Into the light

Reflecting on the death of his father-in-law, Richard Shumack writes about competing visions of "going gently into that good night."

Dylan Thomas’ 1947 poem on death has become standard funeral liturgy in an increasingly sceptical age:

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.

This week, that ‘day’ closed on my father-in-law, Harry John Cotter, and he passed into that good night. He did so, however, relentlessly rejecting Thomas’ call to rage or rave. Instead, in a riposte to what he regarded as a ‘dangerously beautiful’ lament, Harry wrote:

Reach toward the beauty of the Light
Go gently, surely, into that bright night,
Old age should rest in love at the close of the day;
Reach, reach, toward the beauty of the light.

And so my friend, do not hold back in fright.
There’s fear of which you need not be afraid.
Go gently, surely, into that bright night,
Reach, reach out to the glory of the Light.

Death is the great mystery waiting for each one of us. It’s the great leveller, and the ultimate test of whether we properly came to terms with existence. An adult convert to Christianity while studying science at Cambridge University, Harry remained utterly convinced that his hope for resurrection is solidly grounded. Right or wrong about this, his earthly day closed as it progressed: gently, joyfully and lovingly. And of course, if he was right, then now his light shines even brighter.