The 20th century was a time of great change. During this century the world experienced it’s first modern war and it’s causalities. This century was a time of giant advances in technology. The world was broken and fragmented and literature, as it should, reflected those troubled times. This produced a number of forward thinking, deeply reflective experimental, and eccentric authors. These writers didn’t just describe the world around them, they forced the reader to think, reflect, and be active in that world. Dylan Thomas was one of these authors.
Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 and grew up in Swansea, England. He was a deeply reflective youth, and had severe lifelong problems with substance abuse, that eventually took his life in 1953. He was man of the 20th century and his poetry embodies the intense, aggressive, and truthful nature that this time period produced. Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” exemplifies the characteristics that defined the 20th century literature.
Questioning traditional values and redefining religion was a common theme throughout the 1900s. Religion in the past offered reasons for why certain natural things occurred. Darwin developed his theories on natural selection and the public was educated. It was no longer God that chooses what happens it is nature. In the past death was seen as a normal part of life, and that god is control of who and when death occurs. In “Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan challenges the reader to defy God, and nature and fight against death. In line 2, Dylan writes “Old age should burn and rave at the close of the day”. Dylan means that even people at the end of their life should fight for every breath. He also writes “Good men…Wild men…Grave men” – all mean should wrestle death and keep life in their grasps. Exploring death as not just God determined event but an event in which each individual can play active role in, is a common theme found throughout the 20th century in literature, poetry, and public debate.
The fragmented society, and deeply painful world events is also reflected in 20th century literature. Much of poetry written during this time is considered incoherent or fragmented, and certainly this Dylan Thomas poem is disjointed. While the poem does have a rhyme scheme to each verse much of the text is incomplete or missing words. The verses are written like sentences but lack the grammar and structure of a true sentence. Also in line 2, Old age should be burn and rave at close of day”, Dylan writes leaving out the definite article “the” before close. Dylan purposely removes or leaves out words. He does this to forcibly pace the reading of the poetry so that it more closely resembles human thought . This lack of grammar and traditional forms is a quality found in 1900s literature. Authors during this time fought against the norms of society and the rules that society placed on everyone.
Modern poets love to shake, shock, and disgust the reader. They want for the audience to feel something, and feel it intensely. In “Do not go gentle into that good night“, Dylan uses the technique of repetition of a particular line to drill his message into the minds of the audience. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light (ln 3, 6, 9 12, 19),” write Dylan Thomas to poke at the reader hoping the ensues agitation makes them wonder why, and then how. The meter of the line reminds the reader of someone knocking against their coffin – knock, knock against the coffin. Demanding the audience to grab at their last breath from death. 20th century authors struggle to motivate society to become active and involved in their lives, even if that motivation comes from fear and anger.
Authors during the 20th century developed and nurtured a new style of writing called stream of consciousness. Authors during this time would use and overuse commas, semicolons, and colons to start and stop the poem. This is done to mirror the randomness of human thought and conversation. The author’s thoughts are written down as they stream from their own heads to the paper. Dylan Thomas uses 14 commas in the 19 line poem. In verse 4, Dylan writes “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.” The use of commas paces the poem, like a marching drum beat. It is fast, intense, and makes the reader feel on edge.
Dylan Thomas is the quintessential poet of the 20th century. His poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” displays and enforces characteristics of the 1900s. These qualities include the technique of stream of consciousness, fragmented form, desire to shock, and redefining traditional values and religion. The turbulent times of the 1900s created a societal atmosphere which created artists and authors which did not want to follow traditional rules, they weren’t satisfied with merely describing their environments. They wanted to tempt, provoke, and enrage the general public. Dylan Thomas displayed all these traits in his poem. Hopefully, the memory and spirit of those authors lives on in the dedicated students and fans of good literature, and issue orientated writing will become the norm instead of the exception in future societies.