Monday, December 18, 2006

Do not go gentle

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

This poem, one of my favourites, was composed by Thomas in May 1951 (published 1952) when his father was approaching blindness and death. The 'good night' is thus both the darkness at the end of vision and of life.

But why rage? Why not accept the inevitable with dignity and composure? Why desire life beyond one hundred, when vision dims, memory blurs, the body rebels and friends desert one by one?

Because life is a good gift. Because death is the final enemy of humanity and God.

11 comments:

psychodougie said...

that poem always brings a lump to my throat.

tho i wonder if it's perhaps more about regret for wasting away what time they received on this earth. not looking at the present as a gift (pun intended).

byron said...

Yes indeed - mere extension is no goal. Not just quantity, but quality. I'll blog more on this soon - that there are things worse than death, or rather, other things that constrict and destroy life apart from the cessation of breathing.

Mister Tim said...

It is such a wonderful poem... but Byron, it's so terrible and sad to see you suddenly focused on thinking about mortality. I know it overtakes us all and it's good to think through it - but sad nonetheless. Brings a tear to my eye.

Christian A said...

Byron I’m glad you’re forcing us to talk about a difficult subject. (Are we reluctant to talk about death because we’re inwardly raging against it or because we’ve already weakly surrendered to it?)

Surely, though, there’s another side to facing death in a right way. Because we die while still in the vindicated resurrected one, we can be confident of our final vindication too. So need not rail despairingly against this enemy since his humiliating defeat is inevitable and our victory over him is sure.

Since it’s Christmas time, this verse comes to mind:

"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30)

Is it possible to “depart in peace” in a way that still shows the kind of disgust for death that Jesus showed outside Lazarus’s tomb? Perhaps we should rail against death not with despair but with assured anticipation...maybe like the All Blacks confidently performing the Haka to their opponents before they go in for the inevitable slaughter?!


I found this a helpful and provocative talk on death by Stanley Hauerwas:
http://media.libsyn.com/media/emergent/EP-2006-Aug-19-Hauerwas.mp3
(just be patient – he gets a very lengthy introduction)

ps: I'll keep praying for you

Christian A said...

And I echo Tim's sentiments too.

byron said...

Tim: yeah, it sucks.
(I'll be moving on to other topics before too long, but am working through a number of thoughts I've been having recently).

Christian: great thoughts - thank you! Yes, this poem lacks the possibility of faithful Christian depature. I often think of Paul's comment to the Thessalonians that they ought not to grieve like those who have no hope (1 Th 4.13). I assume he doesn't mean Christians don't grieve at all, but that our grief is of a different kind. It is hope-filled grief.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether this comment belongs on this post or the previous one, but should we desire a longer life on this earth just because it is a good gift from God? Are we to desire as much as possible of every good gift? (Aren't some mutually exclusive?) Shoudl we have a will to fight every sickness? The final enemy is not defeated by living a few more years, feeling the incomplete effects of death in our own bodies, losing others to it, and also feeling it's sting in many other ways, but in Jesus. We have the hope that when he comes, death is swallowed up in victory, but until then we only have Paul's "to live is Christ and to die is gain". To "rage" against our own death seems to me to ignore the hope in the second clause, just as much as a "deathwish" is to ignore the first.

byron said...

should we desire a longer life on this earth just because it is a good gift from God?
All other things being equal, yes.

Though they are not, and so life is not an absolute value. You make some very good points. There are things worse than death. I plan to write a post on this soon, which modifies the strident 'rage' of Thomas, though I don't think that it ceases to be rage, even where it may also involve learning to 'depart in peace' as Christian has pointed out.

I find that the concept of rage (and the question in the last post) are an interesting way of raising the issue of whether sometimes some of us have a secret death-wish. This is Nietzsche's charge against Christianity - that it arises out of resentment against life and takes the form of revenge against life. If we are to avoid this allegation, we need to rediscover the affirmation of life in the resurrection.

The Scylding said...

Rage?

I'm reminded of the death of Beethoven.
As he felt the death rattle rising, he lifted up his arm and shook his fist in the air - and then died. Fittingly, almost melo-dramatically, this happened during a thunderstorm. Maybe God was giving the tumultous genius a final, fitting farewell?

Which also reminds me of Chesterton's little poem about (I paraphrase) the secular worl going out with a whimper, while the Christians go out with a bang.

Christian A said...

What about this verse from Romans:

"The God of peace will soon crush satan under your feet". (16:20)

We believe in a God of peace who imparts peace to us through Jesus...and it's precisely because he's a God of peace that he is merciless in crushing satan. And so if the time comes for us to depart we can depart in peace even as we start stamping our feet on our deathbed in readiness to crush satan and soon afterwards the last enemy, death.

Rob said...

I recently discovered this poem from a friend and my poetry textbook, and it's just marvelous. Truly you can feel his pain, anger, sorrow and frustration with it all oozing from each stanza.