The festivities for Dylan Thomas are all over the UK media at the moment, and aside from Under Milkwood this is the work of his gaining the most airtime, 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 that 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. 

Though like most people there is something very appealing to me about the idea of raging against the dying of the light, it’s not a poem that I have ever felt particularly connected to. It just doesn’t speak to me in the way that, for example, Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees his Death does:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Where Thomas rages, Yeats seeks only a lonely impulse of delight. While Thomas implores us to curse, Yeats invites us to balance all, bring all to mind. Even as a child, drawn to the rhythm of Yeats but as yet unable to truly grasp the meaning of what he was saying, something felt right here. As we live is the time to rage isn’t it, not as we die? That death is waiting for us is inevitable, to be dealt with calmly, thoughtfully. It’s living we need to attend to, life we should rage and struggle with not death.

Perhaps our fear of dying blinds us to this? I know that life itself has a habit of encouraging us to turn away – we become swept up in making a living, having a family, paying the bills. For a long time my “rage” against the system was more habit that heartfelt. It’s been interesting as I get older to feel the youthful rages return anew: the injustice of the world, our failure to do better, to be better, it all offends me now every bit as much as it did the firebrand younger me whose default position was the opposite of what authority wanted me to assume. But nowadays this rage is accompanied with a measure of guilt and complicity too – the key difference if I reflect on youthful versus mature idealism. And with that guilt comes a degree of awareness of one of the biggest barriers to overcome if meaningful and sustainable change is to come about; our ability to forgive ourselves, to balance all, to bring all to mind. To err is human indeed, but to forgive is the pre-requisite for change. If we can’t make peace with our flaws and failings, can we ever really begin to create a new way of living, thinking, and relating to each other? Rage yes, but balancing also is needed.

I rage at the unkindness of the world, and our failure to live up to our promise, with greater clarity and a stronger sense of purpose now that I have been able to look at my unkindnesses more clearly, face my own complicity. Perhaps that’s just what growing older is all about, perhaps I was a slow learner. But it feels very different this rage – powerful and positive and hopeful. A rage, balanced.