When Dylan Thomas was a little boy his father would read Shakespeare to him at bedtime. The boy loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to understand the meaning. His father, David John Thomas, taught English at a grammar school in southern Wales but wanted to be a poet. He was bitterly disappointed with his station in life.
Many years later when the father lay on his deathbed, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem that captures the profound sense of empathy he felt for the dying old man. The poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” was written in 1951, only two years before the poet’s own untimely death at the age of 39. Despite the impossibility of escaping death, the anguished son implores his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
The poem is a beautiful example of the villanelle form, which features two rhymes and two alternating refrains in verse arranged into five tercets, or three-lined stanzas, and a concluding quatrain in which the two refrains are brought together as a couplet at the very end. You can hear Thomas’s famous 1952 recital of the poem above. To see the poem’s structure and read along as you listen, click here to open the text in a new window.
And to hear more of Thomas reciting his own works you can visit HarperAudio, where you will find a treasure trove of recordings from a number of writers, including these from Thomas:
- Part 1: “No Sun Shines,” “The Hand that Signed the Paper,” “Should Lanterns Shine,” “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and the first verse of “Alterwise by Owl Light.”
- Part 2: “Poem in October,” “This Side of the Truth,” Love in the Asylum,” and “The Hunchback in the Park.”
- Part 3: “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” “On the Marriage of a Virgin,” “In My Craft or Sullen Art,” and “Ceremony After a Fire Raid.”
All poems have been added to our collection of Free Audio Books.