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Dylan Marlais Thomas

Dylan Marlais Thomas

The British poet Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) has been acclaimed as one of the most important poets of the century. His lyrics rank among the most powerful and captivating of modern poetry.

Dylan Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, on Oct. 27, 1914. His father was an English teacher and a would-be poet, from whom Dylan inherited his intellect and literary abilities. From his mother, a simple and religious woman, Dylan inherited his disposition, temperament, and Celtic sentimentality. He attended the Swansea Grammar School, where he received all of his formal education. As a student, he made contributions to the school magazine and was keenly interested in local folklore. He said that as a boy he was "small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly."

After leaving school Thomas supported himself as an actor, reporter, reviewer, and scriptwriter and with various odd jobs. When he was 22 years old, he married Caitlin Macnamara, by whom he had two sons, Llewelyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. After his marriage, Thomas moved to the fishing village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

The need to support his growing family forced Thomas to write radio scripts for the Ministry of Information and documentaries for the British government. During World War II he served as an antiaircraft gunner. After the war he became a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950 Thomas made the first of three lecture tours through the United States—the others were in 1952 and 1953—in which he gave more than 100 poetry readings. In these recitals he half declaimed, half sang the lines in his "Welsh singing" voice. Many critics have attested to the rolling vigor of his voice, its melodic subtlety, and its almost hypnotic power of incantation.

The English poet Edith Sitwell described Thomas as follows: "He was not tall, but was extremely broad, and gave an impression of extraordinary strength, sturdiness, and superabundant life. (His reddish-amber curls, strong as the curls on the brow of a young bull, his proud, but not despising, bearing, emphasized this.) Mr. Augustus John's portrait of him is beautiful but gives him a cherubic aspect, which though pleasing, does not convey … Dylan's look of archangelic power. In full face he looked much as William Blake must have looked as a young man. He had full eyes— like those of Blake—giving him at first the impression of being unseeing, but seeing all, looking over immeasurable distances."

Thomas's poetic output was not large. He wrote only six poems in the last 6 years of his life. Dissipation and a grueling lecture schedule hindered his literary output in these years. His conviction that he would die young led him to create "instant Dylan"—the persona of the wild young Welsh bard, damned by drink and women, that he believed his public wanted. When he was 35 years old, he described himself as "old, small, dark, intelligent, and darting-doting-dotting eyed … balding and toothlessing." He had grown corpulent but retained his grace of movement.

During his visit to the United States in 1953, Thomas was scheduled to read his own and other poetry in some 40 university towns throughout the country. He also intended to work on the libretto of an opera for Igor Stravinsky in the latter's California home. Thomas celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday in New York City in a mood of gay exhilaration following the phenomenal success of his just-published Collected Poems. The festivities ended in collapse and illness, and on Nov. 9, 1953, he died in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. Some reports attribute his death to pneumonia induced by acute alcoholism, others to encephalopathy, a virulent brain disease. His body was returned to Laugharne, Wales, for burial.

Literary Works

Thomas published his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems (1934), when he was not yet 20 years old. "The reeling excitement of a poetry-intoxicated schoolboy smote the Philistine as hard a blow with one small book as Swinburne had with Poems and Ballads, " wrote Kenneth Rexroth. Thomas's second and third volumes were Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939). The poems of his first three volumes were collected in The World I Breathe (1939).

By this time, Thomas was being hailed as the most spectacular of the surrealist poets. He acknowledged his debt to James Joyce and strewed his pages with invented words and fused puns. Thomas also acknowledged his debt to Sigmund Freud, stating: "Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision…. Poetry must drag further into the clear nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize."

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) is a collection of humorous autobiographical sketches. Thomas loved the wild landscape of Wales, and he put much of his childhood and youth into these stories. He published two more new collections of poetry, both of which contained some of his finest work: Deaths and Entrances (1946) and In Country Sleep (1951). Collected Poems, 1934-1953 (1953) contains all of his poetry that he wished to preserve.

