Dylan Thomas’ Poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’

Bill Pullman playing President Thomas Whitmore in the mega blockbuster from 1996 Independence Day. He gives a stirring speech using the famous line from this poem.

Unless the search function isn’t working properly on my blog, I’ve somehow never written about one of my all-time favorite poems. And I’m not unearthing a hidden gem of a poem; if you’ve never read a poem in your life, I can almost guarantee you’ve at least heard the two famous lines from this poem. Heck, I just did a test and asked a friend who probably hasn’t read any poetry since he had to for high school, and he’s heard it. If you go to the Wikipedia page for this poem, there’s a whole section dedicated to popular usage in media. So it’s transcended the poem.

I was reading Tirza’s lovely blog, Tirza Reads, where she blogs about books and poems, and she did a post about a beautiful Anne Bradstreet’s poem, Contemplations, where Bradstreet juxtaposes the seeming frailty of humans with the resilience and rebirth quality of nature (and then later flips this in the poem to note how humans can actually become immortal, in a way). I particularly liked this line, “By birth more noble than those creatures all/Yet seems by nature and by custom curs’d.”

And that made me think about how humans can also be resilient, and “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” which then made me think about Dylan Thomas’ poem Do not go gentle into that good night:

Sorry for the long windup. Here is the poem in full:

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.

So, the two famous lines, of course, are the namesake of the title, and as I referenced already, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I think the reason it became more famous than ever was due to the mega blockbuster 1996’s Independence Day, and Bill Pullman’s goosebump speech as President Thomas Whitmore, giving that rousing speech to take the fight to the aliens, and using that line:

Goosebumps. Every. Single. Time. Even now.

According to the Academy of American Poets, Thomas was born in 1914 in South Wales, and he dropped out of school at the age of 16 to become a reporter. I didn’t know that. How cool is that? As a reporter currently, I find that quite neat, particularly, because he left his job as a reporter to write poetry full-time … in his late teens. Incredible.

This poem apparently was written in 1947, however, not long before his own death at a rather young age in 1953.

I don’t think I need to do my usual musings on this poem, as I think it speaks for itself, particularly as coupled with the aforementioned Bradstreet poem.

But simply put, as hard it is to put in practice, in theory, I love the idea of living a fierce life, of grabbing life by the throat (figuratively speaking) and just living the heck out of it. To live every minute, every second to its fullest, even as we near the end. Particularly, in U.S. culture, there’s a sort of sense that once you reach a certain age, life is basically over, but there’s no reason that needs to be the case. In fact, most of life, if long-lived, would be lived in old age, so might as well make it well-lived, right?

What do you think of this famous poem? It’s hard to decouple it from the popular culture usage and how ubiquitous it is, but when you get down to it, it’s a potent, beautiful poem.

4 thoughts

  1. I love this poem so much! It’s one of those haunting poems that stays in the mind forever. And I like this clip from “Independence Day.” I’ve never seen this movie (though I know it’s a classic), but I recently saw “Interstellar,” and it’s so funny that you posted about this poem because, since I saw “Interstellar,” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how beautiful the poem is coupled with this movie.

    As you said, it’s definitely hard to decouple it from popular culture. The poem’s message is beautiful, and I like how that word “rage” has strength to it. Like, we shouldn’t just accept death timidly but in our own way fight back, like you said, by living life to its fullest.

    And thank you for the kind mention! That is super nice of you, and I feel honored! I enjoy your blog immensely and the conversations you always set up. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Interstellar” is a great movie, too, and as a film, much better than “Independence Day” because I’m a bit of a Christopher Nolan geek, but “Independence Day” is a fun popcorn movie, as they say. I forgot that it was used in “Interstellar”! I just watched the clip:

      Michael Caine doing it with that soaring, epic Hans Zimmer score in the background, and then the beautiful shots of the earth, that’s also goosebumps galore.

      Thank you for the kind words as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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