue that rage is not the meaning of the poem, as it is also a plea for Thomas’ father to continue fighting for his life. However, Thomas suffers rage at the inevitability of his father’s death. He is angry that his father cannot remain, and he is angry that this is the natural order of life.
The tone of Thomas’ poem is passionate and intense. He does not build up a sense of emotion in regard to his father’s death. He begins his poem with a recommendation for all who suffer similar circumstance. ‘Do not go gentle” Thomas’ advice is further extrapolated to mean that he recommends all people live their lives to the fullest. Even when they are at death’s door and there seems to be no method to continue meaningful existence, he encourages all of us to take every last moment and wring every bit of life out of it that we can.
Thomas’ father died shortly after the poem was written, and Thomas himself died only a few years later. His poem reflects his desire to know that his father was able to live his life to the fullest, but it also reflects his own desires. Thomas tells his father to rage against death, but it is he who ends up facing the dying of the light a couple years later.
When examining Thomas’ poem, it would be easy to state that each verse contains explicit meaning that could be construed to be most significant in any given circumstance.
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ is certainly a famous verse. However, if a critic reviewed the poem as objectively as possible, it would be clear that the rage in Thomas’ poem is the central idea in the poem. Thomas was likely suffering from rage when he wrote the poem, as he was lamenting the certain death of his father. He wished that his father would continue to rage against death, and in so doing, Thomas would not have to suffer his death. The poet’s use of a villanelle for this piece is perfect, as every word must have meaning, and the repetition of the verses elevates its emotional response. Rage, however, is the most important word in the entire piece.