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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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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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Thomas, Dylan

Dylan Thomas

BORN: 1914, Swansea, Wales

DIED: 1953, New York

NATIONALITY: British, Welsh

GENRE: Poetry, drama, fiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Eighteen Poems (1934)
Deaths and Entrances (1946)
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (1951)
Under Milk Wood (1954)

Overview

One of the most renowned authors of the twentieth century, Thomas is as well known for his life of excess as for his iconoclastic, critically acclaimed writings. Often focusing on such universal concerns as birth, death, love, and religion, Thomas's works remain distinctly personal through a blend of rich metaphorical language, sensuous imagery, and psychological detail.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Growing Up in Wales Born in a suburb of the port of Swansea, on the southern coast of Wales, Thomas was the second child and only son of middle-class parents. His father, an English teacher who had a great love for literature, encouraged similar devotion in his son, even going so far as to read the works of Shakespeare aloud to the infant Thomas in his cradle. Such efforts were rewarded when Thomas began writing verse at an early age. He was an otherwise undistinguished student, however, and left school at sixteen to work for the South Wales Daily Post in Swansea.

Thomas continued to compose verse while working at the Post. When he resigned from the paper early in 1933, poetry became his primary occupation. It was at this time that Thomas began to develop the serious drinking problem that plagued him throughout the remainder of his life and resulted in his death at the age of thirty-nine. His notebooks reveal that many of his most highly regarded poems were either written or drafted during this period and that he had also begun to experiment with short prose pieces. In May of 1933, his poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” was published in the New English Weekly, marking the first appearance of his work in a London journal, and in December of the following year his first poetry collection, Eighteen Poems (1934), was issued. Although this book attracted little attention, Thomas's second volume, Twenty-five Poems (1936), fared somewhat better, and as the decade progressed he gained increasing recognition for both his poetry and his prose.

Marriage and a Nomadic Life In the summer of 1937, Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara, an aspiring dancer of Irish descent whose reputation for unconventional behavior rivaled Thomas's own. For the next twelve years the couple led a nomadic existence, staying with friends, relatives, and a series of benefactors. The stories later collected in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) were written primarily during their stay in the Welsh coastal village of Laugharne in late 1938 and early 1939. Too frail for active military service, Thomas wrote scripts for propaganda films during World War II, at which time he also began to participate in radio dramas and readings for the BBC. His hometown of Swansea was targeted by German bombers during air raids in 1941, and a large urban portion of the town was completely destroyed. He later wrote about witnessing the aftermath in the radio drama Return Journey Home. Thomas emerged from the war years a respected literary figure and popular performer; however, his gregarious social life and the excessive drinking it encouraged seriously interfered with his writing. Seeking an environment more conducive to poetic production, Thomas and Caitlin returned to Laugharne in 1949.

During the early 1950s, Thomas wrote several of his most poignant poems, including “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and “Lament.” He also completed the radio drama Under Milk Wood (1954) and began work on an autobiographical novel, which was left unfinished at his death and published posthumously as Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955). Nevertheless, he feared that his creative powers were rapidly waning, and, partly in an attempt to avoid the pressures of writing, he embarked on a speaking tour of the United States in the spring of 1950. A highly charismatic speaker, Thomas charmed American audiences with his readings and shocked them with his often wild, irresponsible behavior.

Beyond Poetry Thomas focused on writing prose and screenplays during the last years of his life. Previous to this period, his most important prose appeared in the semi-autobiographical short stories, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, which stylistically and thematically bear comparison to Joyce's Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The most significant prose piece to issue from Thomas's later period is the “play for voices,” Under Milk Wood.

Thomas went to the United States on lecture tours four times, beginning in February 1951, leaving his home for the four and a half years before his death. In 1953, Thomas fell into a coma due to ailments complicated by alcohol and drug abuse. He died four days later, leaving behind a mound of debts that private contributions helped to pay.

Works in Literary Context

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 suf-fuses 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.

