We’ve been reading about Death in Robert Frost’s and Emily Dickinson’s poems. They’ve both got different voices, and different “angles” on dying.
Now we have our friend, Dylan Thomas, the scotch-slugging, chain-smoking Welsh poet who gives us a little advice on facing our own death.
“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one of his most famous.The theme is powerful, made so by its form. And now, we speak of form, or, the way the poem is “shaped.”
This poem is called a villanelle. The villanelle is an Italian poetic form, the word means “peasant,” “rural.” Supposedly a “simple man’s song,” but as you read it, you’ll see it’s more than that.
Read read read read read this poem. Don’t try to “understand” it; don’t try to figure it out. Reading over and over is the way to get to the heart of a poem. Let the words bleed into your psyche, through repetition.
Now, I know how life is–you get busy, and the thought of reading a poem a couple dozen times before class sounds like a lot of work. But, you’re just not going to get much out of it any other way. You should read it so many times that, before you know it, you’ll have chunks of it memorized. Why is that important? What good comes from that? Nothing much, really, just the fact that life has a hell of a lot more meaning when you read poetry. And reading poetry makes you become a more interesting, engaging, empathetic person. Which means you’ll have a better chance of getting a fantastic job after graduation. More on that later.(*)
This is a very challenging, sometimes painful structure, as much intellectual as it is emotional. Study it, because you’re going to have to write your own villanelle for next Tuesday.
(*What, you didn’t think studying poetry could help you in your career? Goodness, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover…)