"Do not go gentle into that dark night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the night.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightening they
Do not go gentle into that dark night."
Dylan Thomas 1951
Watching one you love move slowly and inexorably towards death, powerless to stop their progress, with sufficient power only to suffer as their companion on the journey, wanting to step into their suffering and live it a different way yet having to respect their own dignity and understanding of courage, Dylan struggled to let his father die. His response, after his father's death, was to write this famous poem about the struggle for all who face death to fight on that their life may ultimately have meaning.
There are several interpretations of this poem: Both Dylan and his father struggled with their understanding of god, though from different angles. I suspect that Dylan had a very real and vibrant faith, but also had a deep internal struggle, both with his understanding of self and with traditional Christianity which too often seemed to lack a prophetic depth. Some people are not built for a comfortable journey through this world. We should not be too quick to condemn them for the, sometimes, awkward way they react to that discomfort.
I started these thoughts as I wandered around the boat house at Laugharne where Thomas lived and wrote towards the end of his life (He wrote "Under Milk Wood" here, perhaps his most famous work, based on people he knew locally and set in the village, renamed Llareggub (read it backwards)). The poem itself I found printed on a tea towel, and the temptation to dry myself off with it nearly overcame the desire to read it. It was wet; very wet; very, very wet,.....
The whole poem is a good deal longer and well worth a read, in my opinion, and it reminded me of the strap-line used by Christian Aid; "We believe in life before death". I think that's a fantastic phrase. To use a desperately cheesy quote (for which I offer profuse apologies in advance) Christianity isn't just "pie in the sky when you die, but meat on the plate while you wait" (even more apologies in case the first lot wasn't enough). It's an important thought though as Christianity often portrays its key value as the security offered after death. This is reinforced through much of what is taught in our churches and included in our creeds. Just think for a moment: if you are familiar with any of the classical creeds of the Church, they (sometimes) talk of the birth of Jesus, and then move straight to his death and resurrection. They say nothing about his life, as if it was of marginal importance. But, as Christian Aid point out, the Gospels believe this life is as precious and important as anything that may be yet to come. So, what is the message of the Gospels, aside from the message of salvation? What does Christianity have to offer this life, never mind the next? Well, I'm just starting a new book by N T Wright, "How God became King"' and when I've finished, I'll let you know.
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