Archives For Dylan Thomas

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!

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