This is a very personal poem, written by Dylan to his dying father, and pleading him not to give in, but to fight death. However, even without knowing the background of the poem, the content is very self-explanatory.
The poem is written in six stanzas, the first of which explains the purpose, and motivation of the poem. It uses very strong, and powerful words such as “burn”, “rage”, and “rave”, and therefore suggest a sense of urgency in Thomas’ plea. It also includes the term “close of day”, which suggests night, and may be Thomas’ way of writing about death in an easier way, as he must have found it painful. The poem opens with the title, and ends in its parallel “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” These two phrases are used alternately to close each of the following stanzas, to emphasise Thomas’ point, and both are used to end the poem on a compelling and gripping note.
The following four stanzas each begin with a description of a certain type of person. For example, “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men”. These are all qualities Thomas admires in his father, and uses them to make a different point, and reason for fighting death.
The second stanza declares that although a wise man expects and understands the inevitability of death, he should not give up until his words and actions in life had made a real impact. Obviously Thomas felt his father still had much to give. Thomas uses a large amount of light and dark imagery to express life and death, and he uses it in this stanza to explain that death happens to everyone:
... burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage ... summarizes the meaning of the poem, urging old men to fight death. In the first stanza of the poem Thomas uses assonance, Old age should ... and the whisper of death upon them. In third and fourth stanza Thomas uses metaphorical imagery such as, Good men, the last wave ...
“Though wise men at their end know dark is right.”
This is an unusual comparison to draw, as dark usually signifies evil, and fear, however in the poem Thomas uses it to describe death as similar to sleep, and therefore softens the impact for himself, and his father. However, the symbolism of life being light, and death being dark is still a strong and thought provoking image, and therefore he hopes it will be enough to persuade and inspire his father to fight.
The third stanza describes how “Good men” will regret that they may have been more appreciated elsewhere, however if his father succumbs to death without a fight, this will inevitably become impossible. Here again he uses light imagery to describe life as “bright”.
In the fourth stanza Thomas writes that although his father may have enjoyed life, he is now feeling self pity and regret at his upcoming death, he must fight, and stop feeling remorse.
The fifth stanza takes a different perspective, and Thomas tries a different approach to inspiring his father. He suggests that the knowledge that death is approaching should make his father insightful, and more knowledgeable about the true meaning of life that he should hold on to that, and fight death:
“Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,”
The sixth and final stanza changes tone again, and becomes more desperate. Thomas begs his father to shout at him, and take his anger out on him, rather than give in to death:
“Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.”
Thomas ends the poem with the title exhortation, or its similar for dramatic impact, and effect, and reminds the reader of the true purpose of the poem.
A lot of Thomas Hardy’s poems share these themes of death and decay. The poems may have diverse topics, but they speak volumes about these themes symbolically or directly. Hardy explains the themes of death and decay in the poem “I look into my glass” in a way that breaks a lot of stereotypes. The poem begins with Hardy’s dissatisfaction at his physical state in his old age. Phrases like “wasting ...
The poem follows a strict ten syllable per line structure, and suggests that Thomas needs his speech to be planned and structured for impact to his father. Every first and last line of each stanza rhymes, as do all the middle lines of each verse. This gives the poem as smooth, almost soothing rhythm, as would be likely when referring to someone who is dying.
Thomas has written this poem in the first person, as it is intended, not for the general reader, but his father, and therefore it had to be personal. The tone of the poem changes as Thomas makes his various points. It begins with an urgent, crucial feel, progresses to explanatory, then pleading.
The poem is organised in this way to shows Thomas’ increasing urgency for his father to fight death, and goes through the stages of emotion Thomas obviously went through. This makes it very expressive and personal, and very moving to read.