Dylan Thomas

Born October 27, 1914 in Swansea, South Wales Dylan Marlais Thomas was a popular poet and writer of the earlier part of the twentieth century and whose works are still read today. His father, a professor of English Literature, would often recite Shakespeare to Thomas as a very young boy, long before he had learned to read.

A sickly child, Thomas was often inflicted with bouts of bronchitis and asthma which continued to plague him at times during his entire life. He became somewhat of a loner during his school-age years, preferring a book to the company of others. One of his favorite writers during childhood was D. H. Lawrence.

While he showed very little interest in most other subjects, his love of words made it easy for him to excel in English and reading. Despite both his parents speaking Welsh fluently and his father attempting to teach Thomas he never learned the language, and wrote all of his poems in English. From the age of 8 Thomas wrote poems, his first poem being published in his school paper, and during his teens he wrote his poems into notebooks, filling several during those years.

At age 16 Thomas left school to work as a newspaper reporter on the South Wales Daily Post. By end of 1932 Thomas had made the decision to devote his time to writing full-time and subsequently left the Daily Post. By this time Thomas had already had a good number of his poems published. Though still in his late teens Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems during this period. He also enjoyed acting in local theatre productions, and spent much of his free time frequenting local pubs, where he would drink with a group of friends, enjoying the opportunity to recite his poetry to an attentive audience.

At the age of 20 Thomas moved to London, where he published his first book. A collection of some of his poems “18 Poems” was received with enthusiasm. Thomas also won the Poet’s Corner book prize and while enjoying his success and recognition as a notable poet, began to drink heavily, leading to a life of alcohol abuse.

Two years after “18 Poems” was published, Thomas met and began an affair with Irish-born dancer Caitlin Macnamara. They married in 1937 and settled in the Welsh fishing village of Laugharne, where they struggled financially. Living ‘hand to mouth’ may have been the cause, along with alcoholism, of their unhappy union, and rumors suggested that the couple both indulged in extra-marital affairs. Their marriage was described as turbulent, with the couple engaging in loud arguments on many occasions. Thomas had two sons and a daughter with Caitlin.

Dylan ThomasIn 1940, Thomas and his wife Caitlin moved to London but while his literary fame was growing, Thomas was unable to manage his money well and turned to recording radio shows for the BBC, where he became popular with the general public. He was also employed during wartime writing film scripts in an effort to support his family. His weak lungs prevented him from taking a more active part in the war and in 1944 Thomas moved his family back to Wales to avoid the air raids being made on London.

In 1945 the Thomas family moved back once again to London where he was given regular work with the BBC recording shows. This steady income was a blessing to Thomas, both for the money it provided but also for the recognition he got from fans of his radio voice. Although he undertook work for the BBC he was never hired onto the full-time staff and only given guest appearances, the reason cited as being that Thomas had a serious drinking problem.

In 1945 the Society of Authors awarded Thomas with a Traveling Scholarship, which led to the Thomas family spending time in Florence, Italy. It was here that Thomas wrote what is considered to be his most famous poem of all Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night, believed to be an ode in the form of a villanelle to his father who was going blind and dying. This was one of the last few poems Thomas wrote.

Before long he added reading tours to his income-earning efforts, taking him to the United States on his first visit in 1950. Thomas was 35. There were four American reading tours in all where his theatrical performances and melodious voice were well received. All the while Thomas continued to drink heavily, his behavior becoming increasingly erratic, earning him a reputation for being loud, boisterous and flamboyant.

Under Milk Wood, a play Thomas finished just before embarking on what was to be his last trip to America, was broadcast by the BBC in 1954, and is about the people of a small Welsh town, and delves into the dreams of each of the characters. The play was eventually made into a film in 1972 and is still viewed with enjoyment to this day.

During his last American reading tour in 1953 Thomas went on a particularly heavy drinking binge despite having felt unwell for several days, collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel and was taken to hospital in a coma where just a few days later he was pronounced dead. Dylan Thomas was only 39 years old. Thomas’s body was returned to Laugharne and laid to rest in the local churchyard. A plaque honoring Dylan Thomas was finally unveiled in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, almost thirty years after his death. The Boat House where his son Com was born has since been turned into a Dylan Thomas Museum.

To this day Dylan Thomas is considered to have been a great poet, with many of his works being studied at schools throughout the world. Certainly he can be credited for beginning a new style of entertainment in the form of poetry readings delivered by the poet himself. During his lifetime Thomas was quite prolific both with his poetry writing but also with his penning of the radio play Under Milk Wood, along with audio recordings of his work and a small number of screenplays. His collection of prose in the form of short stories Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog is believed to be based upon many of Thomas’s own childhood experiences. A Child’s Christmas in Wales is another collection of short stories that Thomas wrote as a nostalgic look back at happy times during his early years in Swansea.