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Teachers notes: a bit of background

Who is Ceri Richards?

Ceri Richards (1903–1971) was born in Dunvant near Swansea, into a highly cultured working-class family. His father, a tin-plate worker, was also a musician and choir leader, and music as well as poetry and nature would be an important influence on the young Ceri Richards. He studied at Swansea College of Art and in 1923 won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London. 

Girl at Piano

Girl at Piano 1949

Ceri Giraldus Richards (1903–1971)

Southampton City Art Gallery

By the 1930s Richards was one of the most experimental young British painters around with the style and imagery of his paintings reflecting his interest in Surrealism. He exhibited in the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition and said that Surrealism helped him 'to be aware of the mystery, even the '"unreality", of ordinary things'.

Richards was a frequent co-exhibitor with Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, and represented Britain in the 1962 Venice Biennale.

Ceri Richards and Dylan Thomas

Although Ceri Richards spent most of his life in London after graduating from the Royal College of Art, he took inspiration from Welsh culture and was a great admirer of Dylan Thomas's poems, making a number of paintings and prints inspired by them over the years. 

The two met only once, however, in 1953 when Richards travelled to Thomas's home, The Boat House, in Laugharne where the poet and painter got on well. Dylan Thomas died soon afterwards and, on hearing of his death, Ceri Richards created a series of drawings based on Thomas's Collected Poems. Many of these drawings reappeared in the suite of Twelve Lithographs for Six Poems that Richards produced in 1965 – his ultimate tribute to Thomas.

Discussion: look more closely and analyse the poem

Look at and discuss the first stanza of the poem together as a class.

'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.'

Discussion prompts:

  • The poem talks about night and day – what do you think these might be metaphors for?
  • Dylan Thomas seems to be addressing someone in the poem – what is he asking them to do (and not do?) and what do you think is meant by this?
  • Look at the first and last lines of the stanza. Can you see any contrasting words and images?

You could also look at the meter (rhythm) and structure of the poem.

  • How many syllables are there in each line?
  • Which words are repeated – what is the effect of this repetition?
  • Do any of the words rhyme?
  • How does this affect the overall sound and rhythm of the poem?

Analysis thoughts

  • Dylan Thomas uses 'daytime' and 'light' as metaphors for life. While 'night' and 'close of the day' are used as a metaphor for death.
  • He is pleading with someone not to leave and quietly go into the night but to 'rage' against it and stay.
  • The word 'gentle' in the first line contrasts with 'rage' in the last line. And 'night' contrasts with 'day'.
  • Each line has ten syllables giving the sound of the poem a consistent rhythm. The last words in lines one and three rhyme which creates a chant-like sense of repetition.

Thomas was interested in the sound of words as much as the meaning.

'I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes and before I could read them for myself I had come to love the words of them. The words alone.'
– Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas 1948

John Gay (1909–1999)

National Portrait Gallery, London

Activity task: Individual / small group discussion

Working in pairs or small groups, task students with analysing the rest of the poem by looking at each stanza in turn.

Provide each pair or group with a paper copy of the poem that they can annotate with notes.

See the whole poem: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

They could note for example:

  • what they think each stanza is about
  • who they think the poem is addressing
  • how Dylan Thomas uses figurative language (such as alliteration, similes metaphors, and oxymorons) to convey ideas and feelings
  • imagery that they find particularly powerful
  • thoughts about the structure of the stanzas and the meter of the poem. (How are they organized? How many synonyms does each line have? Which words rhyme? Are any words repeated?)

Once students have analysed the poem, ask them to share their analysis and thoughts about the poem with the rest of the class.

About the poem

In Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Dylan Thomas pleads with his elderly, dying father not to accept death and slip away gently but to rage against it. He uses examples of wise, good, wild men and grave men who refuse to 'go gently'.