Words and Style Thomas set a new standard for many mid-twentieth-century poets through works that display his mastery of vivid imagery, involved word play, fractured syntax, and personal symbology. He was passionately dedicated to his “sullen art,” and he was a competent, finished, and occasionally intricate craftsman. He made, for example, more than two hundred versions of “Fern Hill” before he was satisfied with it. Like James Joyce before him, Thomas was obsessed with words—with their sound and rhythm and especially with their possibilities for multiple meanings. 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.

Depictions of Wales One key element in Thomas's works is his depiction of his native Wales. His radio play Under Milk Wood is an example of this work, as a pageant of eccentric, outrageous, and charming Welsh villagers reminisce about the casual and crucial moments of their lives. This is also shown in Return Journey Home, where he describes the devastation of Swansea by German bombers during World War II.

Old Age and Death Thomas frequently utilizes the notion of the cycle of life by contrasting young and old or living with dying. This is shown in his most famous poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” where the narrator advises a dying person to fight back against the onset of death, with the emotion of rage being equated with life. It is also shown in his poem “Fern Hill,” found in the aptly named collection Deaths and Entrances. In the poem, Thomas begins by relating the experiences of youth, and concludes with an aged narrator lamenting his coming death. Though Thomas generally depicts death and old age negatively, his poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” offers a hopeful view of life after and beyond death.

Works in Critical Context

From the outset of Thomas's career there has been much critical disagreement as to his poetic stature and importance. Many commentators regard Thomas's work as too narrow and unvarying; he essentially confines himself to the lyric expression of what Stephen Spender calls “certain primary, dithyrambic occasions,” chiefly birth, love, and death. The influence of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets is often cited in connection with Thomas's unorthodox religious imagery, while the influence of the Romantic poets is seen in his recurrent vision of a pristine beauty in childhood and nature.

Dylan Thomas's life, work, and stature among twentieth-century poets are all matters of controversy and speculation. An essentially shy and modest man when sober, Thomas called himself the “captain of the second eleven” on the team of modern poets, an uneasy, pivotal ranking between the clearly major and the clearly minor poets. Others, too, such as John Crowe Ransom, have found difficulty in formulating a final opinion of Thomas: Is he really only the best of the minor poets—those who achieve distinction within inherited modes and procedures—or is he the weak man, if that, among the major poets—those who absorb the tradition of ideas and forms that they then in some way radically change?

Poetry Collections The critical reception that greeted Eighteen Poems was overwhelmingly positive; reviewers sensed in Thomas a highly unique yet traditional poetic voice. In many of these poems Thomas drew upon his childhood and adolescent experiences. Often described as incantatory, Eighteen Poems records Thomas's experimentations with vibrant imagery and with sound as “verbal music.” Thomas's brilliant debut—and subsequent brief career and life—would later prompt comparisons to the short, dazzling, and ultimately tragic career of American poet Hart Crane, who drowned himself in 1932.

Twenty-five Poems contains many of the same themes as his first work. William York Tindall referred to Thomas's first two books as the poet's “womb-tomb” period because of his penchant to focus on the polarity of birth and death. Critics also noted that Thomas frequently questions or comments upon religion, using images and terminology from Christian mythology, history, and doctrine. “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” was considered by many critics to be a breakthrough work in Thomas's career. In it, the poet addresses the Christian ideas of life and death, ultimately defying death and celebrating the possibility of eternal life. Another acclaimed poem, “Altarwise by Owl-Light,” is a sequence of ten sonnets discussing the crucifixion of Christ. Both poignant and comic, the sequence is generally regarded as one of Thomas's best works.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Thomas's famous contemporaries include:

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971): Stravinsky was a Russian composer famous for his music for the ballets The Rite of Spring (1913) and The Firebird (1910), and is widely considered to be one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century.

John Cage (1912–1992): Cage was an American avant-garde composer who was instrumental in the development of modern dance and electronic music.

John Berryman (1914–1972): Berryman was an American poet who was one of the founders of the confessional school of poetry.

