Dylan’s Grave. Photograph © Vivien
|Dylan Marlais Thomas (October 27, 1914 – November 9, 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer.
Dylan Thomas was born in the coastal city of Swansea, Wales. His father David, who was a writer and possessed a degree in English, brought his son up to speak English rather than Thomas’s mother’s native language, Welsh. His middle name, “Marlais”, came from the bardic name of his uncle, the Unitarian minister Gwilym Marles (whose real name was William Thomas). Thomas was unable to actively fight in World War II because he was considered too frail, however he still served the war effort by writing scripts for government propaganda.
Thomas attended the boys-only Swansea Grammar School, in the Mount Pleasant district of the city, where his father taught English Literature. It was in the school’s magazine that Thomas saw his first poem published. He left school at age 16 to become a reporter for a year and a half.
Thomas’ childhood was spent largely in Swansea, with regular summer trips to visit his mother’s family on their Carmarthen farm. These rural sojourns, and their contrast with the town life of Swansea, provided substance for much of his work, notably many short stories and radio essays and the poem Fern Hill.
Thomas wrote half his poems and many short stories when he lived at the family home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive; And death shall have no dominion is one of the best known works written at this address. His highly acclaimed first poetry volume, 18 Poems, was published in November 1934. The publication of Deaths and Entrances in 1946 was a major turning point in his career, with widespread recognition that a great poet had indeed emerged. Thomas “became a very successful orator…was extremely well-known during his life for being a versatile and dynamic speaker and he was best known for his poetry readings.” His immensely striking and powerful voice would captivate American audiences during his speaking tours of the early 1950s. He made over two hundred broadcasts for the BBC
Marriage & children
In 1937, Thomas married MacNamara and would have three children with her, although the marriage was tempestuous. There were affairs and rumours of affairs on both sides; Caitlin had an affair with Augustus John before, and quite possibly after, she married Thomas. In January of 1939 came the birth of their first child, a boy whom they named Llewelyn (died in 2000). He was followed in March of 1943 by a daughter, Aeronwy. A second son and third child, Colm Garan, was born in July 1949.
Drink and death
He collapsed on November 9, 1953 at the White Horse Tavern, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan after drinking heavily while on a promotional speaking tour; Thomas later died at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The primary cause of his death is recorded as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver given as contributing factors. His last words, according to Jack Heliker, were: “After 39 years, this is all I’ve done.” Following his death, his body was brought back to Wales for burial in the village churchyard at Laugharne. His wife, Caitlin, died in 1994, and was buried alongside him.
Not for the proud man apart
Who once were a bloom of wayside brides in the hawed house and heard the lewd wooed field flow to the coming frost the scurrying furred small friars squeal in the dowse of day in the thistle aisle till the white owl crossed…
Perhaps no other poem depicts so clearly the innate spirituality, the romantic and the metaphysical nature of Thomas as a poet than And Death Shall Have no Dominion, for it is especially in this poem that he expresses his wide and deep love of humanity and the immortalist sentiment that death shall never triumph over life. For example, the lines:
And death shall have no dominion
And also in the second verse: Faith in their hands shall snap in two, And the unicorn evils run them through; Split all ends up they shan’t crack; And death shall have no dominion. Certainly, therefore, this poem convey a certainty that human life is indestructible.
Several of the pubs in Swansea also have associations with the poet. One of Swansea’s oldest pubs, the No Sign Bar, was a regular haunt, renamed the Wine Vaults in his story The Followers.
In 2004 a new literary prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, was created in honour of the poet. It is awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of 30.
His obituary was written by his long term friend Vernon Watkins.
A class 153 locomotive was named Dylan Thomas 1914 – 1953.
A song by a Welsh rock band, The Rambones, pays tribute to Thomas in the final line, as they sing, “I choose to go gentle, but I promise/It’s with no offense to Dylan Thomas.”
The cover of the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band contains a photograph of Dylan Thomas.