This is a poem about the joy and sadness that comes with the flash of burning life
soon blown out with nothing more then a sigh. It focuses on the sadness as those we care
for go far too gently into that good night. Of those who left before their time. As this
poem was written specifically for Thomass dying father it is even more poignant in the
emotional weight the words convey.
This poem radiates with intensity, in particular, the verse beginning: wild men
who caught and sang the sun in flight is simply beautiful poetry. Addressed to the poet’s
father as he approaches blindness and death. The relevant aspect of the relationship was
Thomas’s profound respect for his father, tall and strong in Thomass passionate mind but
now tamed by illness and the passing of time. The acceptance of death and a peaceful rest
afterwards are pushed aside in favor of an ungentle rage so blind it almost mirrors the
vigor of childhood frustration at the nature of things we are powerless to change.
Further more, the poem speaks as much of the loss of love and the feelings of one
left behind as of death itself. The meaning of the poem stays shrouded in metaphors like
the references to night as “good”. He acknowledged his father stood somewhere he had
not, and perhaps saw what he could not. Thomas was not ready to let go of such an
important part of his life even though his father was facing an irreversible course, and
Thomass grief was perhaps all the greater. His statement of this love and grief remain
touching. Perhaps the feelings of his fading father should have been more important than
his own rage. These emotion seem to run unchallenged throughout the poem even though
the style beckons structure and discipline within the theme of “night” and “light”.
In the tercets Thomas gives examples of men who meet death differently yet
alike. The first are “wise men,” perhaps philosophers. They know “dark is right” because
they know what to look for at the end of life. In spite of their wisdom, however, they “do
not go gentle” because their words “had forked no lightning.” This phrase has the force of
a symbol suggesting that wise men had lacked the ultimate power of nature. Thomas
therefore seems to be saying that the wise men were not wise enough, that their words
created no ultimate linguistic reality but vague speculation of death as a good thing.
Subsequently, the good men of the third tercet permitted life to pass them by. The festive
imagery of “bright /Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,” evokes a wonder
world of joyful activities in contrast with the “frail deeds.” Why, we wonder, do the good
men regret the past just as the last wave goes by?
As for the style it is most definitely an elevated style of poetic diction within a
villanelle format. The term originated in Italy (Italian villanella from villano: “peasant”);
and later used in France to designate a short poem of popular character favored by poets
in the late 16th century. Five tercets are followed by a quatrain, with the first and last
line of the stanza repeated alternately as the last line of the subsequent stanzas and
gathered into a couplet at the end of the quatrain. The stanza is repeated for dramatic
effect and tone : Rage, rage against the dying of the light. In this case this particular
stanza, gaining much of its impact from repetition and variation, paints a clear a definite
picture of the authors strong emotions. And all this on only two rhymes. Thomas further
compounds his difficulty by having each line contain about the same amount of syllables.
The villanelle seems like a very regimented and difficult form; the effortless ease
with which Thomas makes it appear adds clarity to the complex emotions describes in the
poem. The rhetoric is never jumbled or ruff, and always profoundly moving; the images
are far reaching, yet terribly true; the complicated rhyme scheme simply adds to the many
dimensions of the poem.
In conclusion, the events surrounding Thomas at the time do not make up all the
character of this poem. As it is often the case, this work stands on its own. It either speak
to one, or not. But no matter what personal reasons inspired Thomas, the poem speaks to
our need to make our lives count against our inevitable deaths. Though the theme is
paradoxical, it declares to all: Live your life while you are actually dying. Do not accept
death passively. Live intensely and resist death passionately. All the beautifully
contrasting metaphors where Thomass way of gracefully asking his father not to leave
him alone, in the dark.