The Paradoxical Thomas Essay, Research Paper
The Paradoxical Thomas
Dylan Thomas outer life has little to do with his poetry, only occasionally having been inspired by some life-altering event. However, Thomas does contain some inner aspect of himself in each of his poems. Thomas states, I hold a beast, an angel, and a madman in me, and my inquiry is as to their working, and my problem is their subjugation and victory, down throw and upheaval, and my effort is their self-expression. By drawing on characteristics of himself, a wealth of literary knowledge and unarguable language control, Thomas is able to not only be an exceptional writer, but also entertain readers at the same time. With the use of diction, imagery, and rhyme Thomas is able to effectively convey his main themes of death, religious clash, and human nature.
Welsh born Dylan Marlais Thomas was acutely gifted in English and Reading from an early age, pleasing his father, a Senior English master at Thomas grammar school. He neglected his other subjects however, and had little ambition to continue his education in a university. Impressively, three years after leaving school, Thomas first collection of poems, 18 Poems, was published and Thomas became an instant success. When looking upon these early works, and later works as well, it is apparent that Thomas concerned himself with writing about religion, death, human nature, and the paradox that these three topics create. Religion was becoming an ever-conflicting issue inside Thomas, thus he found writing this subject was both effortless and therapeutic. Upon the approaching death of his father, Thomas penned the villanelle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night , an urging for all to experience life to its fullest before it slips away.
Death is the most visible theme in Thomas villanelle. Diction plays a key component in the intensity and passion of the allusion to death. The heavy r consonant sounds capture death, while the bright long assonance sounds seem to emphasize living. Thomas two refrain lines also serve as a metaphor to death, the dying of the light and that good night representing the end.
Thomas creates a vivid picture within his poem, using various techniques of imagery to cause the reader to paint the work in their mind. Onomatopoeias, such as dying , flight , and grieved , have been placed strategically and intelligently throughout the piece. Other dark images have also been positioned in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night , examples being close of day (line 2), dying of the light (lines 3, 9, 15 and 19), and sad height (line 16). Similarly, Thomas places images of light and life into the villanelle, such as rage (lines 3, 9, 15 and 18), sun in flight) (line 10) and blaze like meteors (line 14).
Because this is a villanelle rhyme scheme must be strictly followed in an aba aba aba aba aba abaa format. Thomas adheres to this and manages to make each rhyme intense and reminiscent of the underlying theme of death. The refrains of Rage, rage against the dying of the light and Do not go gentle into that good night continually urge individuals not to simply take the usual social, and Christian, attitude of acquiescence and acceptance toward death and a peaceful rest, but rather to shunt that idea aside in favor of an ungentle rage.
Thus we see religion come in to play in Thomas work. Thomas was the child of two very contradicting beliefs, his father being extremely atheistic, while his mother was a staunch Christian chapel attendee. It is, therefore, understandable then as to why Thomas personality and poetry were so ambivalent.
In this poem, Thomas uses obscure references to religion rather than obvious allusions, most likely because the work was inspired by the slow death of his father, an explicit agnostic. The repeating refrain of Rage, rage against the dying of the light reminds readers of the biblical phrase In the beginning there was the word let there be light . He also alludes, whether purposely or not, to the wise men in line 4. Further on he speaks of those who see the blinding sight (line 13) which serves to represent heaven. Finally in line 17 he makes the most obvious allusion in the poem Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Thomas continues his use of imagery, using such light images as lightning (line 5), sun in flight (line 10), and blaze like meteors (line 14) which are all matter visible in the heavenly cosmos. Onomatopoeias referring to religion, heaven, and the afterlife are also placed throughout the poem, with such examples as in line 10 with the mention of flight , bright in line 7, and blaze like meteors in line 14. The final stanza, the quatrain, also aids in the imagery of religion, the language and tone being that of prayer and solemnity of the obligatory rage.
When the refrains are looked at in comparison to religion, it seems as if Thomas were alluding to the difference in beliefs between his parents. While his mother would stand by the idea of quietly entering the afterlife, Thomas use of Rage, rage against the dying of the light serves to represent his atheistic father s beliefs.
The final theme, which Thomas touches on in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night , is that of human nature. As with the other themes, diction plays a strong role. Onomatopoeias are also found in conjunction with this theme, for instance in line 11 with the use of grieved and in line 17 when Thomas talks of fierce tears . The refrains in addition add to the theme of human nature. Death is not something that many people accept, therefore it is appropriate that they would Rage, rage against the dying of the light and Do not go gentle into that good night .
In four of the five tercets, Thomas tells short stories of human nature, when he explains how men from different walks of life embrace death. Beginning in the second tercet Thomas tells of wise men , presumably philosophers, who know dark is right because they know what to look for at the end of life. In spite of their wisdom, however, they do not go gentle because their words had forked no lightning. This is Thomas way of saying that the wise men were not wise enough, because their words created no ultimate linguistic reality. Continuing on to the third and fourth tercets, Thomas describes the good men and wild men as men who have allowed life to pass them by. They are similar to the grasshopper in the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants , who played while the ants gathered food for the winter. When winter came, the grasshopper died of starvation because he misused his time. In the final tercet, the story of the grave men is told. Thomas describes these grave men as blind, however they have the ultimate vision. This implies the blindness of Thomas father but also the archetypal blindness of ancient poet-priests as well as the blindness of other poets, such as Milton or Joyce. The grave men are concerned with life essentially.
In the final stanza, the quatrain, of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night , Thomas combines his previous alternating refrains. These rhyming lines, which previously had served to urge people to not simply give in to death, but to fight it with all their strength, now give way to serve as a plea to Thomas father.
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.
The two had become closer throughout Thomas mature years, thus the thought of losing the man, who was essentially his mentor, was difficult. In the final lines of the quatrain, Thomas implores his father to resist death.
The theme of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is paradoxical; a contradiction in literal terms yet a profound poetic truth. Live your life while you are actually dying, Thomas says. Do not accept death passively but, instead, he insists, live intensely and resist death passionately.
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