"Do not go gentle into that good night" is a poem in the form of a villanelle by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914–1953), and is one of his best-known works. Though first published in the journal Botteghe Oscure in 1951, the poem was written in 1947 while Thomas visited Florence with his family. The poem was subsequently included, alongside other works by Thomas, in In Country Sleep, and Other Poems (New Directions, 1952) and Collected Poems, 1934–1952 (Dent, 1952).
It has been suggested that the poem was written for Thomas's dying father, although he did not die until just before Christmas in 1952. It has no title other than its first line, "Do not go gentle into that good night", a line that appears as a refrain throughout the poem along with its other refrain, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
The villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines (tercets) followed by a single stanza of four lines (a quatrain) for a total of nineteen lines. It is structured by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern of "Do not go gentle into that good night" can be schematized, as shown below.
Refrain 1 (A1)
This section appears to contradict another section of this article on who the poem is addressing.(March 2023)
In the first stanza of "Do Not Go Gentle", the speaker encourages his father not to "go gentle into that good night" but rather to "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Then, in the subsequent stanzas, he proceeds to list all manner of men, using terms such as "wise", "good", "wild", and "grave" as descriptors, who, in their own respective ways, embody the refrains of the poem. In the final stanza, the speaker implores his father, whom he observes upon a "sad height", begging him to "Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears", and reiterates the refrains once more.
While this poem has inspired a significant amount of unique discussion and analysis from such critics as Seamus Heaney, Jonathan Westphal, and Walford Davies, some interpretations of the poem's meaning is under general consensus. "This is obviously a threshold poem about death", Heaney writes, and Westphal agrees, noting that "[Thomas] is advocating active resistance to death." Heaney thinks that the poem's structure as a villanelle "[turns] upon itself, advancing and retiring to and from a resolution" in order to convey "a vivid figure of the union of opposites" that encapsulates "the balance between natural grief and the recognition of necessity which pervades the poem as a whole."
Westphal writes that the "sad height" Thomas refers to in line 16 is "of particular importance and interest in appreciating the poem as a whole." He asserts that it was not a literal structure, such as a bier, not only because of the literal fact that Thomas' father died after the poem's publication, but also because "it would be pointless for Thomas to advise his father not to 'go gentle' if he were already dead ..." Instead, he thinks that Thomas' phrase refers to "a metaphorical plateau of aloneness and loneliness before death". In his 2014 "Writers of Wales" biography of Thomas, Davies disagrees, instead believing that the imagery is more allusive in nature, and that it "clearly evokes both King Lear on the heath and Gloucester thinking he is at Dover Cliff."
Use and references in other works
"Do not go gentle into that good night" was used as the text for Igor Stravinsky's In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (Dirge-Canons and Song) for tenor and chamber ensemble, which was written soon after Thomas's death and first performed in 1954. It is the subject of a 1979 tone poem for wind ensemble by Elliot del Borgo entitled Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, and was set to orchestral music by John Cale for his 1989 album Words for the Dying. Vincent Persichetti wrote a work for organ pedals alone after the poem called Do Not Go Gentle; it was premiered by Leonard Raver at Alice Tully Hall on Feb 7, 1976. In 1999 Janet Owen Thomas set the poem to music in the 2nd (final) movement of her work Under the Skin.
The title of George R. R. Martin's sci-fi novel Dying Of the Light, published in 1977, is based on one of the two refrains present in "Do not go gentle into that good night". The book deals with topics of the resistance and acceptance of death, on a planetary scale. In the book, the planet is slowly on course out of the region of its neighbouring stars, experiencing both literal and metaphorical "dying of the light".
The poem has been referenced in several films, including Independence Day (1996), where President Thomas J. Whitmore (portrayed by Bill Pullman) vows "we will not go quietly into the night", Back to School (1986), Dangerous Minds (1995) where Michelle Pfeiffer's character LouAnne Johnson uses the poem for a class contest (Dylan Thomas v Bob Dylan contest), and Interstellar (2014) where the poem is used repeatedly by Michael Caine's character Professor John Brand, as well as by several other supporting characters.
The poem has also been referenced in other media: "Do not go gentle into that good night" was the inspiration for three paintings by Swansea-born painter and printmaker Ceri Richards, who drew them in 1954, 1956, and 1965 respectively.
- "Dylan Thomas". Academy of American Poets. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
He took his family to Italy, and while in Florence, he wrote In Country Sleep, and Other Poems (Dent, 1952), which includes his most famous poem, 'Do not go gentle into that good night.'
- Ferris, Paul (1989). Dylan Thomas. New York: Paragon House Publishers. p. 283. ISBN 9781557782151. OCLC 18560227.
- "Collected Poems 1934-1952 by Thomas, Dylan". www.biblio.com. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
- "Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". BBC Wales. 6 November 2008. Archived from the original on 27 November 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2010.
- Thomas, David N. (2008). Fatal Neglect: Who Killed Dylan Thomas?. Seren. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-85411-480-8.
- Strand et al. 2001 p. 7
- "Poetic Form: Villanelle". Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Archived from the original on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
- Heaney, Seamus (23 October 2020), "Dylan the Durable? On Dylan Thomas", The Ordering Mirror, Fordham University Press, pp. 255–275, doi:10.1515/9780823296552-016, ISBN 9780823296552, S2CID 160543415, archived from the original on 11 March 2022, retrieved 31 December 2021
- Westphal, Jonathan (22 October 2015). "Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night". The Explicator. 52 (2): 113–115. doi:10.1080/00144940.1994.11484115. ISSN 0014-4940.
- Davies, Walford (2014). Dylan Thomas. ISBN 978-1-78316-152-2. OCLC 1162008686. Archived from the original on 11 March 2022. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
- Keller, Hans (1955). "In Memoriam Dylan Thomas: Strawinsky's Schoenbergian Technique". Tempo (35): 13–20. doi:10.1017/S0040298200052360. S2CID 143317174.
- copyright 1979, Shawnee Press.
- Schaeffer, John (27 October 2015). "Five Songs For Dylan Thomas". NPR. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
- Hughes, Allen (9 February 1976). "Music: Leonard Raver". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
- Owen Thomas, Janet (2007) . Under The Skin for tenor solo and 17 players. Edition Peters. pp. 50–74.
- "The Dying of the Light". October 2014.
- Petrusich, Amanda (29 August 2019). "The Survival of Iggy Pop". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
- Spencer, Kristopher (2014). Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979: A Critical Survey by Genre. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-5228-6.
- Mair, Jan (1998). "American rules, OK: Difference and otherness in 'Independence Day'". Futures. 30 (10): 981–991. doi:10.1016/s0016-3287(98)00100-1.
- Wade, Chris (5 November 2014). ""Do not go gentle into that good night" in Interstellar, Back to School, and many other movies: the supercut (VIDEO)". Slate. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
- "Ceri Richards: 'Do not go gentle into that good night' 1956". tate.org.uk/. Archived from the original on 28 August 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
- "Xu Zhangrun, 'Viral Alarm - When Fury Overcomes Fear' (Revised Translation)". China Heritage. 25 February 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
- "Een tocht door de ruïnes van Mircea Cărtărescu". De Reactor (in Dutch). 6 October 2022. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
- Hear Dylan Thomas Recite His Classic Poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” (posted at Open Culture, September 19, 2018).