Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do Not Go Gentle ...

My first encounter with "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night"* by Dylan Thomas (1914-53) was aural. The record album you see above was released in 1957. I turned 13 that year and was in 8th grade. But it was a couple of years later, in English 10 (or 11--we had him both years), in the classroom of my teacher, Mr. Augustus Horatio Brunelle, that I heard the recording. He played it for us. I remember being stunned by Thomas' voice--how could anyone sound like that? (Link to recording of Thomas reading that poem.) I wish I could remember what Mr. Brunelle said--what we said. But I can't.

Mr. Brunelle, English 11, 1960-61
The poem is a villanelle* (spell-check just suggested I really meant Evansville), a tightly formulaic poetic form (like a Shakespearean sonnet) that true poets can transform into wonder. But I'm not really being English-teachery today about this poem. I was just thinking about it today, as you'll see.

I have one other clear memory of the poem. When my father-in-law, Thomas Coyne, died in 1990, my older brother, Richard, flew out to be with us. We asked him to participate in the service (held in the Chapel at Western Reserve Academy); we asked him to read "Do Not Go Gentle." He was a fighter, my father-in-law. To his last breath--the breath that lung cancer was stealing from him--he fought to live and to care for his wife, Annabelle, who was slipping farther and farther into the darkness of Alzheimer's. He would not institutionalize her, even though it meant he was caring for her day and night, terms and times of day that no longer meant a thing to her.

Anyway, the moment came for the Thomas poem, and Richard read wonderfully well--until near the end when, the emotion of the poem piercing him, his voice cracked. He barely finished.

I teased him afterwards that I didn't quite "catch" some of the final stanza.

But I cannot think of that poem now without remembering Mr. Brunelle ... and my older brother.

Some years ago, I memorized it, and I mumble it several times a week so that I don't lose it. It took a while to shoehorn those words into my memory, so I don't want them to escape.

And, of course, lately, my own illness (metastatic prostate cancer) has caused Thomas' words to mean more and more, every day. I think more about them now when I mumble.

What does it mean to rage? I don't think it (necessarily) has anything to do with standing on the front porch and crying aloud to the neighborhood--though I have certainly felt like that many times.

I think--at least for me--it's more of an interior cry--an animal cry about how I so desperately do not want to leave this world. There is so much here--family, friends, former students and colleagues, memory itself; books to read; movies to see; and on and on and on and on.

And, of course (of course), there's Joyce. Not having any more moments with her is a thought I cannot abide. It makes me rage, rage ...

Shakespeare knew it too (he seems to have known everything about us, everything that matters). In his sonnet 64,*** he writes about what Time does--how it destroys, eventually, what has seemed most permanent. And then those final four lines: Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate— / That Time will come and take my love away. / This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose.     

The very thought of this loss, he writes, is like death itself--and causes him to weep because he now has something he so profoundly fears to lose.

Those last lines make me want to run to front door, to burst it open, to plunge out onto the porch, to rage, rage against the dying of the light. For all to hear.

*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.

** a chiefly French poem having typically five tercets and a quatrain with the second lines having one rhyme and the remaining lines another and with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated in alternation as the last line of the succeeding tercets and together as the closing couplet of the quatrain (Merriam-Webster's)


When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d    
The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;        
When sometime lofty towers I see down-raz’d, 
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;  
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain                       5
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,             
And the firm soil win of the watery main,            
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;   
When I have seen such interchange of state,      
Or state itself confounded to decay;          10
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate—
That Time will come and take my love away.      
  This thought is as a death, which cannot choose            
  But weep to have that which it fears to lose.     

No comments:

Post a Comment