One of the most difficult forms for poets to master is the villanelle. Sometimes referred to as villanous because of its complexity, it is a 19 line poem with two repeating lines and two refrains. Probably the most frequently cited example of an excellent villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s urge to his ailing father to fight against death, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
For years I have loved this poem rather uncritically, probably because the writing is masterful and because it is written by a Welshman and thus stirs a little bit of nationalism in my heart. But recently it crossed my path again and for the first time I thought, why?
Why rage against the dying of the light?
Death comes for all of us, that is certain. Rage though we may, we all must exit this world, and all the Botox in the universe cannot stave it off forever. So what if instead, we chose to live so that our lives and our deaths blessed those around us? So that instead of facing the end with grief, we could face it with joy, knowing that we spent our time here in exactly the way we wanted to?
It may seem strange for someone who is, by all odds, likely just past the midpoint of her life to be thinking about this. But just as I said once “if I want to be a joyful old lady someday, I had better begin now” – so the same rule applies here. If I want to come to the end of my life on earth pleased with how I have spent my time, then I need to begin thinking about my choices now.
Because this is a fact: every yes to something is a no to something else. Every time I consent to spend time, energy, or emotion on something that does not bring life to me or to those I love, I have less time, energy, and emotion to spend on things that DO build our quality of life.
And so I try to be thoughtful. Clean bathrooms: yes. Dust bunny elimination over reading together: no. Cooking a meal for someone who is sick: yes. Listening to someone complain about a third party who isn’t present: no.
And I try to think about how I can be sure that the people who matter in my life know that I care, and why. I’m a great believer in the power of the written word. Not a canned commercial thank you card, but a handwritten note or thoughtfully composed email: this is what you did and this is how it impacted me. I appreciate it. Thank you. This world is full of people who are quick to complain, especially to complain ‘over your head.’ I want to be the opposite of that. I want to be the person who always takes the time to recognize that small thing that people thought went unnoticed.
And finally – my family. I want them always to know how much I love them. I never want a day to pass that I haven’t told them in all three ways – in my words, in my physical interactions, and in my deeds.
And if I have done all that, then when my time arrives, I hope I’ll be able to embrace the dying of the light.
Listen to Dylan Thomas read this work – with his magnificent Welsh voice and heart for poetry, it is a real treat.