Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Themes


Death is the central theme of “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Throughout the poem, the speaker likens death to darkness and nighttime—the “good night” of the poem’s title—while comparing life to light. The poem expresses a complex attitude towards death. The speaker acknowledges that death is impossible to evade, but urges his father to fight it for as long as he can. Yet the poem suggests that despite death’s inevitability, one can overcome it in some sense by leaving behind great words and actions, which requires resisting the temptation to yield to death. For example, in the second stanza, “wise men” mourn the fact that their words haven’t had enough influence, and in the third, “good men” lament how much their deed would have stood out had they been stronger. Both sets of men commit to not facing death with acquiescence, in hopes of leaving enough of a legacy to be remembered by.


Old age is often associated with calmness and even weakness, but the speaker has a very different view of it. He declares that “old age” should “burn and rave,” using vivid, almost violent language, and calls on his father to “rage” against death, conjuring the image of a brutal fight. The images of light he uses are similarly powerful—“lightning,” “caught… the sun,” “blaze like meteors.” The light of old age is portrayed as blinding, not soft and pleasant. Furthermore, the speaker’s depiction of “wise men” is particularly interesting. While wisdom is commonly paired with old age, the speaker doesn’t envision the sort of serene wisdom typically conjured up. Instead, he asserts that the wise do not face death—“that good night”—gently, but instead dream of harnessing lightning.