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 reading of Eliot’s classic essay
‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ was first published in 1919 in the literary magazine The Egoist. It was published in two parts, in the September and December issues. The essay was written by a young American poet named T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), who had been living in London for the last few years, and who had published his first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. You can read ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ here.
‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) sees Eliot defending the role of tradition in helping new writers to be modern. This is one of the central paradoxes of Eliot’s writing – indeed, of much modernism – that in order to move forward it often looks to the past, even more directly and more pointedly than previous poets had. This theory of tradition also highlights Eliot’s anti-Romanticism. Unlike the Romantics’ idea of original creation and inspiration, Eliot’s concept of tradition foregrounds how important older writers are to contemporary writers: Homer and Dante are Eliot’s contemporaries because they inform his work as much as those alive in the twentieth century do. 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