Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Dylan Thomas, 1951)


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While there be notions of reincarnation, it is doubtless that something ends at death.  The memories, the familiarity, the history of interactions, the face and its expressions, the nostalgia of the childhood and of the home one lived in, ... all that comes to an end.  To begin again in a different form and frame, perhaps, but to end as one too.

After a certain age, most of us become resigned to our ongoing momentum and inertia.  Inertia and momentum are, as physicists since the time of Newton have known, the same thing.  Steady motion in the same direction is not different from stillness.  To change direction is the nature of life.  To apply force is the nature of the will.  To fall and slide down requires no effort.  To get up and to again push back against the earth, does.

Like a candle that burns even more fiercely as it nears its end, let old age not be emblematic of embers, but of a fiery passion that knows the end is nigh.  And therefore let the old age be of days lived with a fullness that is absent in youth.  The youth has time on its side, and is full of hubris and a lazy postponement of one's dreams and passions.  In old age the dreams at night must be no more, for the clock is ticking, and the ticks of the clock must act as knocks on one's closed doors and windows.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Man, unlike other animals, seeks to change his environment.  To sculpt the earth and others' minds.  But the idealism of youth, the possibility of revolution and the fierceness of a fearless hope give way to resignation as we realize the limitations and hear cautionary tales about foolhardy men who thought they could change the world and suffered from their bravado.

But as death comes close, the fear of death must vanish.  What have the old got to lose?  A couple of years?  A young man can be frightened of a long suffering or of death, but an old man must be fearless and must, like a wise fool, rush in where the unknowing timid fear to tread.

If they were unable to ignite a spark back in the day, now is the time to firebomb and to light a fuse under the armchairs made of safe, wooden compassion occupied by bored, distant, comfortable slacktivists.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The end of dreaming must not mean an end to action.  It must mean a graver understanding of the impediments and therefore more insightful and effective action.  Because the acts could not flourish in an environment of harshness, old men might become bitter and cynical.  Is a different outcome possible?  Is it possible to have passionate hope tempered with wisdom?

There are examples.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Men who weren't afraid to fly and fall, who weren't afraid to marry danger and who didn't want to fight a small skirmish but who wished to go all out, guns blazing...  Who wanted to seek truth and meaning and enlightenment... And who thought their light and passion would ignite the world but who saw nothing change as the dawn turned into noon and then to dusk.  They grieved and cried because they thought their lives have had no effect, that there hadn't been any lasting change, justice hadn't won over injustice in their lifetimes.  How could they peacefully pass away?  They must rage, rebel against death, rebel against defeat.  For they, at the front-lines of humanity, are not yet defeated.  They are but passing the swords, sharper than ever, to the next line of soldiers, ready to fight.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,   
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

With their vision sharpened through a lifetime of discarding one illusion after another, it may be weak in the light it can capture, but it is piercingly sharp because of the light it can impart.  It is blind and blinding at the same time.  Like meteors, the blaze of the knowledge is soon to get extinguished, but their light is not thereby less spectacular.  They are hurtling toward nothingness, and in that final journey they might shine a light on something which was hitherto hidden.  The finality of that final journey need not be a source of sorrow, it can be a joy of the kind that only comes with knowing that one did not hold back, that one was not trying to be safe anymore.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Any sign of life in one's dying beloved, even if it be a curse, is a blessing.  At that height of aloneness, where another breath can blow away the wispy frame from all that one held dear, let there be no forgetting, let there be no inertness even if it means pain and heartbreak.  For these are the final moments of a setting sun, and the none can dare look at anything else but the strange beauty of it.

Death in the end ... but let there be no death till then, till the very end.

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