Explication of Poetry
In “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, Dylan Thomas is encouraging the reader to fight death when it comes, stating that men should “rage against the dying of the light” (Line 9). He is speaking generally at first, referencing several different types of men and how they handle death when it approaches. Collectively, Thomas is stating that men as a whole do not welcome death with open arms; rather, they “rage” against it. This poem discusses the theme of “dying light” mainly in lines 1-3: “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at the close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Lines 1-3).
In “To an Athlete Dying Young”, A. E. Housman writes about a young athlete who died before his time. He begins by reflecting on a time when the athlete won races and the town carried him home on their shoulders. He then shifts back to the present; the town is burying the athlete. Housman continues on to say that it is better that the athlete died young, so that he didn’t see his records being broken or experience his glory being lost. The theme of “dying light” is prevalent mainly in the fourth stanza:
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears; (“To an Athlete Dying Young”, 13-16)
Housman is saying that eyes that death has shut cannot see records broken; this reiterates the idea that the athlete’s death benefited him somehow.
While both “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and “To an Athlete Dying Young” both revolve around the theme of dying light, Thomas better develops the theme. Thomas spends the entirety of his poem urging the reader to rage against death, and he gives examples of all different types of men doing so. Housman is more focused on how the athlete’s death has a silver lining, rather than the dying of the light in particular.