“Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” pleaded Dylan Thomas as he watched his ailing father, D.J, battle with the devastating effects of throat cancer. He was slowly but surely losing his eyesight and one of the shattering consequences of that was, that the once revered English schoolmaster, and Dylan’s mentor, could no longer read and advise his son on his poetry.
Though there was perhaps another reason why my grandfather did not share this emotional villanelle with his ill father as he explained in a letter to Princess Caetani. “The only person I can’t show (the enclosed) poem to is, of course, my father, who doesn’t know he’s dying.”
As Dylan wrote those famous six stanzas he must have struggled with each and every line trying desperately to find the most appropriate words to communicate how he was feeling. So surely, he would be amazed, (hopefully not horrified!) how, years later, the poem has been interpreted, especially those last two perfect sentences.
Having seen Andrew Dally’s excellent blog: The Women’s March – Raging with Dylan Thomas, it made be think about how the words of the poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night have been understood and represented in an assortment of ways. It has been included in major Hollywood films and music videos while shrewd politicians have quoted it. Furthermore, advertising companies, hoping to persuade consumers to buy their products, have benefited from the powerful language. What’s more, it has been capitalised on as a means to encourage national sporting teams to battle until the end!
More often than not it has been used to evoke passion and ambition. It has energised adoring fans to support their heroes in the battle against the enemy, as well as invigorating the marginalised to fight for justice. Most recently, it has gone back to its roots and is part of a film That Good Night, starring the late Sir John Hurt as a terminally ill screenwriter.
As the creative co-ordinator for the Dylan Thomas Estate, I regularly get asked to grant permission for the use of Dylan’s words as they are still in copyright. My endorsement is the final ‘stamp of approval’. That Good Night was a relatively easy decision, as the script was good, the acting high quality and the poem was respectfully remembered.
However, it is not always as clear-cut. I have often had to deliberate carefully and have had sleepless nights about the choice I will eventually make. Taking on the role of judge and executioner, chopping up an idea before it has even begun, can be difficult. Fortunately there are very few times I’ve had to do this.
The decision can also be especially hard if I know it is going to be controversial. For example, giving consent for the poem to be part of a wrestling promotional video.
There were strong reasons for and against it so I asked myself the following questions. If I allow it to be used in this context, will I be downplaying the brilliance of the poem? If I don’t allow it will I be seen as too elitist? It will be a superficial project, therefore it could dumb down deeper meanings and layers within the poem. Do I want that to happen? How many people will have the opportunity to view the poem? Will it introduce my grandfather’s work to new audiences? And what then? How do we keep them hooked without alienating the loyal fans?
I did finally say, “Yes”. Many people will agree with this…others will strongly disagree. Ultimately, I felt the chance for the poem to be heard by millions around the globe was something I could not dismiss. Below I’ve put a few examples of the poem in action. You may love, like or hate how the words of this magnificent poem have been communicated. But, one thing is unquestionable, my grandfather’s words are being heard, talked about and felt around the world.
Hannah Ellis – 30th January 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – http://www.hannahellisconsultancy.com
Thank you Josh Brown for sending me this image. It comes from Bhopal in India where there was a huge environmental disaster in 1984 at the Union Carbide chemical works in which many died and thousands more suffered. The victims have still to secure compensation from the company and the campaign to get justice still goes on today. One of the ways this is conducted is to paint pictures and slogans on buildings copying a common method of advertising in India.
Prince Jackson, the eldest son of the late Michael Jackson has this inked on his chest.