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.
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.
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
childrenmet his wife Caitlin and "the love affair started in a
Bloomsbury pub in the spring of 1936. A young Irish dancer called Caitlin
Macnamara sat on a stool at the bar: blonde, blue-eyed and drinking
gin. To the drunken Welsh poet who staggered towards her through the
smokey fug of The Wheatsheaf, she appeared an angelic beauty. And when
finally the poet reached her, eccentrically laying his head in her lap,
he mumbled a proposal of marriage. This unorthodox first encounter between
Dylan Thomas and his wife is a central part of the Bohemian mythology
that surrounds the memory of one of Britain's best loved creative talents."
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
Thomas liked to boast about his drinking. He was known to comment, "An
alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do."
During an incident on November 3, 1953, Thomas returned to the Chelsea
Hotel in New York and exclaimed "I've had 18 straight whiskies;
I think this is a record."
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
On whom Thomas writes for: see "In My Craft Or Sullen Art:"
Not for the proud
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..."
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
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.
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.
See also: Cultural depictions of Dylan Thomas
As would be expected of a famous poet whose best known line is "Do
not go gentle into that good night", many memorials have been constructed
or converted to honour Thomas. Tourists in his home town of Swansea
can visit a statue in the maritime quarter, the Dylan Thomas 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
inscribed with the closing lines from one of his best-loved poems, Fern
Hill: "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."
This is inscribed on a rock in a closed-off garden within the park.
Thomas's home in Laugharne, the Boat House, is also a memorial. The
Powerful Coolmore Stud have a Colt (horse) called Dylan Thomas which
won the Irish Derby on the 2nd July 2006.
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
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.
borrowed Dylan Thomas' first name in creating his pseudonym, Bob Dylan
band The Slip make a reference to the poet in their 2006 song, "Airplane/Primitive"
from the album Eisenhower : "It is the day before the rest of my
life / And I feel like Dylan Thomas".
The Doctor and the
I - A Child's Christmas in Wales and Five Poems (Caedmon TC 1002 - 1952)
Under Milk Wood (Caedmon TC 2005 - 1953) : Volume II - Selections from
the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1018 - 1954) : Volume III -
Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1043) : Volume
IV - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1061)
: Quite early one morning and other memories (Caedmon TC 1132 - 1960)
Welsh poet and
prose writer whose works are known for musical quality of the language,
comic or visionary scenes and sensual iimages. Dylan Thomas died in
the United States on a tour on November 9, 1953. His death resulted
much from his alcoholism, which have gained mythic proportions. The
Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea even serves pints of Dylan's smooth ale.
It has been claimed that the famous American famous songwriter and musician
Bob Dylan, who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, named himself after
the Welsh poet, but Dylan himself had denied it.
"The hand that
signet the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death."
(from 'The Hand That Signed the Paper', 1936) was born in the seaport
town Swansea, West Glamorgan. His father, David John Thomas, was the
senior English master at Swansea Grammar School, where Thomas was educated.
His parents had a Welsh-speaking country background from Carmarthhenshire,
but they adopted English language and culture. Although Thomas could
not speak Welsh, he picked up the rhytms of the language, and started
to write poetry while still at school.
little formal education. When he was twelve, his poem was published
in the Western Mail. Actually the work was copied from the Boy's Own
Paper. Other verse, original without any doubts, he wrote for the Grammar
School magazine. Ignoring his father's advice to attend university,
he left his studies and worked as a trainee newspaper reporter on the
South Wales Evening Post. His first book, dreamlike and sensuous 18
POEMS (1934), marked the appearance of an energetic new voice in English
literature. Thomas wrote the poems when he was nineteen and twenty years
old. In 'I see the boys of summer' Thomas identifies himself with doomed
Welshmen, victims of time. "Awake, my sleepers, to the sun, / A
worker in the morning town, / And leave the poppied pickthank where
he lies; / The fences of the light are down, / All but the briskest
riders thrown, / And worlds hang on the trees." The collection
was followed by TWENTY-FIVE POEMS (1936), which established his reputation.
Thomas moved to London where he worked as a broadcaster, prose writer,
poet, and lecturer. With the writer Pamela Hansford Johnson, he started
correspondence and a love affair. "Charming, very young looking
with the most enchanting voice," she wrote in her diary when they
met. Later she married Lord (C.P.) Snow. In 1937 Thomas married Caitlin
Macnamara, whom he called in a letter "Betty Boop". For a
while the couple settled at Laugharne in Wales, returning there permanently
after many wanderings in 1949. The marriage was stormy; Thomas was a
natural bohemian and eventually Caitlin became tired in her husband's
frecklessness. Thomas's earnings were irregular, his earnings just melted
away, and he had to borrow money from his friends.
