Older Than My Old Man Now
Hospital at Home

ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

By Dylan Thomas

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.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

This is one of Thomas's last poems – an elegy to his dying father. I have never agreed with it – at least, not for me as a prescription for old age. I want to die in my time at peace with doing so. When it comes up for discussion, I am usually alone in this feeling.

Thomas didn't make it to old age. Born in Wales in 1914, he died at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City in 1953 at age 39. It is said that his last words, spoken at the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village were, "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record."

Here is Dylan Thomas himself reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jacklynn Winmill-Lee: My Mom was NOT Old

Comments

I agree with your assessment of this poem as not being a description of the death I want, or would wish for another elder.

This was a poem written by a young man who was emotional about his own beloved father's imminent death. Did he think his father was not sufficiently appreciated by the larger world? I don't know.

"I want to die in my time at peace with doing so." I can't imagine your being alone in that feeling. Why would anyone want it otherwise?

This poem has one of the most famous and often used quotes. "Do not go gentle into that good night." I recemtly used a revision of it in my birthday blog.

I plan to go gentle into that good night. At least I hope that I do.

In my opinion, this is the only poem Dylan Thomas ever wrote than everyone can understand.

Some of his poems read as if they had been written in crayon in a rubber room.They make absolutely no sense at all.

BUT, this is the one he wanted his father to read so it was important to him that he write his sentiments in language that could be easily understood by his Dad and, consequently,us.

The rest of his poetry sounds to me,at least, as if it HAD been written in the White Horse Tavern after 18 whiskeys.

Oh, such a powerful voice with a bit of tremolo there on those hanging words.

I rage....it does no good, but I miss the brilliance and the sharpness of my intellect. I remember it. Now I fade away. I had now wanted to fade. My mother, a brilliant lady, faded.

It is difficult for most of us to come to terms with our insignificance, but there it is. Even people whose words did fork the lightning have to die, so why not you and me? I am at peace with my small speck in the universe. Brighten the corner where you are--that's what I believe.

Sam Weller, a famous Utah bookseller whose store is an notable collector of Western history and literature and now run by his son, went blind in his old age. During an interview many years ago, he insisted to me that this poem is about Thomas' father's imminent blindness and can be read quite literally without importing all the death imagery.

Dylan Thomas is one of my favorite writers. Some of his work may be a bit difficult to digest, but A Child's Christmas in Wales and Under Milkwood contain some of the most beautifully contructed lines I've ever read. When read by the author, it transports me. I do not, however, concur with his advice about raging against the dying of the light, if he was referring to imminent death. Honestly, drinking 18 whiskeys sounds to me as if he were trying to drink himself into that goodnight, in perhaps as gently a way as he knew how.

This reminds me of a post I wrote on my blog almost 5 years ago about that poem. With your permission I'll copy and paste a portion of it here:
This has always been one of my favorite poems. I always thought I would put up a fight against the oncoming frailty of old age and that I would, at the last, go down with both barrels blazing. But I was much younger then. Now that I have arrived at that time in life where I no longer have to work for a living and my strength and energy are gradually fading, I can see the wisdom of going "gentle into that good night". Not that death is knocking on my door, but I can see it in the distance from my back porch.

I know that in our culture, men are reluctant to give up the image of the aggressive and masculine Alpha male, but, fierce and militant old men don't make good grand fathers. 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.

I'm in agreement with most comments, especially Norma's. I want to do the best I can for as long as I can, but when I can't function at even a minimal level, what's the point of continuing to rage? It won't change anything. I don't fear death itself nearly as much as I fear the medical-industrial complex that will control the end of life for many of us.

Up until a few months ago, I didn't feel "older" but something seems to have shifted ever so slightly. I've always been a high-energy person but now it takes more effort to balance my P/T job, volunteer work, checkbook, household, etc. Technology, which is supposed to help, has become more complex, time-consuming to master and just plain frustrating. (I haven't figured out how to retrieve the VM messages on my new "smart" phone so I'd better not miss any calls.) I've suddenly noticed that my eyelashes are getting thinner, of all things!

Some of this is probably fairly predictable at 75, but I don't like it, so to that extent I suppose I'm raging!

My general feeling when reading Dylan's poem is that the poem is about regret for the things not done..

I prefer Thanotopsis.

I, too, remember Thanatopsis we had to memorize in high school Eng. taught by the teacher who also was most influential for me during those years.

If, Thomas' poem should, indeed, be interpreted on a concrete level, then I expect the thought of blindness at his age might cause him to feel rage and think his father, as the one going blind, should also. Age can affect our perspective and reactions.

My mother's experience with gradually going blind never appeared to cause her to rage. Perhaps that's because her loss began in her forties and she was occupied with adapting to the continuous changes for the next almost fifty years.

Wally, I really like the thoughts you shared about being a grandfather. I could only wish I had had a living grandfather as I was growing up -- one like you describe.

Eliz. Rogers, your "75 shift" is one I noticed for myself, so maybe that's a hallmark year now. Perhaps it used to be at 65 and may still be for some people. Interesting how we can age differently from one another.

Have loved this poem forever and read it at my own father's funeral. The doctor who saw my father in the ER during his final heart attack, told my brother that he'd never seen anyone so pissed at dying. I could just picture it..a stubborn Irishman to the end.

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