Rage against the dying of the light

In some not-so-distant dystopia Americans will educate their children like Elon Musk, abandoning the language arts to make more time for robotic flamethrowers. Or they will live in a state like West Virginia, where the Department of Education was just abolished. It’s safe to say that most Americans will spend more time checking their messages than reading poetry — especially the old classics.

One of my favorite bloggers — himself an old classic — is the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff. Besides his many political and philosophical writings, Wolff knows and loves poetry. He recently quoted Dylan Thomas to echo his thoughts about our receding democracy. I confess I hadn’t read “Do not go gentle into that good night” for more than thirty years, but it echoed my own feelings as well. The poem expresses the sadness that most of us “of an age” will fail to achieve what we so dearly hoped for in our youth.

Thomas’ poem both forgives and curses the wise men who couldn’t figure life out, the good men who didn’t do enough good in it, the wild men who tried vainly to hang on its fleeting joys, and the serious men blind to its realities. Thomas asks his dying father, who has come to a point where he can survey the landscape of his own life, to “curse, bless” him with his fierce tears as he passes into “that good night.”

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Despite the acceptance end of an old man’s unrealized dreams and days, there is no other way to live than by refusing to abandon those dreams.

And although this may now be the dimming of our own democratic ideals, what choice do we have but to rage and fight?


Do not go gentle into that good night

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 the 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 (1952)

 

Do not go gentle into that good night 1965 Ceri Richards 1903-1971 Presented by Curwen Studio through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P06483