Dylan Thomas wrote “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” while dealing with the imminent death of his father. He writes about his personal grief, knowing that his father is going to die, but it also captures elements from the postmodernism period in which it was written.
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” was written in 1951. The world had just seen World War II, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and a mass genocide of the Jews in Europe, in response to these great losses of life the postmodernism period was born. Postmodernism is a break with modernism and a rejection with anything that even seemed like “high art” and embracing the absurd (pg. 1930). Thomas uses the what seems to be absurd but is really metaphorical. He uses “good night” as a symbol for death, and “light” as a symbol for life. Thomas also worked with contradictory statements. He pairs words like “curse” and “bless”, “fierce” and “tears” (pg. 1950) as he urges his father to fight death, which is a pointless task. The audience that was going to initially going to read this poem by Thomas, were very well acquainted with death as they had just lived through all the historical trials listed above, yet they had survived it by raging “against the dying of the light” (pg. 1950) long enough to see a new day.
Thomas’ poem is lyrical and a return to the personal. He wrote this poem about his dying father. He tells his father to “not go gentle into that good night” and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (pg. 1950) He wants his father to fight death, even though death comes for everyone eventually. Thomas also touches how ones goes to meet death says a lot about a person’s character saying talking about “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men” (pg. 1950). All of these types of men “rage against the dying of the night” (pg. 1950). And that raises the question, if all of these types of men rage against death, then what kind of man is his father? In the poem it is obvious that Thomas does not want this father to leave him. He wants his father to fight death, as he makes an almost childish plea for his father to stay as long as he can. In the last stanza the words Thomas choose give a little window into what seems to be a complicated father son relationship as Thomas says “curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray” (pg. 1950).
Thomas had a very interesting perspective on life and death, “his sense that life and death were rolled together in nature’s driving “green fuse”” (pg. 1947). Thomas lived recklessly to say the least. He had sexual relationships with many women, was in debt, and had a problem with alcohol. He died “before reaching the age of 40.” (pg. 1948) Perhaps Thomas wanted his father to fight death so badly, because he knew he could not.
Black, Joseph Laurence. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Broadview Press, 2015.