Themes and Style

Thomas claimed that his poetry was "the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light…. To be stripped of darkness is to be clean, to strip of darkness is to make clean." He also wrote that his poems "with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damned fool if they weren't." Passionate and intense, vivid and violent, Thomas wrote that he became a poet because "I had fallen in love with words." His sense of the richness and variety and flexibility of the English language shines through all of his work.

The theme of all of Thomas's poetry is the celebration of the divine purpose that he saw in all human and natural processes. The cycle of birth and flowering and death, of love and death, suffuses his poems. He celebrated life in the seas and fields and hills and towns of his native Wales. In some of his shorter poems, he sought to recapture a child's innocent vision of the world.

Thomas was passionately dedicated to his "sullen art, " and he was a competent, finished, and occasionally intricate craftsman. He made, for example, more than 200 versions of "Fern Hill" before he was satisfied with it. His early poems are relatively obscure and complex in sense and simple and obvious in auditory patterns. His later poems, on the other hand, are simple in sense but complex in sounds.

Under Milk Wood, a radio play commissioned by the BBC (published 1954), was Thomas's last completed work. This poem-play is not a drama but a pageant of eccentric, outrageous, and charming Welsh villagers. During the 24 hours presented in the play, the characters reminisce about the casual and crucial moments of their lives. Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955) contains all the uncollected stories and shows the wit and humor that made Thomas an enchanting companion.

Further Reading

Some of Thomas's correspondence is available in Selected Letters, edited with commentary by Constantine Fitzgibbon (1966). The authorized biography, written by a friend, is Fitzgibbon's The Life of Dylan Thomas (1965). Other important biographical works include John Malcolm Brinnin, Dylan Thomas in America: An Intimate Journal (1955), a candid and illuminating reminiscence; Caitlin Thomas, Leftover Life to Kill (1957); T. H. Jones, Dylan Thomas (1963); Bill Read, The Days of Dylan Thomas (1964), a compact, readable sketch useful as an introduction; and John Ackerman's comprehensive study, Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work (1964).

Among the most important critical studies are Derek Stanford, Dylan Thomas (1954; rev. ed. 1964); Elder Olson, The Poetry of Dylan Thomas (1954); John Malcolm Brinnin, ed., A Casebook on Dylan Thomas (1960); William York Tindall, A Reader's Guide to Dylan Thomas (1962); Clark Emery, The World of Dylan Thomas (1962); David Holbrook, Dylan Thomas and Poetic Dissociation (1964); C. B. Cox, ed., Dylan Thomas: A Collection of Critical Essays (1966); Aneirin Talfan Davies, Dylan: Druid of the Broken Body (1966); William T. Moynihan, The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas (1966); and Louise B. Murdy, Sound and Sense in Dylan Thomas's Poetry (1966). □

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"Dylan Marlais Thomas." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Thomas, Dylan

Dylan Thomas

Born: October 27, 1914
Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Died: November 9, 1953
New York, New York

Welsh poet

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas has been hailed as one of the most important poets of the century. His lyrics rank among the most powerful and captivating of modern poetry.

Welsh childhood

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Wales, on October 27, 1914. His father, David John, was an English teacher and a would-be poet from whom Dylan inherited his intellectual and literary abilities. From his mother, Florence, a simple and religious woman, Dylan inherited his mood, temperament, and respect for his Celtic heritage. He had one older sister, Nancy. He attended the Swansea Grammar School, where he received all of his formal education. As a student he made contributions to the school magazine and was keenly interested in local folklore (stories passed down within a culture). He said that as a boy he was "small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly." During these early school years, Thomas befriended Daniel Jones, another local schoolboy. The two would write hundreds of poems together, and as adults Jones would edit a collection of Thomas's poetry.

