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Below are two lines from a famous poem by Dylan Thomas:

" 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."

I can sort of understand what he tries to imply, but I am wondering what does they do or mean there?

Does it related to the next line? That might be the case. That's the only thing that comes to my mind. In this case, is that punctuation correct though?

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    I believe this is a simple case of artistic license, the artist taking liberties with line breaks.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 0:24

2 Answers 2

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"They" is just the subject of the clause in the next line. The phrase "Do not go gentle into that good night" is imperative in other places in the poem. Here it is declarative. "...because (reasons), they do not go gentle into that good night."

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  • I guessed so, but is that punctuation correct? Like the capitalized D in Do and the fact that there is no comma?
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 2:54
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    Well, it's not ordinary text, and every line in the poem begins with a capital letter - a typographical choice. The first five verses of three lines make five sentences, as you can see by the location of the periods. As far as I can see it has ordinary punctuation except for the capitalization that marks the start of the lines. Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:10
  • It is interesting, I just learnt something new about English! Didn't know that even after line breaks like that, the sentence should be started with a capitalized letter.
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:12
  • I think I'm just only exposed to non-poetic style of writing and that's why I expected a comma after "because ...".
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:15
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    Some poems use different rules for capitalization. Look at something by e.e. cummings. Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:17
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Dylan Thomas sometimes stretched the English language to the breaking point, but here "they" simply refers to the "wise men" whose "words had forked no lightening."

The villanelle is not a poetic form easily adaptable to English, and varying from the imperative to the indicative certainly does not violate the rules of the form.

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  • Thanks but what about the punctuation? At least, a comma? How does a more detailed punctuation reduce the poetic aspect of the written art?
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:09
  • The sentence "They do not go gentle into that good night" does not, under any standard method of punctuation, require a comma anywhere. What makes you think it does? Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:17
  • Hmm, I expect a comma after the because-clause.
    – Cardinal
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 4:17
  • Commas usually indicate a slight pause in the pattern of English speech. Thomas probably wanted no pause in how the line was to be read aloud. and wanted to stress the relationship between "no" bright light and "dark night." Commented May 6, 2020 at 13:42

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