Dylan Thomas

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Dylan Thomas

Dylan Marlais Thomas (October 27, 1914 - November 9, 1953) was a Welsh poet.[1][2] He is regarded by many as one of the 20th century's greatest poets.

In addition to poetry, Thomas also wrote short stories and scripts for film and radio, with the latter frequently performed by Thomas himself. His public readings, particularly in America, won him great acclaim; his booming, at times ostentatious, voice with a subtle Welsh lilt, became almost as famous as his works. His best known works include "Under Milk Wood" and "Do not go gentle into that good night", a poem written in 1951 about his dying father.

Early Life

Dylan Thomas was born in the front upstairs bedroom at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, situated in the Uplands area of Swansea City, on 27 October 1914. Uplands today, as it was then, is considered one of the more affluent areas of the city, which kept him away from the more industrial side of the city. His father, David John Thomas, was an English master who taught English literature at the local grammar school. His mother, Florence Hannah Thomas ( née Williams), was a seamstress born in Swansea. Thomas also had a sister, Nancy, eight years his senior. Thomas's father brought up both children to speak English only, even though both parents spoke Welsh.

His first name is pronounced 'Dul-an' in Welsh, and in the early part of his career some announcers introduced him using this pronunciation. However, Dylan preferred the more well-known pronunciation that is used today, 'Dill-an'. Thomas' middle name, Marlais, was given to him in honour of his great uncle, the Unitarian minister William Thomas. He was better known by his bardic name of Gwilym Marles, hence the connection with the name Marlais. Thomas was known to be a sickly child and he was considered too frail to fight in World War II. He suffered from conditions such as bronchitis and asthma, but he also liked to play upon his sickliness. It was because of this sickliness that he served the war effort by writing scripts for the government.

His childhood was spent largely in Swansea, with regular summer trips to visit his aunt's (his mother's sister) Carmarthenshire dairy farm. These rural sojourns and the contrast with the town life of Swansea provided inspiration for much of his work, notably many short stories, radio essays and the poem Fern Hill.

Thomas's formal education began at Mrs. Hole's 'Dame School', a private school, which was situated a few streets away on Mirador Crescent. Thomas's portrayal of his experience at the Dame School can be read as:

"never was there such a dame school as ours, so firm and kind and smelling of galoshes, with the sweet and fumbled music of the piano lessons drifting down from upstairs to the lonely schoolroom, where only the sometimes tearful wicked sat over undone sums, or to repent a little crime - the pulling of a girl's hair during geography, the sly shin kick under the table during English literature"

In October 1925, Thomas attended the boys-only, Swansea Grammar School, in the Mount Pleasant district of the city. Thomas's first poem was published in the school's magazine, which he became the editor of. He left school at 16 to become a reporter for the local newspaper, the South Wales Daily Post, now the South Wales Evening Post, only to leave the job under pressure 18 months later in 1932. He then joined an amateur dramatic group in Mumbles, but still continued to work as a freelance journalist for a few more years.

Thomas's days would consist of visiting the cinema in the Uplands, walking along Swansea Bay and frequenting the various public houses in Swansea, especially ones found in the Mumbles area. Pubs such as the 'Antelope Hotel' and 'The Mermaid Hotel'; a theatre he used to perform at, could be found in between them. In the city centre of Swansea itself, Thomas was also a regular patron of the 'Kardomah Café' situated on High Street, a short walk from the local newspaper for which he worked. The 'Kardomah Café', visited by Thomas, was where he mingled with his various contemporaries, such as his good friend and poet Vernon Watkins. Most of these poets, musicians and artists became known as 'The Kardomah Gang', even though these people were not necessarily at the café the same time.

During February 1941, Swansea was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, known as 'The Three Nights Blitz'. High Street was just one of the many streets in Swansea that suffered badly, the rows of shops on High Street, including the 'Kardomah Café', were destroyed. Thomas later wrote about this in his radio play, entitled, 'Return Journey Home', in which he describes the Café as being, 'Razed to the snow' . 'Return Journey Home' was first broadcast on the June 15 1947 and was written shortly after Thomas' came back to visit Swansea, not long after the bombing raids took place. Thomas walked the bombed-out shells, which was once his home town centre, with his friend Bert Trick. Upset at the sight before him, he concluded, "Our Swansea is dead", a reference to his earlier days spent in the city.

The Kardomah Café reopened and can still be found today, on the city's Portland street, a short walk from where the original was.

In 1932, Thomas embarked on what would be, one of his various visits to London; he initially lived here with his sister, Nancy.

