“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” Analysis and Lesson Plan on Poetic Form

Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” is one of the most oft read poems in the English language. A YouTube search alone produces a myriad of readings.

In fact, here’s Dylan Thomas himself reading his poem.

 

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” By Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night, (A)
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A)

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, (A)
Because their words had forked no lightning they (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A)

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright (A)
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A)

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, (A)
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A)

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight (A)
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A)

And you, my father, there on the sad height, (A)
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A)

Poetic Form

“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is a villanelle. For those of you who don’t know what a villanelle is, I’ll kindly tell Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Lesson Planyou. A villanelle is a 19-line poem with five tercets (3-line stanzas) followed by a sixth stanza of four lines. A villanelle contains two refrains, which alternate.

In the case of “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” the two refrains are “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and “Rage against the dying of the light.” Each of the first 5 stanzas end with one of these two lines. The sixth and final stanza ends with both.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Lesson Plan: Form Reflects Content.

Simply identifying a form is suitable primarily for English professors at the local university talking about poetry using the accent of one who is constipated.

In order to make this knowledge applicable to a high school student and non-college-professor types, there must be engagement and higher level thinking involved.

So if you’re interested in teaching form, start by asking this question: Why did Thomas choose this form?

Chances are you’ll get a lot of blank stares outside of your most advanced high school English classes. In fact, if you’re like me, you may have joined in on the blank stare when you first heard this question.

Teaching this requires scaffolding—in some cases it requires outright modeling the answer. I’ll do both here.

Teaching the Significance of Form with Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Lesson Plan

  1. Before you do anything, have students annotate the poem. Here’s an effective lesson to accomplish this. During this portion of the lesson, students should recognize the rhyme pattern, the number of lines per stanza, the additional line in the last stanza, the two oft repeated phrases at the end of each stanza (epistrophe), and the emotion of the speaker. Students should arrive at one of the poem’s major themes: mortality, struggles of life and death, wisdom, old age family, what happens at death, etc.
  2. Discuss the poem. If you wish to focus on form, just make sure to discuss that aspect of it. As your class annotates the poem on the board (you did look at the lesson on the link, didn’t you?), someone will hopefully make a note about the poem’s form or even ask why the form is significance. If not, you can write the question next to the poem. At the very least, you’ll get students thinking about it. At best, someone will actually come up with an answer during the annotation phase.
  3. Discuss form. You may want to use this form in poetry handout (Poetry Form Handout) for further scaffolding. Much of this depends on how well your class is grasping the concept. Here’s the handout:  And in case you were wondering, the handout is part of the popular poems for high school lesson plans.

I’m going to jot down my thoughts on the poem and how the poem’s form reflects the poem’s content and theme. These are just my ideas and they may serve as a launching point for class discussion. Or you may find them inane and imbecilic, in which case, ignore them and think of your own.

  1. Popular Poems for High School Lesson Plans

    A key component of a villanelle is the two refrains. In "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," the poem's title and "Rage against the dying of the light" are each repeated several times. Not only does this emphatically state one of the poem's theme—to fight and struggle even when loss seems inevitable—but it shows the imploring nature of the poem's speaker's tone as he begs his father to stay alive as long as possible.

  2. Let's talk some more about the two refrains. It's these two lines that give the poem its power, it's emotion. Anyone who's suffered loss can certainly relate to the desperation of the speaker. It reminds me of one bearing his soul to God in prayer.
  3. The 3-line stanzas are symbolically significant as well. The #3 in literature can symbolize the Trinity or the Godhead, which consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (this type of discussion can get a little uncomfortable in public schools, but as long as its framed correctly and put in the context of literature, it will add insight to literature without making too many feel uncomfortable). If you combine the imploring, begging, prayerful nature of the poem with the theme of death and what happens after death, the symbolic 3-line stanzas fit.
  4. The rhyme scheme adds another layer of binding the poem together, as if the two refrains weren't enough. Each stanza presents a different type individual—wise men, good men, wild men, grave men. All these individuals are linked with the common experience of death.
  5. The last stanza is different from the previous 5, being one extra line. In the case of this poem, the extra line allows the poet to make one last imploration to his father to fight, fight, fight. The perfect form for such a poem.

Common Core Standards

This poetry lesson plan satisfies the following common core standards (writing standards are included for those who like to assign writing).

  • RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • RL.9-10.2  Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RL.9-10.4  Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
  • RL.9-10.10  By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
  • W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • W.9-10.2b  Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic. W.9-10.2a  Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings); grap
  • W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.) hics (e.g., figures, tables); and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • W.9-10.4  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • L.9-10.1  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

 

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