Dylan Thomas was a master of the form, and the poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night is a wonderfully powerful villanelle. Each line builds upon the previous and the power grows like successive waves upon a lake. The rhyme scheme and the metaphors create an image that stays in the mind and we understand as if we are standing at the bedside of Thomas’s dying father. We stand for a moment inside his shoes and we feel his pain. Only such poetry can communicate this message so well.
specifically for you
for only $16.05 $11/page
The repeated lines of the form build up the feeling of loss, even though we assume from the poem that the target of the narrator’s speech is still alive. In truth, he gets no response from his dying father, so he repeats his entreaty that his father should fight for life: “/Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light./” These repeated phrases build until they nearly explode, and anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one, and even those who can only imagine it, understands.
The rhyme scheme is like a woven tapestry, with the first five verses echoing the a-b-a rhyme scheme and each ending with one of the main phrases mentioned above. Then the last verse uses the same rhyme but adds both of the main phrases. It seems rather like lying under sheets of plywood as someone stacks them on you and then jumps on them each time they add one, and then finally jumping twice with the addition of the last one. It is impossible to escape the desperation and despair of this poem.
In the middle verses, Thomas describes to his father how other men die, some regretting what they failed to do, some lamenting how their deeds might have been in a different circumstance, some who wildly spent their time too fast, and some who see the truth at the last moment, too late, but all who resist the last closing of their eyes. The images he uses to describe these men show each a different type of man who lived a different kind of life. Then he begs his father to curse him with his fierce tears, but to resist dying with all his might. He does not mention what kind of life his father is giving up, but it is important to the poet, though he seems to think that it is not important enough to his father.
It is quite impossible to describe the full impact of this poem adequately since it requires the exact words of the poem for the impact to be so strong. That is the nature of good poetry. The rhyme scheme and repeated lines emphasize the impact and the images make us feel that we are present at the bedside of the dying man, watching through the eyes of his son. The message is carried not on the words, but on the impact they have on the audience. Thomas uses the villanelle form to create one of the most powerful poems ever written about loss and death, and how we wish our loved ones to struggle to stay with us. This poem will probably live as long as people can read, unless, of course, we conquer death.