  • The wise men know that death is inevitable because they are not immortal like gods (who can 'split the sky with lightening')
  • The good men remember sadly the things they achieved in their lives (that 'danced in a green bay')
  • The wild men are described as vital and strong
  • The grave men, although near death, still have a zest for life 'with meteors in their eyes'

Figurative language

Thomas uses figurative language including metaphors ('Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay'); similes ('Blind eyes could blaze like meteors'); oxymorons ('blinding sight'); and alliteration ('sang the sun').

Structure and meter

The six stanzas of the poem each have three lines. All the lines except one have ten syllables. This gives the poem an insistent rhythm. His use of rhyme and repetition of words and lines add to this rhythm. There are only two rhymes throughout the poem ('bright', 'light', 'sight', etc. and 'day', 'they', 'bay', etc.) with the first and last line of each stanza rhyming. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately as the last line of each of the following stanzas.

The repetition of words, rhyming and chant-like rhythm of the poem could perhaps be compared to the spoken word of contemporary rap musicians.

Find out more

This resource provides further ideas for exploring the poem with your students. It includes a Powerpoint presentation with more in-depth interpretation thoughts about each stanza which may be helpful in discussing the poem.

Dylan Thomas: Bardd Roc a Rol / Rock and Roll Poet

Class discussion: Ceri Richards

Ceri Richards created this painting as a response to Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

'Do not go gentle into that good night'

'Do not go gentle into that good night' 1956

Ceri Giraldus Richards (1903–1971)


Discuss the painting as a class. Encourage students to think about the imagery and techniques that Ceri Richards has used to convey the meaning and emotion of Thomas's poem and whether they think he has been successful in this.

Use the discussion prompts below if helpful.

  • What are your first impressions of the painting? (Describe what it looks like and how the painting makes you feel.)
  • Who do you think the figure represents? Why do you think it appears to be tumbling?
  • What do you think the owl represents? What is it holding?
  • Do you think the painting expresses the mood and feeling of Dylan Thomas's words?
  • How has Ceri Richards used colour, shapes, lines and marks to do this?
  • If you were going to make an artwork inspired by the poem, how would you approach it? Is there any imagery that you would include from the poem that Ceri Richards hasn't?

Painting thoughts

The painting isn't simply an illustration of the poem. Just as Dylan Thomas has used symbolism to suggest meaning in his poetry, Ceri Thomas has used symbolism in his painting.

The figure tumbling through darkness looks elderly with sagging skin, a visible rib cage and large hands and feet at the end of stick-thin arms and legs. Ceri Richards has said that the figure doesn't specifically represent his father, but is supposed to be symbolic of man or humankind generally. 

There is no owl in Dylan Thomas's poem, but owls are often used as symbols of wisdom and death. The owl is holding a shroud, pulling it away from the figure to reveal its vulnerability and mortality. (In another pen-and-ink version of this artwork – see below – Ceri Richards has added text to the shroud suggesting that it might be a manuscript that the owl carries away as if it is no longer of use to the poet.)

The composition is bold and simple, with the abstracted, rather cartoon-like figure, owl and shroud filling the space frame and placed against a simple horizon line of sea and sky. The sea and sky symbolise the elements that the figure will merge with and from which he originated.

The shapes of the figure and shroud are spiky and awkward, and the bold colours of the painting seem stark, echoing the painful raw emotions that Thomas conveys in his poem.

A Poet's Ciphers

A Poet's Ciphers 1954–1957

Ceri Giraldus Richards (1903–1971)

Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries

The forces of nature

The forces of nature and its cycles of birth, growth and death are themes that Dylan Thomas and Ceri Richards both returned to again and again.

Ceri Richards: Cycle of Nature, Arabesque I

At first glance, this painting by Ceri Richards looks like an abstract arrangement of organic shapes and colours. But if you look closely the shapes provide clues about the painting's meaning.

Cycle of Nature, Arabesque I

Cycle of Nature, Arabesque I 1964

Ceri Giraldus Richards (1903–1971)

National Galleries of Scotland

The abstracted shapes look like plant or flower forms. In the centre of the painting is a pod-like shape full of seeds. The colours of the painting echo this sense of the natural world with an earth-coloured background and blues and greens. The strong yellow at the centre suggests the glow of the life-giving sun.

