Poetry Friday: “Do Not Go Gentle” with that Math Practice Standard #7

January 16, 2014 — 8 Comments

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form originated in France in the late 1800s, and the structure is comprised of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The most famous villanelle is by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

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.

I recently taught this poem to a class of Advanced Placement English Literature seniors who after some discussion were able to determine audience (“And you, my father..”), the form of address (imperative “Do not go“) and the poem’s paradox (“Curse, bless, me now“). They were intrigued by the most striking element of the poem, the repetition of the lines “Do not go gentle into that good night” (1, 6, 12, 18) and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (lines 3, 5,15,19). The ferocity of Thomas’s repeated exhortations increase because of the structure of the villanelle.

Structure matters. Structure, that “fundamental, tangible or intangible notion referring to the recognition, observation, nature, and permanence of patterns and relationships of entities” is not limited to poetry. Structure is in all the arts, and in all the sciences.

Structure matters in mathematics. Common Core Mathematic Practice Standard #7 requires students to:

Look for and make use of structure.

This standard details that “proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure,” and suggests, “young students, for example, might notice that three and seven more is the same amount as seven and three more.” Promoting this practice standard beyond the math classroom will have students noticing structure in other classes in every grade level. Students will be better equipped to recognize and use the structure of the periodic table or the color spectrum; they will be be prepared to identify and to employ patterns in pronouncing vowels and consonants. Students will be empowered to discover coordinates in longitude and latitude or to categorize the ingredients in food groups.

Recognizing and using structure is the critical academic skill that can help a student unravel both a problem in geometry or the complexity of a poetic structure like the villanelle. Once they understand the structure, they can evaluate the poet’s purposeful choice such as the one made by Dylan Thomas who selected the villanelle for this powerful poem.

The Common Core’s Mathematic Practice Standard #7 is in math and poetry. Note the same letters MP? Pattern? PossiblyCoincidence? Maybe not!

Screenshot 2014-01-18 07.14.12This post is submitted as part of Poetry Friday; this week, you can read the round-up at Keri Recommends. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

8 responses to Poetry Friday: “Do Not Go Gentle” with that Math Practice Standard #7


    Such a powerful poem, and an excellent example of the usefulness of structure.


    This is a really interesting connection. Don Graves used to always say that scientists and poets had a lot in common, because both had to look at the world so closely. Reading this, I can’t help but think that poets and mathematicians (not two groups that I would have put together) also have a lot in common.


    I’m bookmarking your post and will share your ideas at my part of the CLA Master Class roundtable session on Poetry Across the Curriculum. Janet and Laura PS thought they were giving me the hardest topic — math — but I TOTALLY agree with you! The connections are intuitive! M+P!!


      I have a few more in mind with this connection between the MP and ELA standards. One deals with identifying an author’s style through algorithms (like JK Rowling and her new novel)….
      I have been advising the content area teachers to look at the MP standards for process…ELA for product.
      As always, thanks for taking the time to comment (how do you manage it??)


        How do I manage? At the expense of things like cleaning the house!

        We MUST connect at NCTE this year!


    Love the way you’ve tied these two ideas together.


    Colette, I’m coming here for the first time via the Miss Rumphius Effect PF round-up. I teach K and am so glad to find that patterns have not disappeared completely in the CCSS, though it’s not mentioned at all in our standards (somehow I had missed the MP standards). There is no question in my mind that perceiving, analyzing, extending and creating structure (AKA patterns) is a learner’s most powerful and flexible tool, and children who do not easily do this are the ones who struggle most–perhaps at any level.
    And thanks for the poem–hadn’t read it in a long while! : )


      Heidi: I missed the Mathematical Practice Standards too, until I was trying to help a music teacher find standards to match his goals for evaluation. When I found the MPs, I was so excited. They are, as you point out, the a tool for ALL learning. They also help me make literacy bridges to other disciplines in very understandable ways…for teachers and for students. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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