“Because I Could Not Go Into That Good Night”
ENG125: Introduction To Literature
September 19, 2011
“The only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes,” –Benjamin Franklin. While this is a timeless quote in the sense that death is in fact guaranteed regardless of time period, death’s role in society may in fact vary era to era. Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” and Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” while written in differing time periods, both poems used the common theme of death. Through varying their usage of literary elements the poets were able to portray their individual and respective era’s role for death.
Both Dickinson and Thomas used irony when titling their poems. “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” begins with a transitional word (Because) as if she is answering a question. It is as if she has now found her voice only after death has taken her from the natural world. Dickinson also says that she could not stop for death, but you learn in the poem that death stopped for her. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is ironic because he doesn’t want you to go into the “good” night. If it was good, wouldn’t you want to go into it?
Dickinson title is passive while Thomas’ title is active. Dickinson appears to be answering questions posed by others. The speaker just sits back and is along for the ride with death. Dylan Thomas, however, is directing others, telling them what they should do should they encounter death. Thomas repeats to the reader to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Thomas wants the reader to understand that regardless of the type of man you are, that you should not give up on life easily and you should always have control. The speaker seems unsure that death is the theme.
Both authors share the same first person point of view, speaking as “I” or “we.” Dickinson’s poem begins personal, becomes less personal, and then returns back to personal at the end. This personalization transitioning to lack of personalization speaks to the passive tone of the poem. The speaker seems unsure of themselves. The speaker is waiting on others, even death at this point, to take the reins and decide the path of their life, even if it is the afterlife. This is indicative of Dickinson’s era and the way women were treated and the way they thought. The “I” to “We” form of the poem is signifying marriage, where a woman would lose herself. It is only in death when she again finds herself. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” begins impersonal, speaking to others that he does not know, and not until the last stanza does it become personal when the speaker addresses their father. The lack of personalization in the beginning speaks to the active tone of the poem. The speaker does not want to insert emotion into the fight against death, showing the masculine way of thinking that adding emotion to logic weakens an argument. The active tone is representative of a more modern world of Thomas’ where one can fight against death with medicine and with will power. His turn to personalization at the end, beginning to speak directly to his father, however, shows that death still scares people with uncertainty of what’s in that “good night”. Thomas pleads to his father to not go gentle into that good night and to rage against the dying of the light. To him, losing his father would change his role in life and without his father’s blessing, he doesn’t want to make that change. The punctuation the authors used are very different. Dickinson chose to write with randomized capitalization. This is to show the ups and downs in a marriage for a woman. For instance, while you have security and unity, you also have limitations and loss of self and she feels chaos within herself. The dashes that she uses represent uncertainty in one self. It gives a sense that perhaps death...
References: Baym, N. (2003). The Norton Anthology of American Literature 1865-1914. Pg. 190-191. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Frank, B. (2000). Dickinson 's 'Because I could not stop for death '. Explicator, 58(2), 82-83. doi:10.1080/00144940009597017
Kennedy, X.J., & Gioia, D. (2002). An Introduction To Poetry. Pg. 232. New York: Longman.
Raina, B. N. (1985). Dickinson 's 'Because I Could Not Stop for Death '. Explicator, 43(3), 11-12. doi:10.1080/00144940.1985.9938606
Westphal, J. (1994). Thomas 's 'Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night '. Explicator, 52(2), 113-115. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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