“Because I Could Not Go Into That Good Night” Brian Wissinger ENG125: Introduction To Literature Rozlyn Truss-Linder 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 can help her find herself or an individual by taking her away from her unity, cutting off abruptly to continue on in a different way. Death to her is her only escape and her only chance and an eternity of freedom.
Thomas wrote with structured capitalization. Thomas doing so shows a masculine viewpoint of following societal rules. This goes to say that a man cannot accept that there is a stronger element than himself; death. All of his stanzas end in a period. This shows an understanding that all must come to an end, but still the strength the speaker has in determining himself where that end is. Although used differently, both authors use rhyme to put forth their message. In each stanza of Thomas’ poem, the end rhymes leave out one word: day, they, bay, way, gay, pray respectively.
The poet purposely chooses to not rhyme these words to further the message that “The day they bay way gay to death, pray” again yet speaking to the fact to not go gentle into that good night. This speaks to the active role against death that one can set in place structure to fight against death. Dickinson’s complete lack of rhyme speaks to the uncertainty of one self and life. Even as the speaker speaks, they are still unable to take any kind of control of their life. This speaks to the message of the passive role to death: what will be, will be. Repetition is used in both poems, but differently.
Dickinson only repeats one word in her poem; “ground”. Using a sole word causes the mind to focus on the true meaning of this sole word. Dickinson writing like this develops a feeling of concern and a complete lack of order. This is representative of Dickinson’s time period as the woman of the house had no control of their daily lives. Thomas though, repeats two different phrases multiple times in his poem. Thomas repeats the phrases “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” and “Do not go gentle into that good night. ” These two phrases solidify the theme of the poem in the mind.
The repetition creates order and structure in his poem and creates a feeling of comfort as he deals with the inevitable loss of his father. Both poems also contain forms of alliteration. “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” uses the letters “C”, “H”, and “S”, all which are passive and feminine sounding. The sounds that Dickinson uses throughout “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” are soft sounds and gentle to the reader. These are used to further the passive tone of the poem showing her lack of strength and control of what is happening to her. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” uses “R” and “D” sounds, both of which are harsh, masculine sounds. They are meant to further the active tone of Thomas’ poem by creating a sharp noise in the reader’s ear causing them to focus on the speaker’s strength and control of their life. Both poems contain a certain level of religious aspect. Dylan Thomas has two lines of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” that originate from the book of Deuteronomy in The Bible. Thomas often turned to the Bible for imagery and allusion. “And you, my father, there on the sad height, / Curse, bless, me now with your ierce tears, I pray” describes the relationship between Moses and his “son” Joshua and the anger of the father and the death of the father on Mount Nebo. This would be “the sad height” because before his death there, Moses is shown the Promised Land, which he will not enter (Westphal, J. , 1994). Dickinson, however, personifies death as a kind gentleman. Dickinson’s use of religion is in a marital aspect. The carriage coming to pick her up and the ring that is seen at the school are religious symbols of marriage which at Dickinson’s time period was the death of a woman.
Dickinson and Thomas both use symbolism in their respective poems. She uses the word ground which represents finding one’s footing or taking a stance for oneself. She also speaks of a carriage representing when women would get picked up for their wedding. It could also represent the chariot of death. The ring she speaks of in line 10 symbolizes a wedding ring or being stuck in a never-ending circle of eternity. All the symbols she sues speak to marriage. Thomas’ religious metaphors are his way of symbolizing death. Thomas speaks of four types of men in his poem: wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men.
In the last stanza, “And you, my father, there on the sad height,” is the final part of this sequence. The sequence suggests that the sad height is not a place at all, but a time, a metaphorical plateau of aloneness and loneliness before death (Westphal, 1994). Thomas also uses religious imagery of Father and Son. Line 17 ends with the words, “I pray”. It is symbolic of the dying father who looks down from the sad height on the son, rather than the dying Son, on the Cross, who looks up, from this sad height, to the Father (Westphal, 1994).
Dickinson’s use of symbolism speaks to her inability to express herself freely while Thomas’ use of symbolism speaks to his bluntness and passion to fight against death. Death is the theme of both poems, but Dickinson’s poem is in a figurative manner. Marriage is the death of a woman in Dickinson’s era. Thomas has a very literal theme of death. Death scares a man because he is judged based on what he leaves behind and judged if he was a great man in the natural world, not the eternal world. In “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, Thomas’ role of father and son are reversed.
Thomas speaks to his father to fight and rage, but finally asks his father for the blessing of his son’s fife, achieved by cursing his own (Westphal, 1994). The speaker in Dickinson’s poem is judged as a wife and mother in the natural world and not in eternity. Her death becomes the only way for her to escape her marriage and return to a free world. Through varying their usage of literary elements the poets were able to portray their individual and respective era’s role for 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.