After leaving school, Thomas supported himself as an actor, reporter, reviewer, scriptwriter, and with various odd jobs. When he was twenty-two years old, he married Caitlin Macnamara, by whom he had two sons, Llewelyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. After his marriage, Thomas moved to the fishing village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

Begins writing career

To support his growing family, Thomas was forced to write radio scripts for the Ministry of Information (Great Britain's information services) and documentaries for the British government. He also served as an aircraft gunner during World War II (193945; a war fought between Germany, Japan, and Italy, the Axis powers; and England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States, the Allies). After the war he became a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950 Thomas made the first of three lecture tours through the United Statesthe others were in 1952 and 1953in which he gave more than one hundred poetry readings. In these appearances he half recited, half sang the lines in his "Welsh singing" voice.

Thomas's poetic output was not large. He wrote only six poems in the last six years of his life. A grueling lecture schedule greatly slowed his literary output in these years. His belief that he would die young led him to create "instant Dylan"the persona of the wild young Welsh bard, damned by drink and women, that he believed his public wanted. When he was thirty-five years old, he described himself as "old, small, dark, intelligent, and darting-doting-dotting eyed balding and toothlessing."

During Thomas's visit to the United States in 1953, he was scheduled to read his own and other poetry in some forty university towns throughout the country. He also intended to work on the libretto (text) of an opera for Igor Stravinsky (18821971) in the latter's California home. Thomas celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday in New York City in a mood of gay exhilaration, following the extraordinary success of his just-published Collected Poems. The festivities ended in his collapse and illness. On November 9, 1953, he died in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. Some reports attribute his death to pneumonia brought on by alcoholism, others to encephalopathy, a brain disease. His body was returned to Laugharne, Wales, for burial.

Literary works

Thomas published his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems (1934), when he was not yet twenty years old. "The reeling excitement of a poetry-intoxicated schoolboy smote the Philistine as hard a blow with one small book as Swinburne had with Poems and Ballads, " wrote Kenneth Rexroth. Thomas's second and third volumes were Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939). The poems of his first three volumes were collected in The World I Breathe (1939).

By this time Thomas was being hailed as the most spectacular of the surrealist poets, or poets who used fantastic imagery of the subconscious in their verse. He acknowledged his debt to James Joyce (18821941) and dotted his pages with invented words and puns (the use of two or more words that sound the same, usually for humorous purposes). Thomas also acknowledged his debt to Sigmund Freud (18561939), stating: "Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an over clothed blindness to a naked vision. Poetry must drag further into the clear nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize."

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) is a collection of humorous autobiographical (having to do with writing about oneself) sketches. Thomas loved the wild landscape of Wales, and he put much of his childhood and youth into these stories. He published two more new collections of poetry, both of which contained some of his finest work: Deaths and Entrances (1946) and In Country Sleep (1951). Collected Poems, 19341953 (1953) contains all of his poetry that he wished to preserve.

Themes and style

Thomas claimed that his poetry was "the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light. To be stripped of darkness is to be clean, to strip of darkness is to make clean." He also wrote that his poems "with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damned fool if they weren't." Passionate and intense, vivid and violent, Thomas wrote that he became a poet because "I had fallen in love with words." His sense of the richness and variety and flexibility of the English language shines through all of his work.

The theme of all of Thomas's poetry is the celebration of the divine (godly) purpose he saw in all human and natural processes. The cycle of birth and flowering and death, of love and death, are also found throughout his poems. He celebrated life in the seas and fields and hills and towns of his native Wales. In some of his shorter poems he sought to recapture a child's innocent vision of the world.

Thomas was passionately dedicated to his "sullen art," and he was a competent, finished, and occasionally complex craftsman. He made, for example, more than two hundred versions of "Fern Hill" before he was satisfied with it. His early poems are relatively mysterious and complex in sense but simple and obvious in pattern. His later poems, on the other hand, are simple in sense but complex in sounds.

Under Milk Wood, a radio play commissioned by the BBC (published 1954), was Thomas's last completed work. This poem-play is not a drama but a parade of strange, outrageous, and charming Welsh villagers. During the twenty-four hours presented in the play, the characters remember and ponder the casual and crucial moments of their lives. Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955) contains all the uncollected stories and shows the wit and humor that made Thomas an enchanting companion.

