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Perspectives of Death
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is one of Dylan Thomas's most recognized poems. In the poem, he urges his father to fight against death even though it is something that everyone must at some point in his or her lives have to accept. On the other hand, Emily Dickinson, in "Because I could not stop for Death," accepts death as a natural part of life and unlike Thomas, does not combat it. Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson approach the topic of death from different perspectives with Thomas attempting to rebel against the inevitable and Dickinson passively submitting to her end.
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" was written for Thomas's dying father and is stylistically structured as a villanelle where only two sounds are rhymed. The poem is composed of 19 lines, rhyming the first and third lines, with an alternation of the third line in each stanza, and closing with a couplet. Traditionally, the villanelle is influenced by French poetic models and was first used in English poetry during the 19th century.
"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is rebellious in nature with the opening line and title setting the tone for the poem. In the poem, Thomas tries to convince his father to combat death by saying that "old age should burn and rave at close of day" (line 2). Thomas continues to argue against being submissive to death by describing how "wise men" who "at their end know dark is right" fight against what they know is naturally inevitable, but still they "do not go gentle into that good night" (lines 4, 6). Additionally, "good men," "wild men," and "grave men," "rage against the dying of the light" regardless of what they did or did not accomplish in their lives (lines 7, 10, 13, 15).
Thomas's fears of death are also reflected in "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." While Thomas urges rebellion against death, he appears fearful that his father will lose his fight against "the dying of the light" (line 19). Thomas simultaneously recognizes his father's fight as both a blessing and a curse; fighting against death would be a blessing because Thomas would be able to spend more time with his father, however submitting to death would be a curse because he would be forced to deal with the bereavement that ensues. It can also be argued that prolonging the inevitable is a curse and submission to death is a blessing because it would end any suffering Thomas's father may be in.
Thomas's poem is reminiscent of John Donne's "Death, be not proud." In the sonnet, Donne refers to death as a "slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men," a concept that Thomas embraces (Donne, line 9). Thomas, like Donne, believes that death can be controlled. Instead of submitting to the final stage of life, death, Thomas urges his father to attempt to conquer death. Death should only be acknowledged and accepted when the individual willfully submits to his or her end.
By demonstrating the conflict between life and death, Thomas is arguing that no individual willingly submits to their fate, but rather will fight for his or her life, not because he or she has to, but because he or she wants to. Thomas does not contend that death can be avoided altogether, but rather he argues that death should be postponed for as long as possible. Like Donne who argues that death is a servant, Thomas maintains that the power dynamic should be reversed between death and man and that death should not make the final call as to when or where a person is to meet his or her end.
Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, personifies Death and portrays him as a gentleman caller that is escorting her on a carriage ride. The gentlemanly Death does not hurry the narrator to hurry to her destination, in this case the afterlife, but rather is patient and recognizes that the narrator will reach her destination in due time. Death's gentlemanly nature is demonstrated in the first two lines of the poem, "Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me…/we slowly drove, he knew no haste/And I had put away/My labor, and my leisure too. / For his civility" (lines 1-2, 5-8). Having established that Death is her…[continue]
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