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Dylan Thomas

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1951

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“Do not go gentle into that good night” is an iconic poem by 20th-century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who occupied a special place in the public imagination for his magnetic readings and the revival of Romantic themes in his poetry. This poem, which appeared in his 1952 collection In Country Sleep, remains a favorite in anthologies and popular culture for its universal content and unforgettable dual refrain. “Do not go gentle into that good night” is an example of a poetic form called a villanelle, a form that incorporates much repetition and a strict rhyme scheme. Like many of Thomas’s other works, this poem uses images of the natural world to meditate on human experiences. Inarguably his most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” contains a limited amount of the more ornate language and imagery characteristic of other works by Thomas and communicates with piercing clarity the poet’s cry to fight for one’s life until the very last.

Poet Biography

Dylan Thomas lived from 1914 to 1953. Born and raised in Wales, he began writing and publishing poetry at an early age. In fact, his first book, Eighteen Poems (1934), appeared when Thomas was just 20 years old. The poet gained success for his subsequent works, which displayed a rich imagination, musically dense sound devices, and sensitive use of universal themes. Thomas also went on to publish short stories, screenplays, and radio plays, which he wrote and performed for the BBC during World War II.

Born and raised in an affluent suburb of Swansea at a time when the Welsh language was in decline, Thomas was ambivalent towards his Welsh heritage. He preferred, for example, the English pronunciation of his name, rather than the Welsh, and though he is, in all likelihood, the most famous poet to come from Wales, he wrote entirely in English. This likely had much to do with his father forbidding both Thomas and his sister Nancy from learning their native language.

The content of Thomas’s work further distinguished him among his compatriots, as while much Anglo-Welsh literature from the period expressed the experiences of working-class writers who hailed from coalmining families, Thomas’s own background was distinctly middle-class, as his father was an English literature teacher and his mother a seamstress.

In the British Isles and the United States, the public often perceived Dylan Thomas as a mercurial artistic genius. During public readings of his poetry, Thomas’s poetic prowess and dramatic performance style mesmerized audiences. Thomas’s personal life was just as fascinating as his performances: He battled well-known demons, struggling with earning money, a tumultuous marriage, and a life of alcoholism. In November 1953, Dylan Thomas died in New York City after an evening of binge drinking. He was 39 years old, and he left behind his wife of 18 years, Caitlin Macnamara, and their three children.

Though he wrote during the time of 20th-century modernism, characterized by skepticism and formal experimentation, Thomas’s style instead recalls the 19th century, with its metaphysical themes, traditional poetic forms, and easily recognizable rhyme schemes. Thomas does not easily align with his contemporaries, British poets like W.H. Auden or Philip Larkin, or American expatriates like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Rather, many of Thomas’s poems resemble the work of Romantic poets like Keats or Wordsworth.

Poem Text

Thomas, Dylan. “Do not go gentle into that good night.” 1952. Academy of American Poets.


The beginning of the poem employs a commanding tone as the speaker urges their unnamed audience to resist death and to not die willingly. The speaker also introduces in the first stanza the comparison of death to a “good night” (Line 1), setting up the central image of the poem.

The speaker follows their exhortation to resist death with a simple explanation for their desperate plea: it is better to fight death than to die willingly and plenty of individuals, no matter how they have lived, refuse to give up in the face of death. Firstly, the speaker tries to persuade the audience of their argument by explaining that though “wise men” (Line 4) may know that death is inevitable and “right” (Line 4), they fight death.

The second stanza begins as the speaker continues their argument, claiming that even “[g]ood men” (Line 7), despite their positive contributions to the world in their lifetime, also “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light” (Line 9). The third and fourth stanzas refer to “[w]ild men” (Line 10) and to “[g]rave men” (Line 13) who also fight death, no matter their attitudes towards life while they were living.

In the final stanza, the speaker of the poem reveals that they are addressing their father, whose is dying “on that sad height” (Line 16). As the speaker begs their father to fight his oncoming and inevitable demise, the poem abruptly ends as the speaker concludes the poem with a final image of an extinguished light.