Dylan Thomas - celebrated Swansea poet. Portrait by Augustus John - National Museum of Wales  

Dylan Thomas

  

  

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea, Wales on 27 October 1914. He is widely regarded by many literary scholars as one of the Twentieth Century's most influential lyrical poets, and amongst the finest as such of all time. His acclaim is partly due to the idiosyncratic and surreal introspection which was his hallmark. His imagery is said to be brilliant and inspirational. Although Dylan was primarily a poet, he also published film scripts, short stories, publicly performed his works and conducted radio broadcasts; one of his most famous works, "Under Milk Wood" - set in a fictional Welsh seaside town - was a radio play for voices which contained a poetic sensibility. His most famous poem is arguably, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - containing the line, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" - an impassioned account of the scene which haunted him at his father's deathbed. In less than a year following this event, Thomas himself collapsed in New York, and consumed by  alcoholic poisoning, died shortly afterwards. Throughout his life, Thomas experienced a profound melancholy which was the catalyst to his alcohol abuse; decades later the same affected Welsh actor Richard Burton who essentially suffered the same fate.

One of Dylan Thomas's many noteworthy fans is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who campaigned for Thomas to be commemorated at "Poet's Corner", within London's Westminster Abbey. In 1995, President Carter opened the Dylan Thomas Centre  (the National Literature Centre of Wales) in Swansea, the first literary powerhouse in the U.K. Today, the centre hosts, "I, In My Intricate Image", Jeff Towns' definitive Dylan Thomas exhibition. The centre is the focus for an annual Dylan Thomas Festival, which celebrates the life and works of one of the city's most notable sons. Swansea is also home to the Dylan Thomas Theatre and his bronze statue literally sits nearby. Thomas's birthplace, in the Uplands district of Swansea, can also be viewed; a short walk away is Cwmdonkin Park, a world in itself - unchanged today since the author's childhood, where a mischievous Dylan climbed over railings to pelt the swans and a magical, fertile place of inspiration for poems such as "The Hunchback In The Park".

Cwmdonkin Park, Uplands, Swansea, Wales - click for full size

Cwmdonkin Park today

The name Dylan was taken from "The Mabinogion", a medieval Welsh masterpiece which consists of eleven moralistic tales. In August 2000, Swansea actress Catherine Zeta Jones gave birth to her first child, fathered by actor Michael Douglas. They named their son Dylan, in honour of the Swansea poet.

Thomas's childhood was a happy one, of which he spoke nostalgically in his work, "A Child's Christmas In Wales". His window view provided a splendid panorama of Swansea Bay, a scene which no doubt influenced his early poems of place, such as "The Hill of Sea and Sky is Carried". As an adult, Dylan recalled magical holidays to his father's birthplace, Fernhill farm, which also became the subject of one of his later poems. At the age of almost nine, Dylan Marlais Thomas was enrolled at Swansea Grammar School, where his father David John Thomas worked as senior English Master. Part of the original campus remains and has been integrated into the present day campus of Swansea Institute of Higher Education. At school, Dylan wrote poetry for the school newspaper, and graduated to editor status. Upon leaving school in August 1931, the young writer was fortunate to land a cub reporter's job with the South Wales Daily Post newspaper, adjacent to Swansea Castle. His life in Swansea was a self indulgent one - he would take coffee with his artistic pals at the Kardoma Cafe (sadly destroyed by W.W.II bombs), idled in the sands of Swansea Bay, watched films at Uplands Cinema (now Lloyds Bank), watched cricket at St Helen's rugby & cricket stadium, and spent long hours in pubs such as the Uplands Tavern and the Antelope in Mumbles (both still exist). It is said that Thomas was attracted by Swansea's old docklands, on the less fashionable side of town, for the opportunity to indulge in sexual sin, rather than for the journalistic copy he should have been more industriously preoccupied with! Ironically, Dylan's statue is situated in Swansea Maritime Quarter, once part of the former docks, which is considered today as the pinnacle of fashion and good taste! Closer to his home, Cwmdonkin Park continued to foster a "love of tender kinship for the face of the earth", in George Eliot's words.

Dylan Thomas statue in front of the theatre which bears his name, Dylan Thomas Square. Maritime Quarter, Swansea, Wales

Dylan Thomas statue in front of the theatre which bears his name. Dylan Thomas Square, Maritime Quarter, Swansea.

Click for larger picture

In March 1933 history was made by the New English Weekly, a poetry publication, which became the first to print one of Dylan's works, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion". In order to further his career, he moved to London in 1934 to share a flat with two Swansea artist pals. Dylan's nostalgia for his Swansea childhood was first kindled at this time, consistent with the popular sentiment - "You can take the boy out of Wales, but you can't take Wales out of the boy"!

In London, Dylan quickly secured the publishing deals he craved: the work "Eighteen Poems" soon followed, and he achieved immediate acclaim. Later in 1936, his second volume, "Twenty Five Poems" was produced. Thomas insisted that he could only write poetry in Wales and returned to the land of his birth in 1938, taking with him a wife - Caitlin Macnamara. When they met, in April 1936, she was a lover of Augustus John - one of the Swansea painters Dylan shared his London flat with. After the poet's wedding, the couple settled in the pretty Carmarthenshire, west Wales, village of Laugharne; near the castle and overlooking an expansive estuary. This reunited the author with treasured boyhood memories - the couple later purchased the "Boathouse", a quaint 1830's building situated above the jetty where Dylan's ferry used to port.

