In the year 1951, about two years before his death, Dylan Thomas wrote one of his most famous and oft-quoted poems. This was Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, an address to his ailing and dying father (Linda 1). His father’s health, a hitherto strong and vibrant soldier, was failing him, and he was losing his eyesight. This poem is very personal and very emotional, as Dylan beseeches his father to fight death.
Almost a century before Dylan wrote this poem, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in 1833, wrote one of his well received poems of the time. This was Ulysses, a monologue by king Ulysses after his return to his kingdom following an exciting adventure (Grimes 3). The king is old and restless, and this is vividly expressed in this monologue.
This essay is going to compare and contrast these two poems. The author will analyze the themes of these poems and their form and structure. The two poems have some features and elements that make them similar and different at the same time. This is the thesis that this author will be working on in this essay.
1: Thematic Analysis
Madruga (5) adds that a poem tries to pass a distinct message across to the audience. It can be one message or a myriad of several related messages, and this is what they refer to as the theme of the poem (Madruga 5).
As earlier indicated, the themes addressed by the two poems acts as their basis of convergence and at the same time their divergence.
I. Dylan Thomas: Thematic Analysis
Several themes are discernible in this poem:
a. Death (and Life)
This is perhaps the major theme of this poem. The persona talks in length about death and dying and their relationship to getting old. This person strongly feels that a great man should never let himself die quietly without resisting and giving a fight. This is what he is trying to tell his octogenarian father.
This is what he means when he beseeches his father “do not go gentle into that good night/old age should burn and rage at close of day” [lines 1 and 2] (Cummings 3). Though the persona does not mention the word “death” in these lines, it is clear from the use of words that death is what they are referring to. That “…..good night” (Cummings 4) can be viewed as a reference to death.
It is the view of the persona that nobody, and especially not his father, should give death the pleasure of taking him without putting up a fight. They say in lines 3, 9, 15, and 19 “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Linda 6). By saying the “dying of the light”, the persona may be referring to the last days of the living man. In their opinion, the man should “rage, (and) rage (some more)” against death. This is especially so in the case of his father, who was a strong soldier in his latter days.
b. Old Age
The father to the persona is dying of old age. This is obvious from the several references made to the same in this poem. In line 2, they say “old age should burn and rage at the close of the day” (Linda 4). This means that the persona does not believe that old age should justify death. One should not accept death meekly just because they are old. To the contrary, the old age should fight death as much as possible. The use of the word “wise men” in line 3 can be seen as direct reference to old men, like the persona’s father. The same applies to the words “grave men…../ (with) blind eyes” in lines 13 and 14 (Cummings 6).
II. Alfred Lord: Thematic Analysis
Death is also one of the themes in this poem. For example in the 8th line of the last stanza, the persona makes a direct reference to death by saying “death closes all……” (Grimes 5). This reference to death proves right one of the assertions of this essay’s thesis, since it brings together the two poems. Both personas admit to the inevitability of death.
However, that is as far as the similarities goes. Whereas death is a central theme in Dylan’s poem, it is peripheral in Ulysses. Whereas Dylan urges hiss audience to fight death, to “rage” against it, Alfred expresses a resigned acceptance of the same. By saying that “death closes all” (Madruga 2), Alfred is admitting that every person will die one day, and thus, putting up a resistance will not help matters.
b. Old Age
Again, this is a theme that is central to both poems. In Dylan, the persona’s father is dying as a result of frailty brought about by old age. The persona in Alfred’s poem admits that they are old from the start. In line 3, the persona says”match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole” (Grimes 4). This is an indication that the persona is old just like his wife.
However, there is a marked difference between old age between these two poems. For example, in Dylan’s poem, it is the audience who is old, and not the persona. However, in Alfred’s poem, it is the persona who is old. In line 6 of the last stanza, Alfred writes “free hearts, free foreheads-you and I are old” (Madruga 6). This is an admission of the fact that the persona is old.
2: Structure and Form of the Poems
This is another element that highlights the similarities and differences between the two poems.
Alfred’s Ulysses is made up of four paragraphs that vary in length (Grimes 2). Each of these paragraphs has a distinct message in it. On the other hand, Dylan’s poem is made up of six stanzas. This makes it different from that of Alfred.
However, similarities are discernible when it comes to the length of the stanzas; all the stanzas in the two poems are not equal. The first five stanzas in Dylan’s poem have three lines each, making them a tercet (Grimes 4). However, the last stanza (stanza six) is a quatrain, having four lines.
The two poems are also similar given that they are both monologues. Both involve the persona talking to another person whose responses are not included in the poem. However, the difference comes in when one considers the audience of both personas. Dylan’s audience is clearly his father, and this is clear in the last stanza when he says, “and you, my father……” However, the audience of Alfred’s persona is not clear.
At the start of the poem, the persona in Alfred’s poem appears to be talking to themselves. However, from the 3rd stanza, the persona appears to be speaking to an unidentified public. This is especially so when he introduces his son to this public; “this is my son, mine own Telemachus” [line 1, stanza 3] (Madruga 6).
In the last stanza, Alfred’s persona appears to be addressing his fellow mariners. He appears to be telling them to keep up the good fight, despite the fact that they have been “made weak by time and fate, but strong in will” [line 26, stanza 4] (Grimes 4).
There are several elements that are similar in the two poems. This includes several common themes, structure and such others. However, the same elements set the two poems apart. For example, the structure and form of the poems differs in some aspects.
Cummings, Guide. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night: A Study Guide. 1 November 2010
Grimes, Linda S. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses: Life After Adventure. 1 November 2010
Linda, Sue G. Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle: Analysis and Commentary. 01 November 2010
Madruga, Jessica. Analysis of “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. 1 November 2010