Dylan Thomas - Poet
Created | Updated Jul 30, 2009
Many people have been born in Swansea in South Wales. Some are obviously more famous than others, but the most famous son of Swansea is Dylan Thomas.
Dylan was born on 27 October, 1914, and lived in Swansea for many years. The Welsh poet has influenced our society in many ways, from inspiring singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, who adopted Dylan's name, to Catherine Zeta Jones's newest edition to the world. Former US President Jimmy Carter even tried to get Thomas commemorated in Poets' Corner in Westminster. Swansea featured heavily in Dylan's poetry and prose and remained an essential part of Dylan, even though he once described it as 'a graveyard of ambition'.
Dylan's literary career began in Swansea, where he worked briefly as a journalist at the South Wales Evening Post in the early '30s, an experience he used in his short story Old Garbo. After his first poem And Death Shall Have No Dominion was published in 1933, Dylan began to visit London regularly, having previously described it as 'The Front Line... because no one ever comes back'.
After many visits to London he finally moved there in 1934. Dylan had always liked a drink or 12 and had been a common fixture in the pubs throughout Swansea, but it was not until he moved to London that his drinking turned from a fairly serious hobby into something that required full-time dedication. His first poetry collection, including 18 poems, was published in 1934, providing him with an even better excuse for long bouts of public drunkenness. He regaled crowded bars with his banter and drunken antics. It was in a state of advanced liquid refreshment that Dylan met his future wife, Catlin Macnamara. Together they became a force to be reckoned with, as Macnamara was just as wild as the Welsh wordsmith.
A stranger has come'Love in the Asylum' (Death and Entrances,1946)
To share my room in the house not right in the head,
A girl mad as birds.
This would truly be the couple's honeymoon period, as their continued drinking and partying would later prove an almighty strain on their relationship. Added to Dylan's frequent infidelity and the poverty that forced them to steal clothes and alcohol from friends, it was not a recipe for marital bliss.
When life in London became too hectic for them, the couple moved back to Wales. Dylan insisted that he could write only there. They moved to a village called Laugharne, which became the inspiration for one of Dylan's most well-known pieces of work, 'Under Milk Wood'. This 'play for voices' is set in a fictional village called Llareggub, which famously spells 'bugger all' backwards, an example of Dylan's sense of humour. It was at this time when a personal tragedy struck Dylan, with the death of his father in 1952. His father's death affected him deeply:
Do not go gentle into that good night,'Do not go gentle into that Goodnight' (In Country Sleep, 1952)
Old age should burn and rave at the 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 goodnight.
This is perhaps Dylan's best-known poem, a testament to his father, who had taught English at the same school Dylan attended as a child.
Dylan's poverty forced him into touring America giving lectures. It was this moment which would make him famous throughout the world. The lectures were a huge success and recordings of Dylan's lectures remain as popular today as they were at their release. In 1953 the first performance of Under Milk Wood was given in Cambridge, Massachusetts to wide critical acclaim. The play is often humorous and typifies Dylan's often surreal take on things:[Mr Pritchard is a hen-pecked husband]
Mr Pritchard: I must dust the blinds, and then I must raise them[In the dreams of another character]
Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard: And before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes.
The inspectors of Cruelty fly down into Mrs Butcher Beynon's dream to persecute Mr Beynon for selling...
Butcher Benyon:... owl meat, dog's eyes, manchop
On 9 November, 1953, days after his birthday, Dylan Thomas died in St Vincent's Hospital, New York. His last reported words were 'I have just had 18 double whiskeys in a row. I do believe that's a record'.