Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” is often in my thoughts at this time of year, when the winter solstice is approaching and the ever increasing night draws close, the cold winds howling outside. Yet I do not agree with the poem’s repetitive line – “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.
It would seem that the wise know dark is right, and yet their pride, hubris or egos get in the way of going gently into that good night, as their words “had no forked lighting” – they want to be remembered for their wise words, at least, is the suggestion. The true wise person has no need of such external gratification – wisdom is inherent, not granted externally. Written for his father, whom Dylan Thomas wanted to die raging instead of quietly, perhaps for his own selfish attachment or whatever reason, is still spoken of today when the nights are long and we seek illumination in every sense of the word.
It’s all around us – gaudy, flashing lights – some set at incredible speed settings that I can only assume is to disorientate the viewer, often going up before the leaves have fallen from the trees and the ground not yet frozen. Many, many people are raging against the dying of the light, putting up the Christmas or Yule lights, lighting the darkness and consuming considerable amounts of energy at this time of year in a display that is somewhat missing the point. As pagans, we celebrate the return of the sun after the winter solstice, certainly – but we should also honour the darkness in the days leading up to the solstice with equal measure.
Christmas or Yule lights can certainly be very pretty – if done tastefully, and using very low energy lights, turning off others that we would normally have on at this time of year to offset the energy. But first we must come to grips with the darkness before we light the lights. We must look into ourselves to see why and what it is that we fear, loathe, or deny in the darkness – why we are so hesitant to look into the abyss. Is it because we, as Dylan Thomas did, equate darkness with death?
Yet it is the time of year when death is all around us. One look at our gardens instantly confirms this – very few things are still alive above ground. A cycle has ended, and the seeds of the next generation lie below ground to await the return of the light – but they know that this does not happen instantaneously on the winter solstice. They respond to the growing light and warmth slowly, in the months after the solstice, in their own time, and hopefully not too soon, like some of my daffodils did last January…
Acceptance of death is key here. We should not rage against it, but embrace it as part of the cycle. Many people think that death is the opposite of life – yet death is a singular event, and as such its opposite would be birth. Life has no opposite. We do not rage against a birth – why should we rage against a death?
Taking inspiration from the natural world around us, we follow its rhythms and cycles and turn inwards to nurture that which is most precious to us, to guard it for the coming year ahead. It is in that darkness where we can truly know ourselves, our thought patterns, our behavioural tendencies. Looking inwards into our own darkness we can find that small spark of light that needs to be kept safe in the darkness until it is ready to come to light, and not be snuffed out like a candle in the winter wind. It is time to cease looking for a distraction from the darkness all around us, and instead focus on our own wellbeing, and nurturing that seed of inspiration within, as well as facing our own death and fear. It is all too easy to lose that in the crowds doing late-night shopping amidst chintzy tinsel and bright lights, with tinny music being piped into the stores that are overheated because they leave the door open to attract more customers into the lure of consumerism. If we must, we must, but then seek the darkness to recoup and recover.
Honour the darkness for the wonderful rest that it brings. Without it we would have no spring. Celebrate the darkness – turn off all the lights and central heating during the evening of the winter solstice, if you can, and truly experience the time of year. At midnight, light the fire in the hearth or candles in the house to honour the change, slowly, very slowly, lest we become blinded by the artificial return of the light and stumble around unable to see. Do not rage against the dying of the light – for all the rage in the world will not stop death or the darkening days leading up to the solstice. Embrace, embrace the dying of the light.