English 271 Paper 1 - English 271 Paper Assignment 1...

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English 271 – Paper Assignment 1 Employing a repetitive structure and straightforward language, Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” may seem simplistic upon first glance. Indeed, the villanelle format in which it is written was traditionally employed for lighthearted poetry with rustic, pastoral themes. 1 It may seem incongruous that Thomas chose such a poetic form to write about a topic as somber as death. However, this disparity discloses the irony inherent in the speaker’s command to his father to “rage, rage” against death, which is omnipotent. Tensions between syntax, metaphor and sound and the literal thematic meaning in the lines further reinforce the poem’s ironic commentary on the hopeless but persistent human yearning for immortality. The structure of Thomas’s poem is tightly controlled, with a strict rhyme scheme, stanza number and length, and iambic pentameter consistently maintained throughout the entire piece. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. In standard villanelle form, the piece is nineteen lines long, with five tercets and one final quatrain. Thomas’s message stands in stark contrast to these stylistic bounds. In contrast to the strictures of the villanelle, the speaker’s message to “rage, rage” at death conjures thoughts of rebellion against order, against nature itself. Through the dichotomy of the poem’s seeming battle against itself, the central irony comes into clear focus—one must never passively accept death, however inevitable it may be. Moreover, the regularity of the villanelle form brings this complex theme into the foreground as it develops, rather than obscuring it with convoluted language. 1 http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796 , Poetic Form: Villanelle
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Subtle permutations of grammar and syntax within the formal villanelle structure allow Thomas’s reflections on existence to evolve and gain depth throughout the piece. For instance, the phrase “Do not go gentle” (1) disobeys the conventions of grammar; the adjective “gentle” should be replaced with the adverb “gently.” Yet upon close reading, it is apparent that the phrase is a stylistic defiance in order to mirror the phrase’s thematic
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English 271 Paper 1 - English 271 Paper Assignment 1...

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