By the end of the
1930s, Thomas had gained fame in the literary circles, but he also suffered
from depression and was afraid of losing inspiration. He became later
a highly public figure due to his radio work and readings. His romantic,
rhetorical style won a large following. Some writers, among them Philip
Larkin, rejected his work as too subjective.
Unfit for active
service, Thomas worked during World War II as a documentary film script
writer. With Alan Osbiston he directed the documentary These Are The
Men (1943), an attack on the Nazi leaders, which used shots from Leni
Riefenstahl's The Triumph of the Will (1935). Sporadically Thomas was
employed by the BBC, where his striking, melodic voice made him a media
star. After the German planes had firebombed London, Thomas composed
the lines: "Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter, Robed
in the long friends, / The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her
mother, / Of the riding Thames. / After the first death, there is no
other." (from 'A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child
in London', 1946) In the 1940s Thomas wrote some of his best works.
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A YOUNG DOG (1940) was a collection of largely
autobiographical short stories, paying homage to James Joyce. DEATHS
AND ENTRANCES (1946) used religious imagery and took its subjects among
others from the bombing of London, or from the loss of childhood world
as in the poem 'Fern Hill'. Another pastoral ode, 'Poems in October,'
expressed Thomas's nostalgia for lost youth.
In 1947, when Thomas
contributed to more than 50 features for the BBC, he suffered a mental
breakdown, and moved to Oxford. He returned to Wales in 1949 and made
his first American tour next year, mostly because of financial pressures.
In 1950, 1952, and 1953 Thomas continued his popular reading tours on
American college campuses, managing to hide that he did not like reading
his own work, but unable to resist the temptation to live up to his
own reputation for being wild and drunken. Before a reading at Pomona
College, Claremont, he lost his books and notes. In New York, he spent
a lot of time at the Chelsea Hotel Bar. The tours were financially profitable
and he met such celebrities as Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie
Chaplin. At Chaplin's, he was seen urinating on a plant. Thomas died
at St. Vincent's Hospital, after spending four days in a coma. According
to a story, he had boasted to his American girlfriend, Liz Reitell,
that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies in a bar in Manhattan. At the
hospital a doctor had given him various drugs and an injection of morphine.
In spite of Thomas's heavy drinking, the autopsy revealed that he did
not suffer from serious cirrhosis of the liver. Caitlin Macnamara Thomas
died in 1994.
His last four years
Thomas spent at the Boat House in Laugharne, where he later was buried.
The cottage was purchased for the family by Margaret Taylor, the wife
of the historian A.J.P. Taylor. Shortly before his death in New York,
Thomas took part in a reading of what was to be his most famous single
work. UNDER MILK WOOD (1954) was a return to the Welsh landscape, and
a celebration of domestic life and dreams of ordinary people. It was
published posthumously as his reminiscence A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES
(1955). His NOTEBOOKS appeared in 1968. A new edition of THE POEMS OF
DYLAN THOMAS (1971) included personal comments by his friend and early
collaborator, the composer Daniel Jones. The musician John Cale has
set several of Thomas's poems to music. "As to the Thomas heritage
industry: ouch!" Cale has said.
is marked by vivid metaphors, the use of Christian and Freudian imagery,
and celebration of the mystical power of growth and death. "My
poetry," Thomas once said, "is the record of my individual
struggle from darkness toward some measure of light." Although
Thomas's poems appear to be freely flowing, his work sheets reveal much
work behind his mixture of the vernacular and literary. To Pamela Hansford
Johnson he once said in the 1930s, that he wrote at the rate of two
lines an hour. Among his best-known individual poems are 'And death
shall have no dominion,' 'Altarwise by owllight' (a sonnet sequence),
'A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,' 'Do not
go gentle into that good night,' 'In My Craft and Sullen Art,' and 'Fern
Hill.' His own role and gift as a poet Thomas paralleled with the forces
of nature: "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." (from 'Fern Hill')
Thomas also wrote
short stories, essays, and a roman à clef, ADVENTURES IN THE
SKIN TRADE (1955), which was left unfinished. Thomas's radio play Under
the Milk Wood portrayed a small Welsh coastal town and was made in 1971
into a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabet Taylor. His own film
scripts concerned less personal subjects. No Room at the Inn (1948),
directed by Daniel Birt and scripted by Thomas and Ivan Foxwell, was
adapted from a stage play by Joan Temple. THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS
(1953), set in the late eighteenth century Edinburgh, examined the theme
of 'the ends justify the means'. It was based on the case of the murderers
Burke and Hare. In the story a surgeon starts to pay for bodies, which
he uses as cadavers for dissection. The trial also touched foundations
of the whole society: "SECOND PROFESSOR: ... and if a member of
the royal family is accused of a commoner's crime, then it is the whole
family that is accused. An elaborate smile - but you see my point?"