The poems, “Do Not Go Gently into That Night” by Dylan Thomas and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson, deal with the theme of death. Both poets use figurative devices to compare and contrast their abstract views on death. Thomas rejects the idea of death, and implores his father to fight his impending death. On the other hand, the woman in Dickenson’s poem embraces death as she goes willingly into death’s embrace. In essence, there is no specific way to present poems that share the same theme. Each poet chooses unique ways to structure their poems even though the poems deal with similar themes. In spite of the similarities of the themes each poem, each poet uses personification, metaphors, and similes to describe the effect of death. In Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” (p. 807) and Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently into That Night” (p. 878), both poets use personal experiences, figurative devices, and poetic structure to show the contrast in how people deal with issue of death.
Dickenson sees death as a gentleman who comes to visit her. She casually mentions the seriousness of the visit, and sees it as something she must embrace. She is not ready for death, as she is not appropriately dressed, or prepared to die. This simple way that she sees death suggests that she does not believe that death has come for her. However, she goes with death. Dickenson speaks of the journey with death as she relives her life. She passes the places where she spent most of her childhood, and she does not seem to regret any of her past experiences. In other words, she embraces death as she faces it. Thomas on the other hand, does not face death directly. His father is suffering from a grave illness and is almost dying. Dylan tells him to fight death, and not to accept the fate that destiny brings to him.
The poem “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night” makes use of the villanelle poetic structure. The poet begs his father not to accept death, but to hold on for as long as he can hold on. The first stanza in the poem presents the rage that Thomas feels and which he uses to encourage his father to fight the cancer that took over his body. Thomas makes use of metaphors to place death in a more accepting manner. He tells his father that he should not go into the night. The night is the metaphorical death that the poet speaks to. Similarly, Dickenson uses metaphor to talk about the death that she faces directly. She looks at her death as a gentleman, who is attempting to court her. The titles in both poems seek to talk about death in a subtle way. Dickenson’s tone is conversational as she engages the reader in her thoughts, using the dependent clause. Similarly, Thomas speaks to death in a euphemistic way and then he speaks to the gentleness of the impending death that his father faces. In addition both poets see death as a gentle escape for the persona’s in the poem.
Thomas’s poem has two refrains. These refrain are important as the first stanza speaks to the poets rage. The poet has five tercets or stanzas with three lines with the ABA rhyming pattern. This pattern changes in the quatrain’s of the poem to ABAA where the focus is on night and day. The second stanza in the poem looks at the implied wise men or possibly the philosophers of the time. Thomas points out that, like Dickenson’s poem, death is unavoidable. While Dickenson does not fight death at any turn, Thomas encourages these men to fight against the hands of death. In the third tercet, Thomas points out that the good men will live longer as their youth and strength helps them to fight against death. The fourth, fifth, and sixth tercets, add to Thomas’ view that people should not sit back and accept their death.
In contrast, Dickenson’s poem has a calm, serene nature to the form. The tone of the poem complements the way in which the lines end. There are six quatrains in the poem. Each quatrain consists of stanzas with four lines. The numbers with odd numbers have iambic tetrameter with eight syllables. The alternating rhyming syllables resembles the fall of a water stream. This one can say is similar to the calm way in which Dickenson embraces her impending death. Her basic thoughts suggest that death can take her at anytime and to anywhere that it wants to takes her. In other words, Dickenson structures her poem so that the reader sees that she accepts her faith calmly like a stream flowing freely by itself, while Thomas structures his poem to reflect the rage he feels at the time. Dickinson's use basic poetic structure that has six quatrains, with allows the reader to conclude that she sees death as a simple occurrence. In addition, this adds to belief that death is ordinary, and is unlike Thomas’ portrayal that death is violent, and it is as complicated as the villanelle structure of his poem.
The use of rhyme in Thomas’s poem is clear; there are end rhymes that the poet use that adds to the rage that he feels. When reading the poem, the reader gets a rhythmic pattern of the conflict that Thomas is having with his inner thoughts. On the other hand, the rhyme in the poem, “Because I Could not Stop for Death” is not regular. The rhymes are scattered throughout the poem, and adds to how the poet ties the sound pattern together in the poem. There is also the presence of half rhymes which makes the words sound as if they almost rhyme.
In concluding, both poet use structure and form to highlight the themes. They both believe that death is a certainty for everyone as everyone faces death at one point. However, both poets show the various ways in which people deal with their impending death. While none of the poet sees death as being bad, Thomas faces death with more anger. The poems use the images of darkness and light. Thomas looks at the rage that he associates with the dying light, and Dickinson speaks about the way she and death pass the sun as it set. One can conclude that the use of light shows the life of the people around them and that death is associated with the darkness that Thomas talks about in the poem.
Mays, Kelly, The Norton Introduction to Literature – Shorter Eleventh Edition, New York:
W.W. Norton & Company Inc. (2013) (590 – 594)