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Dylan Thomas, "The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive"

Dylan Thomas, drinking his muse

  Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales on October 27, 1914.

  The name Dylan comes from the Mabinogion, a collection of 11 mediaeval Welsh tales. The word means "sea". In the tale Math, the son of Mathonwy, challenges Aranrhod, his niece who claims to be a virgin, to step over his magic wand.

  "Aranrhod stepped over the wand, and with that step she dropped a sturdy boy with thick yellow hair; the boy gave a loud cry, and with that cry she made her way for the door.....

  "Well," said Math, "I will arrange for the baptism of this one......and I will call him Dylan."

  The boy was baptized, whereupon he immediately made for the sea, and when he came to the sea he took on its nature and swam as well as the best fish. He was called Dylan (sea) son of Ton (wave), for no wave ever broke beneath him."

  Marlais is the name of a stream which runs from the hills near the birthplace of Dylan Thomas' great uncle Gwilym Marles Thomas. Marles is a variation of the name Marlais. Dylan Thomas' sister Nancy also bore a variation of the name Marles.

  In November 1934 he moved to London and on the 18th December of that year his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems appeared to critical acclaim. Dylan Thomas had just turned 20 when this volume of poetry was released. He had written nearly 30 poems in late 1933 and early 1934, of which 13 were published in this volume. Between May and October 1934, he completed another five for inclusion in the book. Dylan Thomas was an incredibly conscientious wordsmith, as shown by this description by his long-time friend Vernon Watkins:

  "....the composition of his poetry, for which he used separate work sheets and would spend sometimes several days on a single line, while the poem was built up phrase by phrase, at glacier like speed."

(Vernon Watkins, Adventures in the Skin Trade, introduction)

  In April of 1936 he met Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin Caitlin MacNamara, and in September his second volume of poetry Twenty-five Poems was released. In July 1937 Dylan and Caitlin were married and in 1938, they moved to Laugharne, Wales.

  Their first child, Llewelyn Edouard Thomas was born in January 1939. The Map of Love was published in August 1939 and The World I Breathe was published in December 1939, in the United States.

  In April 1940 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog was published and in September, Dylan began working for Strand Films which he continued for the duration of World War II.

  His second child Aeronwyn Bryn Thomas was born in March 1943. Deaths and Entrances was published in 1946. In 1949 his third child, Colm Garan Hart Thomas was born. In 1952, Collected Poems, 1934-1952 became the last book published in his life time. He also published many short stories, wrote filmscripts, broadcast stories and talks, did a series of lecture tours in the United States and wrote Under Milkwood, the radio play.

  During his fourth lecture tour of the United States in 1953, (which he made under a doctor's care) and a few days after his 39th birthday, he collapsed in his New York City hotel. He died on November 9th, 1953 at St Vincents Hospital, in New York City. His body was sent back to Laugharne, Wales, where his grave is The grave of Dylan Thomas marked by a simple wooden cross.

  His unfinished novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade, was originally rejected by his London publisher for not being "the great, serious autobiographical work to which they had looked forward so long." The novel itself is the incredibly funny story of a young man, Samuel Bennet, who moves to London, after metaphorically (and nearly literally) burning his bridges behind him. In the few extant chapters, Samuel gets involved in a series of inextricable situations, beginning with getting a finger permanently stuck inside of a Bass Ale bottle. The title, in typically Dylan Thomas fashion refers, of course, to the young man's trading one life for another, a metaphoric trading of skins. In correspondence with Vernon Watkins, he describes the work-in-progress as:

"It's a mixture of Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Kafka, Beachcomber, and good old 3-adjectives-a-penny belly-churning Thomas, the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive."

  In July 1994, his wife, Caitlin Thomas died in Italy, where she had spent most of the years of her life after the death of her husband.

  Dylan Thomas, often described as a "classic Welsh writer", never actually learned the Welsh language himself. Though he achieved much notoriety during his short life, he received little financial gain. It was only after his death that his work truly began to be appreciated. There is no doubt, however, that he is one of the great English (language) poets of the twentieth century, arguably the greatest poet of our time. Dylan Thomas' incredible use of metaphor, meter, and a comic wit, allows his work to stand alone, balancing a reckless neo-Romantic sensuality against the more staid Puritanism of his time and culture. Thomas' lust for life and love of drink may well have contributed to his premature demise, yet his work remains, a testament to both his skill and mastery of The Word. The work of Dylan Thomas has been ingrained into our modern psyche in countless ways, ranging from a surprisingly stirring recital of "Do not go gentle into that good night" by none other than Rodney Dangerfield in the 1986 movie Back To School (in itself proof of the poet's powerfully enduring skill) to a more highbrow choral symphony based on three of his poems.

Chronological Bibliography

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Inspired By Dylan Thomas...

And death shall have no dominion.

 Author: Patrick Deese

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