Shirley Jackson (1916–1965): Jackson was a popular and influential American writer of novels and short stories best known for “The Lottery” (1948).

Jack Kerouac (1922–1969): Kerouac was an influential American poet and novelist who was part of the Beat generation; he is most famous for his semiautobio-graphical novel On the Road (1957).

Under Milk Wood Critics have often noted similarities between Thomas and James Joyce. In Under Milk Wood and Ulysses, respectively, each author captures the life of a whole society as it is reflected in a single day; for Joyce it is the urban life in Dublin, while for Thomas it is the Welsh village community of Llareggub. Criticism of Under Milk Wood generally concentrates on the play's lack of moral center. David Holbrook, who has written two books attacking Thomas, argues that his “place of love” is infantile, that his lyric boisterousness is really sniggering dirty-mindedness, and that we are finally invited to laugh cruelly at the characters. While there is some justice in this view, it recalls the moral sensibility that is appalled to discover that “Llareggub” is “Buggerall” spelled backward. Raymond Williams, on the other hand, seems to find genius in Thomas's mastery of an unrealistic but still convincing “pattern of voices”; Thomas, he implies, in transmuting the lives of a community into art, produced a play “not inconsiderable” in substance and superior to the verse drama of Christopher Fry or T. S. Eliot. William Ayres Arrowsmith expresses the same preference for Thomas's life-affirming, Dionysian vision over Eliot's “sterility.”

Responses to Literature

  1. Thomas was known for his inspired performances, his entertaining public personality, and his colorful personal life. As a class, discuss whether Thomas's poems would be as interesting on their own. How much did his personal mystique contribute to the positive reception of his works?
  2. Read several of Thomas's poems from Twenty-five Poems. Choose one and write a brief analysis of the poem's rhythm and theme. Point out any evidence of mysticism or religion that you can find in the poem.
  3. Critics and readers have noted that Thomas's prose and scripts draw heavily on the author's life. Attempt to re-create some of Thomas's life by identifying autobiographical details in his prose and poetry.
  4. Thomas's reading tours in the United States in the early 1950s won him great acclaim. Write an essay tracing the impact of his trips to the United States on his later works.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Many of Thomas's poems incorporate autobiographical aspects. Other poems compare the poet to the natural world. Here are some other works constructed in a similar way:

“Death of a Naturalist” (1966), a poem by Seamus Heaney. This poem details the exploits and thoughts of a young boy collecting frogspawn in a flax-dam.

“The Drunken Boat” (1871), a poem by Arthur Rimbaud. This poem is well known for both its surreal, dazzling imagery and its symbolism.

The Golden Age (1895), stories by Kenneth Greene. This collection of stories represents children as having perception that is far superior to that of the unimaginative, pleasure-stifling adults.

Walden (1854), a nonfiction work by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods in order to gain perspective on human society for this work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Ackerman, John. Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1990.

Brinnin, John Malcolm. Dylan Thomas in America. Boston: Atlantic/Little, Brown, 1955.

Davies, Walford. Dylan Thomas. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1990.

Gaston, Georg M. A. Critical Essays on Dylan Thomas. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Jones, Gwyn. Background to Dylan Thomas, and Other Explorations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Moynihan, William T. The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966.

Peach, Linden. The Prose Writing of Dylan Thomas. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988.

Read, Bill. The Days of Dylan Thomas. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1964.

Rolph, J. Alexander. Dylan Thomas: A Bibliography. London: Dent, 1956.

Sinclair, Andrew. Dylan Thomas: No Man More Magical. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1975.

Periodicals

Bruns, Gerald L. “Daedalus, Orpheus, and Dylan Thomas's Portrait of the Artist.” Renascence, Spring 1973.

Davies, Richard A. “Dylan Thomas's Image of the ‘Young Dog’ in Portrait.” Anglo-Welsh Review, Spring 1977.

French, Warren. “Two Portraits of the Artist: James Joyce's Young Man; Dylan Thomas's Young Dog.” University of Kansas City Review, June 1967.

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