Early Works

Thomas wrote half of his poems and many short stories whilst living at his Cwmdonkin home, And death shall have no dominion is one of his best known works written at this address. His highly acclaimed[3] first poetry volume, 18 Poems, was published on December 18 1934, the same year he moved to London. The publication of 18 Poems won him many new admirers from the world of poetry, including Edith Sitwell; although it was also at this time he began to build his reputation for being a drunk. The publication of Deaths and Entrances in 1946 was a major turning point[4][5][6] in his career. Thomas was well known for being a versatile and dynamic speaker, best known for his poetry readings.[7] His powerful voice would captivate American audiences during his speaking tours of the early 1950s. He made over 200 broadcasts for the BBC. Often considered his greatest single work is Under Milk Wood, a radio play featuring the characters of Llareggub, a fictional Welsh fishing village. Richard Burton starred in the first broadcast; he was joined by Elizabeth Taylor in a subsequent film.

Marriage and Children

In the spring of 1936, Dylan Thomas met his wife Caitlin Macnamara; they met in the Wheatsheaf public house, in the Fitzrovia area of West London. A drunken Thomas proposed marriage on the spot, to the dancer Caitlin, and the two began a courtship. [8]

On July 11 1937, Thomas married MacNamara at Penzance registry office, in Cornwall. In 1938, the couple rented a cottage in the place Thomas was to help make famous, the village of Laugharne, in Carmarthenshire, South West Wales. Their first child was born on January 30 1939, a boy whom they named Llewelyn Edouard (died in 2000). He was followed on March 3 1943 by a daughter, Aeronwy. A second son, Colm Garan Hart, was born on July 24 1949.

The marriage was tempestuous, with rumours of affairs on both sides; Caitlin had an affair with Augustus John before, and quite possibly after, she married Thomas. It is widely suspected that Thomas' tumultuous personal life was a direct result of his frequent and heavy drinking.


Dylan's image on the pub sign of his Laugharne 'local', Browns Hotel

Thomas liked to boast about his drinking, saying;

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like, who drinks as much as you do."[9]

Though Thomas "Liked the taste of beer," and he did quite his fair share of drinking, the amount he drank may have been an exaggeration. For example, during an incident on November 3 1953, Thomas returned to the Chelsea Hotel in New York, from the White Horse Tavern and exclaimed, "I've had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that is a record." However, the barman and the owner of the pub who served Thomas at the time, later told Ruthven Todd, that Thomas couldn't have drunk more than half that amount, after Todd decided to find out. Ruthven Todd, a Scottish poet, introduced Thomas to the the White Horse Tavern, which quickly became a firm favourite of the Welshman.

Here are just some of the Public Houses that Thomas' liked to frequent:

The Uplands Hotel - The Uplands, Swansea. (Now known as The Uplands Tavern)
The Mermaid Hotel - The Mumbles, Swansea. (Destroyed by fire then rebuilt)
The Antelope Hotel - The Mumbles, Swansea. (Still remains as The Antelope).
The No Sign Wine Bar - Wind Street, Swansea. (One of the oldest public houses in Swansea)
Browns Hotel - Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. (Still remains, and is much the same)
The White Horse Tavern - Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York.

Before Thomas' left for New York in 1953, he stayed at The Bush Hotel in Swansea, which was later known as The Bush Inn. The 'Bush Inn' still remains today, and it can be found on the city's High Street, no. 233. The Bush Inn has changed a quite lot since Thomas' day and it has also changed its name a few times. It was also in this pub that a group of businessmen came up with an idea to transport Limestone from Mumbles to Swansea docks. It was Benjamin French, who then paid the railway company, that transported the lime, the sum of twenty pounds, so that he could convert an iron carriage into a passenger train. This was the start of the world's first passenger railway, it was to become known as, 'The Mumbles Train'.

New York & Death

May 1953, saw the World Premiere of Thomas' play, Under Milk Wood, with Thomas himself playing the part of the narrator. The Assistant Director of the play was one, Liz Reitell; it was Reitells' task to help put the play on the stage, also finding a suitable cast in the process. It was also around this time that Thomas was to engage in in a love affair with Reitell, even though their initial meeting was to her, a disappointment. The play itself was a great triumph, even though the final draft for the ending of Under Milk Wood was only completed just before the actors went on stage, with the help of Reitell herself. It was because of this performance that Thomas was asked to work on the libretto of an opera for the composer, Igor Stravinsky. It was also around this time that Thomas' health rapidly began to deteriorate as a result of his drinking; he was warned by his doctor to give up alcohol but he carried on regardless.

On 3 November 1953, Dylan Thomas and Liz Reitell, celebrated his 39th birthday and the success of 18 Poems. On November 5, Dylan Thomas was quaffing a few beers with Liz Reitell at the White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, when he started to feel ill. He decided go back to his room at the Hotel Chelsea, where he later collapsed and slipped into a coma; an ambulance was called, which took him to St Vincent's Hospital. Dylan Thomas died 4 days later on Monday, November 9 1953 at around 1pm.

It has been noted that Thomas died at the Hotel Chelsea; however, the aforementioned details of his death show this to be untrue.

Attributing factors towards the cause of death are recorded as pneumonia, a result of the coma, with pressure upon the brain. Emphysema was also noted, due to Thomas' smoking habit and possibly his intake of morphine. His liver, according to the patholgist, was surprisingly healthier than one would have imagined. 'Chronic alcohol poisoning' was eventually ruled as the official cause of death.

