And though he has an enormous collection of selves, in the first stanza he cannot find a single one of himself. The language of the first stanza could also be used to describe, for example, a pair of reading glasses that are “lost” on the forehead of the befuddled man looking for them. Moving from four lines in the first stanza to ten in the last, the poem gains momentum as it progresses. It is as though each stanza reminds the narrator of another infuriating aspect of his character, another instance of his selves slighting himself, and he cannot help but to continue with further examples. These are the traits and habits of old people.
Dylan Thomass “Do Not Go Gentle” is perhaps the most famous English language villanelle. The choice of villanelle as a form is doubly ironic. Traditionally, the villanelle was for light verse but Thomas uses it to describe the approach of death. Similarly he asks his aging father to rage (to rage along with him, the narrator) at the end of his life even though this is not the order of things as death approaches. His choice of villanelle seems to be a choice of youthful exuberance based, perhaps, on less than adequate understanding of the form; likewise, asking his father to rage seems to be a similarly youthful request based, perhaps, on a less than complete understanding of the nature of aging.
Given, however, his expert treatment of the form and his insightful observations on aging throughout the poem, the reader recognizes that Thomas has a deep understanding of both poetic form and the aging process. The doubly irony is, then, doubly poignant. Thomas, the fully matured poet, wants so badly for his father to live (to show signs of life), that he cant help but adopt these youthful tropes in order to pass some of his own youthful raging on to his father, to be light enough and angry enough for both of them. Thomas knows his words are “wrong,” and knows his form is “wrong,” but in the face of death, there is nothing else for him to do.
The latter two poems, “We Are Many” and “Do Not Go Gentle” can be understood as poetic foils.
“We Are Many” is a freely styled pondering of aging from the perspective of the one who ages. The emotional content of the poem is ambiguous, as are the descriptions of the self. There is a quality of lament in the realization that the narrator has never been able to bring together the person he wants to be with the moment he wants to be it, but the poem remains lighthearted. “Do Not Go Gentle,” on the hand is strictly organized and feigns (formally) a lightness of heart while actually being a profound lament. Even though they are of opposite perspectives (one by an older man marveling at the vagaries of his self, one by a younger man watching the death of an older man), both voices understand the nature of life and death while not understanding why it must be so. Further, both narrators are helpless within their circumstances, and both narrators succumb to their helplessness. In the middle four stanzas, Thomas, engages a cool logic describing how other men would rage. In his final stanza, he commands “Curse, bless, me now.” As the end draws near, he loses his coolness and begs for anything, any sign of emotional power still remaining. Similarly, Neruda wraps himself in his own conundrum at the beginning of his final stanza, “While Im writing, Im far away; and when I come back, Ive gone.” The problem of the elusive selves has begun to tie him up in linguistic knots. Bibliography Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.” 3 April 2002. www.victoriaweb.org. 15-12 2010