A reading of a classic poem
‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is probably the best-known villanelle in English poetry. If you’re not sure what a villanelle is, don’t worry – it’s not important right now. But it’s one reason why the poem is worth reading. The other is that ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is one of Dylan Thomas’s most famous, and finest, poems. You can read it here. What follows constitutes our analysis of this poem of brave defiance in the face of certain death.
A number of Dylan Thomas’s poems offer a sinewy, unsentimental approach to death: in another poem, he offers his reasons for refusing to mourn the death of a child in the London Blitz. In ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, the death he concerns himself with is somewhat closer to home: his own father’s. But Thomas’s own demise would follow not long after he composed these defiant words for his father, so the poem might also, oddly, be read as autobiographical, in a quasi-prophetic sort of way. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic poem
‘Invictus’ is a famous poem, even to those who haven’t heard of it. This is because, although the title ‘Invictus’ may mean little to some (other than, perhaps, as the title of a film – of which more shortly), and the author of the poem, William Ernest Henley, is not much remembered now, the words which conclude the poem – ‘I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul’ – are well-known. The poem is sufficiently famous to warrant closer attention and analysis.
William Ernest Henley, like his most famous non-famous poem, is somebody whom we both know and don’t know. Even those who don’t know his name are aware of his influence. Henley (1849-1903) was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, and when Stevenson wrote his first novel, Treasure Island (1883), he was inspired by Henley’s distinctive appearance to create the famous fictional pirate. (Henley, who had suffered from tuberculosis from an early age, had his left leg amputated below the knee while still a teenager, so was the inspiration for Stevenson’s one-legged pirate.) Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a Shakespeare sonnet
‘Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage …’: so begins Shakespeare’s Sonnet 26, which is the focus of our analysis here. It’s seen as something of a triumph among the early sonnets in the sequence, and is worth unpicking and summarising carefully for that reason.
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it:
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me. Read the rest of this entry