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Watch: Michael Sheen’s ‘masterpiece’ Dylan Thomas recital

27 Apr 2024 3 minute read
Michael Sheen. Image: National Theatre / YouTube

Stephen Price

Michael Sheen’s performance of Dylan Thomas’ celebrated poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ has been hailed a masterpiece this month.

Writing on one of the internet’s largest zine (or blog) websites, Gail Sherman praised Sheen’s performance, saying: “Michael Sheen’s performance of Dylan Thomas’ villanelle, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ for London’s National Theatre is a minute and a half masterpiece.

She adds: “At the risk of angering the poetry community, I think his reading is superior to Thomas’ own, but you should absolutely not take my word for it and listen to both.”

Writing about his performance at the time, a spokesperson from the National Theatre said: “Michael Sheen performing ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ for Dylan Thomas Day is everything you’d hope it to be.

The poem

“Do not go gentle into that good night” is a poem in the form of a villanelle by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914–1953), and is one of his best-known works.

Though first published in the journal Botteghe Oscure in 1951, the poem was written in 1947 while Thomas visited Florence with his family.

The poem was subsequently included, alongside other works by Thomas, in In Country Sleep, and Other Poems (New Directions, 1952) and Collected Poems, 1934–1952 (Dent, 1952). The poem entered the public domain on 1 January 2024.

Dylan Thomas

It has been suggested that the poem was written for Thomas’s dying father, although he did not die until just before Christmas in 1952.

It has no title other than its first line, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, a line that appears as a refrain throughout the poem along with its other refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

The play enjoyed a re-run at the Olivier theatre for live performances in the summer of 2021, starring Michael Sheen, Karl Johnson and Siân Phillips who breathed new life into Dylan Thomas’ stirring words.

Do not go gentle into that good night

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 the 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.


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Rhian Davies
Rhian Davies
24 days ago

Hi,

As a Knowit who writes Knowems – I know for sure that my mother started ‘raging against the dying of the light’ early – when her kids were born! Copyright @ Ryan Hewitt-Davies

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