For more than a week I’ve been pondering the recent musings of Wally Blue (who blogs at The Resident Curmudgeon) about the Dylan Thomas poem most of us know so well:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I hadn't known, until Wally explained, that Thomas wrote the poem for his father who “was strong and fierce in his youth, but had become weak and gentle in old age,” and I wonder now at the arrogance of a son claiming to know what's best for the old man.
Youth, filled with ancient, hormonal urges to carve out and then battle to maintain a place for itself in the world, is built for burning and raving. And having no experience yet at the waning of energy that gradually comes over a body as the decades pile up, youth does, likely, interpret the gentling of elders as giving up - and no one likes a quitter. Hence, "rage, rage."
But with Wally's bit of biographical perspective, the poem can be interpreted as Thomas’s mistaken idea of what he thinks, in youth, old age ought to be. It is impossible, when we are young, can take the stairs two at a time and still have dragons to slay, to imagine settling into the dying of the light.
I don’t believe that means we cannot or should not rage against inequities and mistakes of our government, for example, or misguided leaders and in fact, our experience allows us to see them with more clarity than young people. But I am coming to think now that we, the elders, are better suited to being guides, pointing the way while leaving the passion and action to still-energetic younger folks. That way, we have the time and space for the more natural talents of age…
…as Wally eloquently explains them:
“As elders of the tribe older men need to be strong, yet gentle pillars for their grand kids to lean on. We are the story tellers, the joke tellers, and the ones that can be depended upon to set aside our dignity for any silliness that will bring a smile to a toddler...
“So, as time goes by, I'm going to allow myself to go gentle in the area of approachability, vulnerability, and kindness, while maintaining my strength to act as a family protector, advisor and loyal friend. And when it comes time for me to leave the planet, I'll simply slip out the back door unnoticed.”
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fran aka Redondowriter nicely evokes 1950s America as she sets the stage for My First Kiss.]