Do not go gentle into that good night – 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 that 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

The above poem by Dylan Thomas is perhaps the most well-known villanelle.  A villanelle has 19 lines and comprises 5 stanzas of 3 lines and a closing quatrain of 4 lines.

Like the sonnet the last two lines are arguably the most important lines of the villanelle. These not only form the closing rhyming couplet but these lines appear repeatedly through-out the first 5 stanzas.

Looking at the above poem the closing lines are –

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If we label these lines A and B then these lines must appear in the five 3 line stanzas as follows in order to conform to the format of the villanelle.

S1 … A / l2 / B
S2 … a / l2 / A
S3 … a / l2 / B
S4 … a / l2 / A
S5 … a / l2 / B

So after defining the ending two lines 6 lines are automatically defined in the three-line stanzas. Furthermore the rhyming scheme is such that all the first lines, (labelled a) must rhyme with A. In the case of Dylan Thomas’ poem each of these lines must rhyme with night. And all the second lines of the above stanzas (labelled l2) must rhyme. In the case of this poem the six rhyming words chosen by Thomas are – day, they, way, bay, gay and pray.

The first and second line of the closing quatrain must use the rhyming of A and l2 … in this case height and pray.

So looking at the rhyming through-out the poem the 19 end words are –

Night, day, light / right, they night / bright, bay, light / flight, way, night / sight, gay, light
Height, pray, light, night

My advice is to create the rhyming couplet first. This is the key to the poem. You have then created 8 lines of the 19 line poem.

You will then need 5 lines that rhyme with the first line of the couplet and six lines where you are quite at liberty to choose the rhyme.

Below is my attempt at reversing the theme and also the two streams of rhyming words … basing the poem on the couplet …

Go gentle and enjoy your last day
Give a smile as you pass quietly away

Go gentle and enjoy your last day

go gentle and enjoy your last day
don’t focus on loss of your sight
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a wise man knows how to play
knows exactly the way that is right
go gentle and enjoy your last day

and a good man accepts the path-way
as he enters the door of the night
give a smile as you pass quietly away

now a wild man in wild disarray
thinks again his disorganised plight
go gentle and enjoy your last day

while a grave man will rise up to say
‘the end is indeed turning bright’
give a smile as you pass quietly away

so to all I respectfully pray
just savour those last rays of light
go gentle and enjoy your last day
give a smile as you pass quietly away

Richard Scutter 15 May 2013

The official website dedicated to Dylan Thomas – http://www.dylanthomas.com/

Here is an audio of the Radio National program ‘Poetica’ on 11 May in which Villanelles were featured.

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