Dylan is pronounced 'Dul-an' in Welsh, and in the early part of his career some announcers introduced him using this pronunciation. However, Dylan himself favoured the anglicised pronunciation 'Dill-an'. His middle name, Marlais, was given to him in honour of his great-uncle, Unitarian minister William Thomas, whose bardic name was Gwilym Marles.
His childhood was spent largely in Swansea, with regular summer trips to visit his maternal aunt's 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 was known to be a sickly child and was considered too frail to fight in World War II, instead serving the war effort by writing scripts for the government. He suffered from bronchitis and asthma and was prone to overplay his sickliness.
Thomas's formal education began at Mrs. Hole's 'Dame School', a private school, which was situated a few streets away on Mirador Crescent. He described his experience there in Quite Early One Morning (New Directions Publishing, 1968 - see Google BookSearch).
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 single-sex Swansea Grammar School, in the Mount Pleasant district of the city. Thomas's first poem was published in the school's magazine, of which he later became an editor. 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 spent his days visiting the cinema in the Uplands, walking along Swansea Bay, and frequenting Swansea's public houses, especially those in the Mumbles area, the 'Antelope Hotel' and 'The Mermaid Hotel'; a theatre he used to perform at, among them. Thomas was also a regular patron of the 'Kardomah Café' on High Street in the centre of Swansea, a short walk from the local newspaper for which he worked, where he mingled with various contemporaries, such as his good friend poet Vernon Watkins. These poets, musicians, and artists became known as 'The Kardomah Gang'.
In 1932, Thomas embarked on what would be one of his various visits to London.
In February 1941, Swansea was bombed by the Luftwaffe in a '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 Return Journey Home, in which he describes the café as being "razed to the snow". Return Journey Home was first broadcast on 15 June 1947, having been written soon after the bombing raids. Thomas walked the bombed-out shell which was once his home town centre with his friend Bert Trick. Upset at the sight, he concluded, "Our Swansea is dead". The 'Kardomah Café' later reopened on Portland street, not far from the original location.
At the outset of the Second World War Dylan was designated C3 which meant that although he could, in theory, be called up for service he would be in one of the last groups to be so He was saddened to see his friends enter active service leaving him behind and drank whilst struggling to support his family . He wrote to the director of the films division of the Ministry of Information asking for employment but after a rebuff eventually ended up working for Strand Films. Strand produced films for the Ministry of Information and Thomas scripted at least five in 1942 with titles such as This Is Colour (about dye), New Towns For Old, These Are The Men and Our Country (a sentimental tour of Britain).
The publication of Deaths and Entrances in 1946 was a major turning point in his career. Thomas was well known for being a versatile and dynamic speaker, best known for his poetry readings. 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 (humorously named; note that 'Llareggub' is 'Bugger All' backwards, implying that there is absolutely nothing to do there). Richard Burton starred in the first broadcast; he was joined by Elizabeth Taylor in a subsequent film.
On 11 July 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, West Wales. Their first child was born on 30 January 1939, a boy whom they named Llewelyn Edouard (died in 2000). He was followed on 3 March 1943 by a daughter, Aeronwy. A second son, Colm Garan Hart, was born on 24 July 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.
Thomas liked to boast about his drinking, saying;
"An alcoholic is someone you don't like, who drinks as much as you do."
Thomas "liked the taste of beer," and he did quite his fair share of drinking, although the amount he drank may have been an exaggeration. After Ruthven Todd, a Scottish poet, had introduced Thomas to the White Horse Tavern, it quickly became a firm favourite of the Welshman. During an incident on 3 November 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.
Here are just some of the public houses that Thomas liked to frequent:
The Uplands Hotel - in the Uplands, Swansea. (Now known as The Uplands Tavern)
The Mermaid Hotel - in the Mumbles, Swansea. (Destroyed by fire then rebuilt)
The Antelope Hotel - also in the Mumbles, and still there. .
The No Sign Wine Bar - in Wind Street, Swansea. (One of the oldest public houses in Swansea)
Browns Hotel - at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. (Still remains, almost unchanged)
The Woodlawn Tap - at Hyde Park, Chicago, IL. (Also known as Jimmy's.)
Before Thomas left for New York in 1953, he stayed at The Bush Hotel in Swansea, which was later known as The Bush Inn.
On 3 November 1953, Thomas and Reitell celebrated his 39th birthday and the success of 18 Poems. On 5 November, at the White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, Thomas began 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. Thomas died four days later on 9 November 1953 at around 1 pm.
Recorded causes of death included pneumonia, a result of the coma, and pressure upon the brain. Emphysema was also noted, due to Thomas's smoking habit and possibly his intake of morphine. His liver, according to the pathologist, 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 40 years, this is all I've done." However, various sources state that Thomas's last words were to Reitell: "Yes, I believe you," after she tried to reassure him about his sudden illness. Others say his last words were, "I love you, but I am alone," again said to Liz Reitell. A popular myth is that Thomas's last words were, "I've had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that is a record."
It has also been said that the only person to be in the room with Dylan Thomas when he died was the poet John Berryman.
According to Walford Davies, after he went into a coma he was accidentally injected with an overdose of morphine.
Following his death, his body was brought back to Wales for his burial in the village churchyard at Laugharne on 25 November. 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.
Thomas's poetry is famous for its musicality, most notable in poems such as Fern Hill, In the White Giant's Thigh, In Country Sleep and Ballad of the Long-legged Bait. Do not go gentle into that good night, possibly his most popular poem, is unrepresentative of his usual poetic style. Following are a few examples.
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.
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 aisles, till the white owl crossed...
Thomas's poem And death shall have no dominion is noted for its metaphysical sentiment and assertion of the eternal continuity of life in nature.
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 once confided that the poems which had most influenced him were Mother Goose rhymes which his parents taught him when he was a child. He did not understand all of their contents, but he loved their sounds, and the acoustic qualities of the English language became his focus in his work later. He claimed that the meanings of a poem were of "very secondary nature" to him.
Many memorials have been inaugurated to honour Thomas, most of which can be found in his home of Swansea.
Tourists 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 an 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 Fern Hill
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's. It is mentioned in his story, The Followers but has subsequently been renamed the 'Wine Vaults'.
Thomas's 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, was created in honour of the poet. It is awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of 30.
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