Do no breathe lightly into that tight chest

A Dylan Thomas inspired villanelle for the current crisis


If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m more open form than closed form poetry. I like a haiku, but if you asked me what a Villanelle was, I probably would’ve referenced Ursula in ‘The Little Mermaid’. That said, this lock down has given me the chance to engage more with poetry that has specific rules and structures. One of the most famous poems ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ was penned by a fellow Welshman, Dylan Thomas. Not only does the bard bare the soul but his words are beautiful. It’s also a Villanelle. Funny enough it’s got nothing to do with mermaids or evil stepmothers, it’s an intricately crafted poem with a specific structure.  Five tercet stanzas (that’s three lines) and then a final quatrain (you guessed it – four).

The first tercet sets the stalls out for the rest of the poem. Every stanza’s first lines need to rhyme, as do every second lines. The first and third line from the first tercet become the alternating end lines in the following stanzas. It then culminates in the final quatrain, as the original first and third lines end the poem as a rhyming couplet. And I’ve not even started on iambic pentameters!

I wrote this piece in homage of Thomas, but also to speak into this current crisis. May it help those struggling to keep on breathing, to do just that – keep on breathing.

Watch Do not breathe lightly into that tight chest


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– Written and delivered by Dai Woolridge
– Soundtrack ‘Breathe on me breath of God’ sung by Cath Woolridge

-Footage thanks to 2vStudios, ‘Spoken-Truth’ footage from ‘Blessed’ with actors Hannah and Mike Barnes.

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− Dai Woolridge