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February 2024

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Inspiration For An Old Soldier

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By Matthew Corvin Wohlberg

As an old, but proud, retired soldier, one who has truly lamented the passage of years, I have been seeing a counselor for some time. He and I discuss many things unrelated to the original issues for which I started to see him. One thing stands out; we talk about the many meaningful writings we have enjoyed.
Somehow, we got around to a favorite poem which has recently recaptured my attention, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. This poem says a lot to me. I am sad at the passage of the years; there is so much I wish to accomplish but haven’t the stamina I once had. My counselor and I refer to this often, he also wishes he had more time left in this world for all the things he would like to do.
To me the intent of this powerful poem is to live, live, live your life each moment and let not old age deter you from accomplishing all that you can. Over the past few years, I have endeavored to do just that. Sometimes I almost feel rescued from the doldrums of old age by seeing a counselor regularly and rereading a few poems of which Dylan Thomas’s is a key one.

Dylan Thomas, during World War 2, worried about conscription into the military and repeatedly referred to pulmonary ailments to avoid being conscripted. He was finally classified as among the last to be called up for military service and only in the most dire or critical of national situations in wartime Great Britain. Dylan Thomas had suffered with chronic bronchitis during most of his brief life.

As early as the 1930s Thomas professed to being a pacifist. After I came back from Viet Nam, I developed a strong dislike for those who had resisted conscription or enlistment. I have greatly softened my views and now realize with each day that people need not see things my way for me to embrace them as valued fellow human beings.

As veterans discuss our life histories, I now realize that one need not be a military veteran to be called a dedicated “veteran” of some other calling. My counselor, who also served in the military, and I key in on this point time and again and we agree 100 percent. As he noted, had he not been in the Army, he would still consider himself a dedicated veteran of the profession of clinical psychology.

Dylan Thomas, in his brief, but tumultuous life, had a change of heart about the need to contribute to the war effort. In February 1941 the village of Swansea was bombed, and Thomas got to see the carnage firsthand. He was writing scripts for the BBC and it became important to him to show that he was actively supporting and engaging in essential war work. Thomas lived through severe bombing raids in London and saw from a ringside seat the need for all to contribute to the war effort.

My understanding of this classic poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, is that he admonishes all to continue to push ourselves. He points out that we all feel we have not done as much or as well as we should have and goes on to tell us to rage against the passage of years. And do not go gently into old age. Rather push forward as if our very existence depends on it.

As with many of us with memories related to combat, Dylan Thomas had his own very dark periods. He wrote a poem entitled, And Death Shall Have No Dominion and speaks of how the moment of death solves all problems. It is well documented that Thomas consumed alcohol in excess. Tragically, and as pointed out by VA studies, alcohol and the tragic act of suicide have consumed many veterans. Though Thomas specifically disavowed military service he seems to have suffered from many of the same manifestations. He avoided facing his personal issues, though he alluded to them freely in his writings.

Before he appeared in public, he often became inebriated, as do some of my fellow vets.

When Dylan Thomas passed away in 1953 he was not even 40 years of age. Accounts differ as to the exact cause of his death. It is quite probable that he abused himself with alcohol and exacerbated his physical issues. His wife noted several years later that, “the bar was our altar.”

Those of us at New Mexico Veterans Upward Bound (https://nmvetub.com/) would like to see veterans pushing ahead with educational skills that will become their altar for the future.

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.

And Death Shall
Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean
bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.