Friday, April 5, 2013

National Poetry Month—Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight"

Why, you may well ask,  is a picture of a film critic at the head of a poetry post?
Just two days after announcing the return of cancer and his “leave of presence” from his heavy schedule of multiple reviews a week plus other writing long time Chicago Sun-Times movie critic and cultural icon Roger Ebert died yesterday.   
When we were both very young men, but when he was already making his mark at the Sun-Times and I was an obscure wanna-be writer and contributor to the Chicago Seed, I used to hang out on the periphery of rollicking bull sessions at O’Rourke’s and other writer hang outs with Roger and a gaggle of other reporters. They tolerated me and occasionally let me get a word in edgewise.
When I helped lead an IWW strike at one of his favorite art-house venues, the Three Penny Cinema, he was furious with me. Hope he finally forgave me.
Roger was not only the greatest movie reviewer of his or any other generation, he also was a great and insightful social critic and progressive, which he showed off in his great blog in recent years. He was the most loved and admired Chicagoan since Studs Terkel. They might have to rent Soldier Field for his funeral to accommodate all of his personal friends, admirers and fans.
The last decade of his storied life was marked by medical crisis, recovery, and worse crisis.  He had reoccurring cancer and the surgery to save his life was botched costing him first his jaw and then his voice.  He was often bed ridden or confined to a wheelchair.  But through it all, except for the days of most extreme crisis, Roger continued to write passionately.  He reviewed as many as ten movies a week, wrote new pieces on the film industry and other reporting, penned several books, managed his TV series, and kept up maybe the best, most readable blog in America.
Eventually, thanks to exotic technology, he regained the ability speak through a computer program.  With the aid of his loving and devoted wife Chaz, Roger not only endured, he seemed to thrive.
Roger Ebert was why the word indomitable was invented.
In his book Life Itself  Roger wrote:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.
Still despite this gentle acceptance of the inevitable, Roger as the old timers used to say, “sucked the marrow out of life.”  He lived it to the last instant when he turned and smiled at Chaz and slipped away.
I could not help but think of the poem that Dylan Thomas wrote when his father was dying and which I read at a memorial service for my Dad after his long painful battle with brain cancer.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight
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.

—Dylan Thomas


  1. I sharpened pencils for him at the Sun Times. Mike Royko was at the Daily News then, literally in the next room. Both were funny men. The rest of the reporter were pretty serious.

  2. Thank you for writing this - your personal touch is gentle and the lines from the man himself are comforting. - Lenore