Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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.
- These lines are potentially quite confusing, so let's start by untangling the syntax of Thomas's sentence here: even though smart people know death is inevitable (line 4), they don't just accept it and let themselves fade away (line 6), because they may not have achieved everything they were capable of yet (line 5).
- The metaphor of night as death continues here, with death figured as the "dark." The speaker admits that sensible, smart people realize death – traveling into "the dark" – is inevitable and appropriate. After all, we're all going to die, and it's a totally natural process.
- But even though clever people know they're going to die, they don't simply accept it. They don't take the news lying down.
- Why not? The speaker tells us that it's because "their words had forked no lightning" (line 5). This image is puzzling and open to several interpretations.
- Here's ours: the "words" represent the actions, the speech, or maybe the artistic creation of intelligent people. You know, the way this poem consists of Dylan Thomas's own "words."
- These words don't fork lightning, which means they don't split and divert the massive electrical shock of the lightning bolt, which draws it toward themselves like a lightning rod instead. Even though the "wise men" have put everything they can into their "words," those words weren't attractive enough to make the lightning split.
- Basically, they haven't really made much of a mark on the world.
- The bright electric current of the lightning bolt adds a new twist to the light/dark and day/night metaphors, suggesting that really living life is more like getting zapped by an electric shock than like feeling the gentle radiation of the sun.
- This stanza also begins to conflate – or collapse together – people in general, such as the person the speaker is addressing with poets and artists like the speaker himself.
- As the poem continues, we'll see more and more connections between great men and great artists. These connections imply that artistic expression is a more concentrated version of life in a broader sense. You know, the way a can of lemonade concentrate tastes way more lemon-y than the lemonade itself once you add water.