Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go Gentle into that good Night’ is a Villanelle, a nineteen-line poem in a set format, it is an old French format, first written in 1606 by Jean Passerat. The structure is severe with two lines being repeated at the end of alternate stanzas and then making up the final two lines of the last stanza, which is a quatrain. It is not an easy form to use. He wrote this in 1947. (Popova, 2017)
Each tercet rhymes the first line using: night, right, bright, flight, sight, and height, it is a hard vowel at the end of each first line of the stanza. The second line rhymes: day, they, bay, way, gay, and pray. In the second tercet, the second line finishes with enjambment so that it flows into the third line which is ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. In the last stanza, the quatrain, he uses caesura for dramatic effect, he is showing his love for his father, beseeching him not to go.
It is not an easy form to use due to the tight discipline it imposes on the poet. Nevertheless, Dylan Thomas has mastered the form beautifully and has even added his own touches. In the second stanza, he uses ‘wise’, In the second stanza, he is exalting and observing, then in the next stanza he uses ‘Good’ In the fourth stanza he uses wild and where he says, ‘sun in flight’, this is a metaphor for having lived a full life. In the fifth stanza ‘Grave’, near-death people often use the ability to see but the last sense to go is hearing. The sixth stanza could possibly be a prescription, but he is directly addressing his father beseeching him to fight and rage to try to stay a while longer.
This is quite often what happens when someone dear is dying. There is an oxymoron with ‘Curse, bless’ and again with ‘fierce tears. Dylan Thomas uses ‘Assonance’ in ‘fierce. tears’, and the juxtaposition of curse and bless in the third line of the quatrain, is well situated in the poem. He has made the whole process look effortless. The narrative is in the second person and is as though someone is looking on. He uses a paradox in the fifth stanza with ‘blinding sight’ and then immediately at the beginning of the next line, ’Blind eyes’.
It is possible that he uses ‘W’ and ‘G’ as a reference to his Great Uncle after whom he was called Marlais, his middle name. His great uncle was a Utilitarian Minister, ’William Thomas’ who went by the ‘bardic’ name of ‘Gwilym Thomas’, it is possible that the ‘G’ and ‘W’ of the words, wise, wild, good, and grave represent his great uncle’s first name and first bardic name. ’Grave’ could also be a pun on ‘going to the grave’.
This is a modern villanelle, where Thomas is beseeching his father to fight death. His father died from pneumonia just before Christmas 1952, and he is asking his father to stay. He is imploring his father to be all these qualities in the poem, but also cursing the fact that he, the son, can do no more to help his father in this fight, in the last quatrain in the first and second lines he uses ‘my father’ and ‘fierce’, this is sibilance. In the second tercet there is enjambment ‘’Because their words had forked no lightning, they ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ Again in the fifth tercet, there is enjambement when he writes ‘who see with blindsight, Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,’ Caesuras litter the poem, For example, there is one in the phrase ’Rage, rage,’ at the end of the first stanza. Another appears at the end of the third stanza. In the first line of the third tercet? ‘Good men, the last wave by,’ also contains a caesura? In the fourth tercet there is a double caesura with ‘And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way. In the fifth tercet, the first line ‘Grave men, near death, who see with blinding.’ and ‘Rage rage against the dying of the light.’ Again, in the last quatrain, ‘and you, my father, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.’ In this line, he has used caesura three times in one line, the first between the first two words which are in fact oxymorons. The last line also contains caesura with ’Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The first part of the first line of each tercet is ‘Though Wise men’, Good men, Wildmen, Grave men’. He is asking his father to be all these people in the fight to stay alive, but he also juxtaposes the consonants W for G, then W then G, in this he is using a soft consonant, ‘W’ than a hard consonant ‘G’. The poem is very monosyllabic, He uses the juxtaposition of ‘curse’ and ‘bless’ and assonance in ‘fierce fears’ (Mycroft Lecture, 2014)
In each tercet the words rhyme at the end of each line, a hard consonant followed by a soft consonant in the second line. The format is ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA ABAA. It is a profoundly deep and beautiful poem in which Thomas shows his love for his father, (The nation’s favorite poems No 35, 1998, p.p63)
- Mycroft Lecture (2014). Dylan Thomas – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Poetry Lecture by Dr. Andrew Barker. YouTube. Available at: https:www.youtube.comwatch?v=2njLVAPINw8 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2021].
- Poem Analysis. (2021). Volta. [online] Available at: https:poemanalysis.comglossaryvolta#:~:text= Volta 1 Definition and Explanation of [Accessed 9 Mar. 2021].
- Popova, M. (2017). The Story Behind Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and the Poet’s Own Stirring Reading of His Masterpiece. [online] Brain Pickings. Available at: https:www.brainpickings.org20170124dylan-thomas-do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].
- Robinson, A. (2019). The 8 Types of Sonnets and How to Tell Them Apart. [online] blog.prepscholar.com. Available at: https:blog.prepscholar.comtypes-of-sonnets [Accessed 26 Feb. 2021].