Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

One evening early in 2009 my wife played me a podcast of the actor John Lithgow recorded on the PBS show Bill Moyers Journal. During the show he recited several poems, but I was struck by one in particular – “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The poem resonated with me, particularly because of my own Welsh roots, and I decided to set about writing music to accompany Lithgow’s recital. The task took longer than expected as I experimented with several different approaches to try and get the feel I was after. In the end, it all came together, with the music opening up a new dimension to Thomas’s words, and perhaps substantiating his belief that poetry can be understood by something other than the eyes.

About John Lithgow

John Lithgow is an American character actor, musician, and author. Lithgow has been involved with a wide range of media projects, including stage, television, film, and radio. Lithgow has won five Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, an American Comedy Award and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. He has also been nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Lithgow is well known for his roles as the Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose, Dick Solomon on the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, the voice of Lord John LithgowFarquaad in Shrek, and Arthur Mitchell on Showtime’s Dexter, for which he won Golden Globe and Emmy awards. He appeared in the films The World According to Garp (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983), receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for each. On the stage, he appeared in the musical adaptation of Sweet Smell of Success, winning the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He again appeared in a musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, again receiving a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He has also recorded music, such as the 1999 album of children’s music, Singin’ in the Bathtub.

Lithgow has done extensive work for children, including several books and albums. Some of his book titles are Marsupial Sue, Marsupial Sue Presents “The Runaway Pancake,” Lithgow Party Paloozas!: 52 Unexpected Ways to Make a Birthday, Holiday, or Any Day a Celebration for Kids, Carnival of the Animals, A Lithgow Palooza: 101 Ways to Entertain and Inspire Your Kids, I’m a Manatee, Micawber, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College and I Got Two Dogs. He also has written and published several books of poetry.

John Lithgow’s original recital from his appearance on Bill Moyers Journal:

About Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, the “Play For Voices”, Under Milk Wood, and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became popular in his lifetime, and remained so after his death, partly because of his larger than life character and his reputation for drinking to excess. Thomas has been acknowledged as one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century.

“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is considered to be among the finest works by Thomas. Originally published in 1951, it was written for his dying father, and is one of Thomas’s most popular and accessible poems. The poem has no title other than its first line, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, a line which appears as a refrain throughout the poem. The poem’s other equally famous refrain is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Dylan Thomas reciting “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”:

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

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 grieved 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.

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