But the organic shapes could also be the body, arms and legs of a figure. If you look closely at the black scribbly outline on the right of the painting, you will see that it is a skull.

By morphing organic, plant-like forms with a human figure and skull, Ceri Richards suggests that humans are part of the cycle of nature and birth, growth or life, and death.

Dylan Thomas: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower was written by Dylan Thomas when he was 19 years old. Like many of his poems, its rich and textured language is presented in tumbling layers of sometimes confusing imagery. 

The first three lines of the poem contrast the creative and destructive forces that surround man and suggest the power and force of the natural world. He compares the green stem of a flower to a fuse, a powerful metaphor that suggests an explosion of energy. These themes are repeated throughout the poem.

'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.'

Read the poem in full

Discussion: look closer and analyse the poem

Read and discuss the poem as a class. Encourage students to think about the rich imagery of the poem and make it clear that there are many possible interpretations, especially for the more complicated ideas in the poem.

Discussion prompts

  • What imagery comes into your mind when you read the poem? (You could ask students to pick out imagery that they find particularly powerful.)
  • What are your initial thoughts about the rhythm and pace of the poem? Is it a fast-paced ferocious poem or a quiet gentle one? (You could compare the pace of the poem with that of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.)
  • What do you think the poem is about?
  • Can you find any references to nature, birth and growth and sickness and death?
  • Water is also a recurring theme in the poem. Can you spot these references? Why do you think Thomas emphasises water?

About the poem

In the poem, Dylan Thomas talks of creation and destruction as part of the same process both for nature and man. 

Some interpretations of the poem suggest that as well as being about nature and its cycles, the poem is also about creativity and expresses Thomas's frustration at not being able to adequately reflect the power of nature in words (in the poem, Dylan Thomas says he is 'dumb' or not able to respond).

The structure, rhythms and pace of the poem echo the poem's meaning with a forceful, passionate cascading of words.

See an in-depth analysis of the poem here: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Activity: plan an artwork inspired by Dylan Thomas

Task students with using Dylan Thomas's poem The force that through the green fuse drives the flower as the starting point for a painting, mixed media artwork or collage.

Their artwork should be a response to the imagery within the poem and express any ideas, thoughts and feelings that the poem inspires.

Students should gather ideas and source material and plan the artwork using notes and annotated sketches.

This could be a classwork or homework sketchbook project and will help students in their planning and research skills, as well as experience in developing ideas for an artwork.

Students might find these notes helpful in approaching this task.

1. First thoughts

Read the poem again along with any interpretation notes you made while discussing the poem in class.

  • In your sketchbook note down imagery that you find particularly powerful or inspiring.
  • You could also make notes about your response to the poem – what it makes you think and feel – these could be single words that express your response.

2. Research primary source material

Research primary source material for your artwork. You could gather photographs or make drawings to inspire the imagery that you plan to include in your artwork, e.g. plant forms or aspects of nature.

The Village I

The Village I 2007

Erin Burns (b.1969)

Great Ormond Street Hospital

3. Research secondary source material

For ideas and inspiration, research artworks that deal with similar themes.

Ceri Richards returned to the theme of nature again and again and made paintings specifically inspired by The Force that through the green fuse... These combine abstracted human and animal figures and paint forms in frenzied whirling compositions.

The Force that through the Green Fuse: The Source

The Force that through the Green Fuse: The Source 1945

Ceri Giraldus Richards (1903–1971)

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery

Explore works by other artists who explore nature and the power of nature.

Browse the slideshow below or search Art UK for more ideas. You could try search terms such as 'nature', 'cycle of nature', 'water' and/or 'force'.

Search Art UK

4. Plan your composition

Once you have gathered primary and secondary source material to inspire ideas and imagery, think about how you might use this in your artwork.

How will you arrange it within the composition? It could be a single form that dominates the composition...

Abstract Landscape Study*

Abstract Landscape Study* 1970

Clive Kidder (b.1930)

Valence House Museum

... or a more complicated composition of intertwining and layered imagery.  