For More Information

Brinnin, John Malcolm. Dylan Thomas in America. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Ferris, Paul. Dylan Thomas: The Biography. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000.

Fryer, Jonathan. Dylan: The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas. London: K. Cathie, 1993.

Goodby, John, and Chris Wigginton, eds. Dylan Thomas. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Thomas, David N. Dylan Thomas: A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow. Bridgend, Wales: Saren, 2000.

Thomas, Dylan. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1940.

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Thomas, Dylan

Dylan Thomas (dĬl´ən), 1914–53, Welsh poet, b. Swansea. An extraordinarily individualistic writer, Thomas is ranked among the great 20th-century poets. He grew up in Swansea, the son of a teacher, but left school at 17 to become a journalist and moved to London two years later. His Eighteen Poems, published in 1934, created controversy but won him immediate fame, which grew with the publication of Twenty-five Poems (1936), The Map of Love (1939; containing poetry and surrealistic prose), The World I Breathe (1939; also containing some prose), Deaths and Entrances (1946), and In Country Sleep and Other Poems (1952).

The prose Thomas published is fragmented into stories and sketches, many autobiographical or pseudo-autobiographical, all touched with fantasy; they are collected in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955), and Quite Early One Morning (1955). He had a remarkable speaking voice, flexible and resonant, and his radio readings over the BBC were popular. In addition he wrote for the radio A Child's Christmas in Wales (published 1954) and his striking dramatic work, Under Milk Wood (published 1954), which records life and love and introspection in a small Welsh town.

Thomas's themes are traditional—love, death, mutability—and over the years he seemed to pass from religious doubt to joyous faith in God. His complex imagery is based on many sources, including Welsh legend, Christian symbolism, witchcraft, astronomy, and Freudian psychology; the private myth he created makes his early poetry hard to understand. Yet his sure mastery of sound (perhaps related to his fine voice), his warm humor, and his robust love of life attract the reader instantaneously.

Thomas greatly enjoyed his success but lived recklessly and drank heavily. His third highly popular tour of the United States ended in his death, which was brought on by alcoholism. The autobiography of Thomas's wife, Caitlin Thomas, Leftover Life to Kill (1957), and the account of the Thomases' tours by J. M. Brinnin, Dylan Thomas in America (1955), vividly describe his last years.

See his Collected Poems (1953); his letters, ed. by C. FitzGibbon (1967); his notebooks, ed. by R. Maud (1967); biographies by C. FitzGibbon (1965), J. Ackerman (1965), and A. Lycett (2004); studies by W. Y. Tindall (1962), W. T. Moynihan (1966), R. Kidder (1973), and W. Davies (1990).

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Thomas, Dylan

Thomas, Dylan (1914–53). Poet. Born in Swansea, son of a schoolteacher, Thomas began as a journalist, publishing his first book 18 Poems in 1934 and following it in 1936 with 25 Poems. He married in 1937 and settled in the coastal village of Laugharne, south of Carmarthen, working for the BBC and lecturing. A collection of short stories of a strongly autobiographical nature, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, came out in 1940. Though he knew no Welsh, Thomas's roistering life-style led some to accuse him of being a stage-Welshman. Deaths and Entrances (1946) and Collected Poems 1934–52 were well received, but Thomas died on a lecture tour of the USA. His radio play Under Milk Wood (1954) was greatly acclaimed as a portrait of Welsh life in the fictitious village of Llareggub.

J. A. Cannon

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Thomas, Dylan Marlais

Thomas, Dylan Marlais (1914–53) Welsh poet and short-story writer. A self-styled enfant terrible, whose flamboyant alcoholic lifestyle led to his early death in New York, Thomas was a resonant reader of his own and others' poetry, his public persona contributing to the popularity of his powerful, meticulously crafted, often wilfully obscure verse. His first collection appeared when he was 19 years' old; his Collected Poems was published in 1953. Many of his best short stories appear in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) and Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955). The ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood, written in 1952, is perhaps his best-known work.

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