Study Guide

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By Dylan Thomas

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Sunrise and Sunset

This poem begins with a reference to "that good night," and we spend most of the poem watching one sunset after another, one nightfall after another. When the sun does appear, it speeds across the sky and out of sight pretty quickly. It's the darkness, not the light, that preoccupies our speaker.

  • Line 1: Beginning with this line, we have an extended metaphor in which day represents life, night represents the afterlife or a void, and sunset represents the moment of death. Throughout the poem, entering into the dark, noticing night fall, and the last lingering light of the evening will remind us of how easily – and how inevitably – life slips away from us. The first line is also a refrain in the poem, repeated a total of four times. As if that weren't enough to make you notice it, it's got quite a bit of obvious alliteration of n sounds at the beginning of "not" and "night" and hard g sounds at the beginning of "go" and "good." (Even though "gentle" begins with g, it doesn't count as alliteration here because it's a soft g instead of a hard one.) There are also other n sounds buried in the line, in the middle of "gentle" and "into." All this sound play ties the line together into a tidy package, making the words go together, even though they're full of harsh, hard sounds.
  • Lines 1-3: These lines are an apostrophe to the person the speaker is addressing. (We don't find out who it is until the last stanza.)
  • Line 3: The repetition of the first word of this line, "rage," emphasizes it with an uncanny doubling. The end of the line is united by the similar vowel sounds in the middle of "dying" and "light," a technique called assonance.
  • Lines 10-11: Here the sun's rapid flight across the sky is still part of the extended metaphor in which day represents a life cycle, but the sun also becomes a symbol of all that's beautiful, wonderful, or amazing in the world. The sun stands in for all the amazing things in the world that artists and poets might want to celebrate in their work.

Lightning, Meteors, and Other Things that Fall From the Sky

Bolts of lightning, blazing meteors, and other images of light and fire captivate our attention in this poem about living with intensity. Life is no "brief candle" here; it's a blazing bonfire, a towering inferno, a firecracker. Sometimes people say they want to "go out with a bang," and Dylan Thomas would definitely have approved of that attitude.

  • Lines 4-6: The poem relies on intense and puzzling imagery, a lightning bolt that isn't forked or split by the words of wise men. (For our opinion of what this image means, see the "Line-by-Line Summary.")
  • Lines 13-14: The poem presents us with a paradox: the dying men who have gone blind can still "see," at least in a metaphorical sense. The paradox and the images surrounding it are emphasized by more over-the-top alliteration: "blinding," "blind," "blaze," and "be." Three of these four words repeat a bl consonant pair in addition to the initial b sound, making the alliteration even more noticeable.

The Best of Men

"Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" begins with an address to an unknown listener and ends by revealing that this listener is the speaker's father. In between these direct addresses, however, the speaker describes the valiant and praiseworthy behavior of many different kinds of exemplary men – "wise men," "good men," "wild men," and "grave men." The speaker hopes that his father will be all these things.

  • Lines 7-15: The poem uses parallelism as the actions of the different types of men are listed. Each of these three stanzas begins by listing the type of men in question, then describing something amazing that that group of men have done. The speaker ends each by reminding the reader that these men won't let themselves die without a struggle.
  • Line 17: The speaker creates an oxymoron by asking his father to "Curse" but also to "bless" him. The juxtaposition of these two words together, separated but also joined by a comma, implies that they can be thought of as opposites, but also as, in some strange way, the same thing. This line is also one of the only soft-sounding lines in the poem, due to the sibilance, or repeated s sounds, throughout – in the words "Curse" and "bless," but also, less obviously, in "fierce" and "tears." This makes the line sound extremely different, softer and gentler than the rest of the poem. Hmm, maybe the father is going to pass away in a "gentle" manner.

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