Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The words are the opening couplet of a Dylan Thomas poem. They characterize the struggle that we all endure, as we come upon the immanency of our last breath. “Dragged kicking and screaming” would be the contemporary analog. Or, “hell no, I won’t go.” But then, we aren’t really given the choice are we?
That is part of Dylan’s rage against the dying of the light. We are powerless to alter the waning of the day and the coming dark. To some, particularly the young, it doesn’t seem fair or right. But then, no one said life was either easy or fair. “It is what it is,” some say with a fatalistic shrug.
Some few think their position can overcome the inevitable. Medieval English King Canute reputedly once stood on the shore and ordered the waves to stop. The waves of course washed over him as they would any one or thing standing in their way. It is our inability to change that which must become that fuels our rage against the inevitable. Not power, nor money nor social stature will affect our inevitable decline and departure. There is a certain egalitarian justice here. ‘You can’t take it with you,” would be the contemporary saying. Though the lord knows many have certainly tried.
But then, there are things that should draw our rage. The suffering and injustice of others has always raised the bile within me, particularly when it is the weak and the poor who take it on the chin, because that is their assigned lot in life. Who says? I wonder. The great beauty of the American Republic is that you can rage against injustice and inequity and change what others would think inevitable. Anyone can change the course of events here if they but have the fortitude to withstand the inevitable “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Shakespeare would say. “Crap flows down hill” is a contemporary interpretation.
I usually try to sort these things out by my own ability to bring about change. There was a time, in my earlier years when I sat in the halls of power, when I could wield the phone with the best of them and change many things that I felt unjust. Now, I couldn’t get you or myself arrested on a good day, even if I tried.
There is frustration here of course. But the perspicacity of age makes me judiciously select those battles where I have some chance of altering the outcome. The others, I think, will have to await the broader and more vigorous energies of younger folks who don’t mind engaging in herculean tasks, regardless of the outcome. Bless them for their youthful idealism and impetus.
So, while I too rage against the dying of the light, I think I can still get a few more licks in against what some think to be the inevitable. And the thought of another battle on the morrow is enough to gladden the heart and fire the blood of any Celt ever born.
Joseph Xavier Martin