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As I continue to age, I am no longer certain that I applaud the advice contained in Dylan Thomas's poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", which Thomas wrote for his father. Or rather, I applaud it when applied to older individuals who opt to pull themselves out of life for various reasons - my lovely widow friend comes to mind, who, at least for a time, seemed ready to remove herself from all the things in life she'd enjoyed with her husband. Fortunately, she has decided to "burn and rave" a bit longer, and has rejoined the living. When it comes to terminal illness, I'm not sure how much fighting is advisable, but leave that decision to each person who must wrestle with the issue.

Anyhoo, I've been thinking about this poem this week after learning that a good friend has terminal cancer. Effing cancer - it doesn't seem to take anything but its own self into account when it strikes, and it makes me terribly angry. It puts me into a bit of a rage, in fact, which is probably what brought today's poem to mind. Still, I can't help thinking that when that time comes for anyone I know, I hope they manage to go completely gently into that good night. Because peaceful transitions are a good thing to wish for, I think.

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.

Read the whole poem at The Academy of American Poets
(And yeah, never mind that Thomas was Welsh. The AAP puts up poems by all sorts of folks.)

About the villanelle
Thomas's poem is arguably the best known villanelle ever written. I say that because so very many people know this poem, even if they don't know that it is, in fact, a villanelle. A villanelle is a specific poetic form. The poem consists of nineteen lines in all, set in six stanzas, and is usually written in iambic pentameter. The first five stanzas have three lines each, set in a rhyme scheme of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA. The sixth has four lines: ABAA. The first stanza in a villanelle is terribly important, because it sets up two lines that recur throughout the poem. In the case of this poem, the two lines are "do not go gentle into that good night" and "rage, rage against the dying of the light".

So if I were to write the pattern out again, using A for "do not go gentle" and A' for "rage, rage", it would look like this: AbA' abA abA' abA abA' abAA'

The form first entered the English language in the 18th century, coming in from the French. Since then, despite its French name, it is predominantly an English form. It was popular for a while in the 1800s, then fell into disfavor, only to be resurrected in the early 20th century by poets including Theodore Roethke, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas.

Villanelles are a bear to write. They are best written when you have something almost obsessive as your topic (a tip I received at a recent writer's conference), in order for all that repetition to be allowable without sounding tortured. Thomas's works so very well because his subject matter lends itself to repetition, and because he uses a bit of enjambment here and there.


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Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
soulfully
Aug. 9th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
Cancer is evil! I hate it! My dad, aunt, and grandmother all died from it. I am so sorry for your friend. And you.

Thank you for the information on the poem. It's very interesting.
kellyrfineman
Aug. 9th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the info on the poem. And yeah, cancer sucks. I'm very sorry for your losses, and thankful for your kind thoughts.
soulfully
Aug. 11th, 2013 02:17 am (UTC)
Thank you Kelly. And you are welcome. I enjoy reading your posts.
Love your icon!
lizjonesbooks
Aug. 10th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
So sorry about your friend.:o(
kellyrfineman
Aug. 10th, 2013 06:55 pm (UTC)
I am sorry as well, but more for him and his family.
amygreenfield
Aug. 10th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
Great explication of the villanelle form, Kelly. While it's a wonderful poem, I share your mixed feelings. And I'm so sorry about your friend.
kellyrfineman
Aug. 12th, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
Glad to know I'm not alone with the mixed feelings. And thank you.
slatts
Aug. 12th, 2013 12:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kelly. Good words. All of them. The poem. Your amazing poet-queen explanation of how this song was written and should be played (that shit blows me away all the time). And your post. Yes, your post. The words written. And those thought.

Thank you, friend.

Edited at 2013-08-12 12:51 pm (UTC)
kellyrfineman
Aug. 12th, 2013 03:42 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked the post. XO
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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