Fog is an Urban Experience

Fog is an Urban Experience c.2007

Will Alsop (1947–2018)

Royal Academy of Arts

Make thumbnail sketches with different possible compositions. (Thumbnail sketches are small, quick sketches artists make when they want to try out different ideas.)

Ink Study*

Ink Study* late 1960s

Clive Kidder (b.1930)

Valence House Museum

5. Technique and colour

Think about your response to the poem. How did it make you feel and how you can put this across in your artwork using colour and technique?

  • What sort of colours will express your feelings? You might decide to use a small range of dark, sombre colours or bright bold colours to reflect the emotions and power of the poem.
  • How can you use marks or collage materials to express your response to the poem?
  • You might also consider adding text to your work to reflect the poetry source and your response to it.

'Dedication of a Mirror'

'Dedication of a Mirror' (from 'Poems from Greek Anthology') 1965

Grace Gardner (1920–2013)

Falmouth Art Gallery

Browse this Curation for more text art ideas

6. Create a larger final sketch

Once you have a rough sketch that you are happy with and have thought about the colours and techniques you are going to use, create a larger, more finished sketch for your artwork.

This could be in your sketchbook or on a separate piece of paper.

Annotate the sketch explaining your ideas.

Sketch after Francisco Goya's 'Duel with Cudgels'

Sketch after Francisco Goya's 'Duel with Cudgels' 1995

Sarah Simblet (b.1972)

Royal Academy of Arts

Activity: artwork presentation

Ask students to present their ideas to the rest of the class.

This process helps to clarify ideas by putting them into words. It is also a good opportunity for students to practice language skills and for students to assess and respond to each other's work.

  • They could start by talking about their responses to the poem (what it made them think and feel, what they liked or disliked about it, the imagery that particularly inspired them, etc.).
  • They could then present their sketchbooks with research materials and ideas.
  • Encourage others in the group to respond to the projects with helpful feedback and suggestions.

Once students have a strong idea for their artwork, task them with using their development work (source material, sketches and notes) to create a finished artwork.

Other outcomes

This activity is written with a painting or mixed-media outcome in mind, but the poem and development activity could also be used for an outcome in another medium such as a print, a textile design or a digital animation.

Abstract Shapes with a Lionesque Head*

Abstract Shapes with a Lionesque Head* 1920–1960

Madge Gill (1882–1961)

London Borough of Newham Heritage Service

More art inspired by poetry

Explore other artists and artworks inspired by poets and poems.

David Annand and William Soutar

Poets and authors and the words they write have often been an inspiration for Scottish artist David Annand. He was particularly inspired by the poet William Soutar, and his 1992 sculpture 'Nae Day Sae Dark' is titled after a poem by Soutar. 

'Nae Day Sae Dark'

'Nae Day Sae Dark' 1992

David Annand (b.1948)

High Street, Perth, Perth and Kinross


Pre-Raphaelite painters, Lord Alfred Tennyson and John Keats

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott was a popular subject among Pre-Raphaelite artists. John William Waterhouse's painting manages to capture both the story and the tragic mood of the poem.

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott 1888

John William Waterhouse (1849–1917)


Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by legends and themes from the Medieval period. In 1857 an edition of Tennyson's poems was published with illustrations by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt

John Keats's narrative poem Isabella, or the Pot of Basil also inspired many Pre-Raphaelite painters: Hunt, Waterhouse and Millais all captured scenes from the epic in paintings. 

Isabella and the Pot of Basil

Isabella and the Pot of Basil 1867

William Holman Hunt (1827–1910)

Laing Art Gallery


William Blake and Dante Alighieri

As an artist as well as a poet, William Blake created illustrations to accompany his own poetry.

He also illustrated the work of other writers and poets including the most important poet of the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri.

Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321)

Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321) c.1800

William Blake (1757–1827)

Manchester Art Gallery


Artworks inspired by poetry

See more artworks inspired by poetry to explore with your students.

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