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  • Kirk Barbera

The Gentleness of Achilles: Poem the Third

This is part 3 of a series introducing poetry to those who have had bad experiences reading poems. Poetry is to be experienced not unlike life itself. Here we will explore the poem, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. I will not give you a background of the poem or a detailed analysis of the rhythm, meter and societal implications of Dylan's poem. Instead, let me tell you an ancient story about a warrior and the rage he felt.



The leaders of a great army are gathered together in a small tent. Their goal is to persuade their General to give up his most recent war prize. For nine years this army has waged war on Troy; and now a plague has been beset on them. To rid themselves of it, their General, Agamemnon, must forfeit his newest slave girl, for she is the daughter of a powerful man who has the power to stop the plague.


Another Greek General, a four-star to Agamemnon’s 5, will speak for the crowd of Greek leaders. He informs Agamemnon that the girl must be surrendered. But Agamemnon believes that this upstart—even though he is the greatest warrior in the army—is gunning for his position, so he seeks to knock him down.


“Yes, Achilles, I will give up my prize, but since I earned this, I will take yours as recompense.”

In a rage, Achilles says, “How any right-minded Greek could follow you and your shamelessness I cannot understand. No longer will I, nor my men, follow you. When you have begun to lose the war, you will regret your cowardly act.”


The rage of Achilles is one of the most famous stories in The Western Canon. Written down by Homer over three thousand years ago, its tale of honor and rage and loss is as relevant then as it is today.


When Achilles, in his rage against Agamemnon, sits out from the war, the Greeks suffer. The plague dissipates, but their enemies push forward.


No pleading or cajoling or bribery can persuade Achilles to re-enter the fray. He sits and fumes and watches his fellow Greeks die.


Until his childhood friend, Patrocles, is killed. Then that burning desire, that rage, is once more channeled toward a new goal. Not now toward Agamemnon, but toward vengeance against their enemies, the Trojans.


Achilles’ rage has such a focused intention he refuses even to eat until his mission is accomplished:


“Until that time no food or drink shall pass down my throat, at least, since my dear friend lies torn in my lodge, his feet toward the door, while round him our comrades are mourning. Hence I have no interest at all in food and drink, but only in slaughter and blood and the agonized groans of mangled men.”


He doesn’t mess around. And he does in fact turn the tide of the war.

One important lesson here is that rage, that intense desire, is a tool. It can be used improperly and harm the ones we love, or it can be used to focus your efforts and accomplish what we want.


When everything around you is failing, when you are close to losing it all, when you feel as though you can’t take it anymore:


Do not go gentle into that good night;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

POETRY TIP: Make it Personal

Poetry is intimate. It is about personal experiences. That’s why it is so closely associated with love. But for any poem you read, you should imagine examples from your life that relate to the poem. In the next poem, think of times when you were on the verge of quitting. Did you quit? What happened? Perhaps you were rejected ten times by the woman you wanted, but on the eleventh time she said yes to a date and you eventually married (my parents’ story). Perhaps you were in high school and it was the big game but you were down by 20 points. Did you rage against the dying of the light? What happened?


Here is poet Dylan Thomas reading "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night





Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953


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.


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.


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.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


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.


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.