 Dylan Thomas's birthplace at Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, Wales          

         The boathouse - Dylan and Caitlin's country retreat in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, Wales

Dylan's 1914 birthplace today: Cwmdonkin Drive - the view down to Swansea Bay where the poet tobogganed as a boy

"Sea shaken on a breakneck of rocks" - Dylan and Caitlin's 1949 home purchased for them by patron Margaret Taylor. Boathouse, Laugharne, Wales

Together, Dylan and Caitlin produced three children - Llewellyn in 1939, Aeronwy born in 1946 and Colm born 1949. Their relationship was sometimes tempestuous, partly due to Thomas's philandering and drunkenness, partly due to his absence, and in no small part to their occasional periods of poverty. Arising from financial necessity, the poet's creative pursuits diversified - there was much money to be made from broadcasting, which he conducted from the BBC Wales Swansea studios in Alexandra Road and from London, between 1937 and his death in 1953. Thomas published some film scripts late in his career, including "The Doctor and the Devils", which had been written while engaged for the Strand Film Company. Forty years after his death, BBC Wales produced a film which the writer had conceived, but failed to finish, "Rebecca's Daughters". This was a comedy based on the "Rebecca riots" - a 19th Century rebellion of Welsh country folk who objected to the road tolls imposed by wealthy land owners.  Many works of poetry continued to be authored by Dylan Thomas - including books such as "The Map of Love", "New Poems", "In Country Sleep" and "The World I Breathe" - Dylan's first published work in the U.S. He also continued to write short stories, including the autobiographical sketches collected for "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog" (1940) and "Adventures in the Skin Trade" (published posthumously in 1954).

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Marlais Thomas

Again, due to financial necessity, Dylan undertook the first of three lecture tours featuring his writing to the U.S., which became legendary. It was during this period he achieved enormous international acclaim, not only for his work, but for his charismatic public performances. In May 1953, the writer first performed "Under Milk Wood" in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although unfinished at that time, the radio play for voices gave Dylan the greatest success of his career. The play explores the lives, loves, dreams and aspirations of fictional Welsh seaside village Llareggub (which reads "Bugger All" backwards!) and the outstanding evocative quality of the piece has earned Dylan deserved fame and longevity. Abruptly, Thomas slumped into a coma at New York's White Horse bar in November 1953. He died shortly afterwards of alcoholic poisoning. He was aged just 39.

The poet's body was brought home to Wales, and a simple white cross marks his grave in St. Martin's church at his beloved village of Laugharne. In 1954, Caitlin left the Laugharne Boathouse for Italy, which held happy memories of when the couple had stayed in Elba during 1947. When she died in 1994, Caitlin's body was also returned to Laugharne, and was buried alongside Dylan's. In 1971, a film of "Under Milk Wood" was made on location in Fishguard, Wales; it starred Welsh actor  Richard Burton as the narrator, Peter O'Toole and Elizabeth Taylor. The Dylan Thomas Festival which celebrates the life and work of this extraordinary Welshman, is held every October in Swansea, Wales. Poetry readings, lectures, workshops, art, films and discussions are conducted in Dylan's name - he'd have been highly bemused - and would've had plenty of characteristically wry observations to make..! Mick Jagger's film company  starts production on a major motion picture concerning Dylan's stormy relationship with Caitlin.

Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre (the National Literature Centre of Wales) launched it's latest permanent exhibition in January 2002 devoted to the Swansea born poet - "Dylan Thomas - Man and Myth", featuring original manuscripts and includes unique interactive displays.

The 2003 Dylan Thomas Festival marked the 50th anniversary of Dylan's death in 1953. The annual Swansea festival embraces the international community of Dylan fanatics - from literary scholars to celebrities and worldwide connoisseurs of the poet's work. In 2004, unprecedented numbers of Dylan devotees visited Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre, according to reports.  

                                    Dylan Thomas   

Dylan Thomas's resting place at St. Martin's, Laugharne, Wales

"A bombastic adolescent provisional bohemian with a thick dash knotted artists tie made out of his sisters scarf . . . and a cricket-shirt dyed bottle green; a gabbing , ambitious, mock-tough, pretentious young man; and mole-y too"

- Dylan describes himself in "The Return Journey"

Plaque outside Dylan Thomas's birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea, Wales      

Dylan Thomas Festival  -  Swansea, Wales  (Oct 27 - Nov 9 annually)

Dylan's Bookstore  -  Salubrious Passage, Swansea  

Uplands Tavern  -  Dylan's favourite Welsh pub 

Dylan Thomas biography  -  BBC s.w.Wales online 

Dylan Thomas website  -  from the BBC in Wales  

  Poems of Dylan Thomas   -  collection of Dylan's most celebrated work  

Dylan Thomas Square, Swansea Maritime Quarter, Wales   

Dylan Thomas Square, Swansea Maritime Quarter

All colour photographs on this page, copyright webmaster

 Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night   - published 1952

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.
From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas.

                      

 

  Fern Hill   - published 1946               

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp.
 

 

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