His last words, according to Jack Heliker, were: "After 39 years, this is all I've done." However, various sources state that Thomas' last words were to Liz Reitell, a woman he was having a love affair with, "Yes, I believe you", after she tried to reassure him of his sudden illness. Others say his last words were, "I love you, but I am alone.", again said to Liz Reitell. The most popular myth is that Thomas' last words were, "I've had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that is a record."

It has also been said that the last and only person to be in the room with Dylan Thomas when he died was the poet John Berryman.

Following his death, his body was brought back to Wales for his burial in the village churchyard at Laugharne on November 25. One of the last people to stay at his graveside after the funeral was his mother, Florence. His wife, Caitlin, died in 1994 and was buried alongside him.


On whom Thomas writes for: see "In My Craft Or Sullen Art:"[10]

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Here is an exemplary excerpt, from "In the White Giant's Thigh:"

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..."[11]

Thomas' poem And Death Shall Have no Dominion, is noted for its metaphysical sentiment and the notion that death shall never triumph over life.[12]

And death shall have no dominion
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone
They shall have stars at elbow and foot
Though they go mad they shall be sane
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
Though lovers be lost love shall not
And death shall have no dominion.

Thomas' poetry often appears in anthologies - usually "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night".

Thomas memorials

As it may be expected of a famous poet, whose best known line is "Do not go gentle into that good night", many memorials have been inaugurated to honour Thomas, most of which, can be found in his home of Swansea.

Tourists in his home town of Swansea can visit a statue in the city's Maritime Quarter, the Dylan Thomas (Little) Theatre, and the Dylan Thomas Centre, formerly the town's guildhall. The latter is now a literature centre, where exhibitions and lectures are held, and is the setting for the city's annual 'Dylan Thomas Festival'. Another monument to Thomas stands in Cwmdonkin Park, one of his favourite childhood haunts, close to his birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. The memorial is a small rock in a closed-off garden, set within the park. The rock is inscribed with the closing lines from one of his best-loved poems, 'Fern Hill' Hi! "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."[13]

Dylan's £5 writing shed overlooking the Afon Taf, near the Boat House, Laugharne. It cost £75 to erect on its cliff-ledge platform in the 1920s, when it was used to garage a Wolsey car
Thomas's home in Laugharne, the Boathouse, has been made a memorial.

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 of Thomas'. It is mentioned in his story, The Followers but renamed, the 'Wine Vaults'.

Thomas' obituary was written by his long term friend Vernon Watkins. A class 153 locomotive was named Dylan Thomas 1914 - 1953. In 2004 a new literary prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize,[14] was created in honour of the poet. It is awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of 30.

In 1982, a plaque was unveiled in honour of Dylan Thomas', in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.




  • Collected Poems 1934 – 1953 (London: Phoenix, 2003)
  • Selected Poems (London: Phoenix, 2001)
  • 18 Poems (1934)[OOP]

25 Poems (1936) [OOP]

The Map of Love (1939) [OOP]

The World I Breathe (1939) [OOP]

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940)

New Poems (1943) [OOP]

Deaths and Entrances (1946) [OOP]

Selected Writings of Dylan Thomas (1946) [OOP]

Twenty-Six Poems (1950) [OOP]

In Country Sleep (1952) [OOP]

Collected Poems, 1934-1952 (1952)

The Doctor and the Devils and Other Scripts (1953)

Under Milk Wood: A Play For Voices (1954)

Quite Early One Morning (1954)

Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955)

A Prospect of the Sea (1955) [OOP]

A Child's Christmas in Wales (1955)

Letters to Vernon Watkins (1957)

The Doctor and the Devils and Other Scripts

The Beach of Falesa (1964) [OOP]

Dylan Thomas - a Collection of Critical Essays: Charles B. Cox (ed.) (1966) [OOP]

The Poems of Dylan Thomas (1979)

The Collected Stories of Dylan Thomas (1984)

On the Air With Dylan Thomas: The Broadcasts

Eight Stories (1993)

Dylan Thomas: The Complete Screenplays (1995)

Rebecca's Daughters: A Film Scenario

Fern Hill: An Illustrated edition of the Dylan Thomas poem. [1998]




  • Dylan Thomas: Volume I - A Child's Christmas in Wales and Five Poems (Caedmon TC 1002 - 1952)
  • Under Milk Wood (Caedmon TC 2005 - 1953)
  • Dylan Thomas: Volume II - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1018 - 1954)
  • Dylan Thomas: Volume III - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1043)
  • Dylan Thomas: Volume IV - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1061)
  • Dylan Thomas: Quite early one morning and other memories (Caedmon TC 1132 - 1960)


  • Dylan Thomas: A War Films Anthology (DDHE/IWM D23702 - 2006 (DVD Region 0))

External links

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.