THOMAS, DYLAN MARLAIS (1914 - 1953), poet and prose writer

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Name: Dylan Marlais Thomas

Date of birth: 1914

Date of death: 1953

Spouse: Caitlin Thomas (née Macnamara)

Child: Aeronwy Bryn Thomas

Child: Colm Garan Hart Thomas

Child: Llewelyn Edouard Thomas

Parent: Florence Hannah Thomas (née Williams)

Parent: David John Thomas

Gender: Male

Area of activity: Poetry; Literature and Writing

Author: Walford Davies

Born 27 October 1914 in Swansea, son of David John Thomas and his wife Florence Hannah (née Williams) who themselves came from rural, Welsh -speaking families in Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire. The father, a nephew of William Thomas ’ Gwilym Marles ‘, was from 1899 to 1936 English master at Swansea grammar school, which Dylan Thomas attended from 1925 to 1931. That was his only period of formal education and was followed by some fifteen months as junior reporter on the South Wales Daily Post. His early interest in English poetry had already borne fruit in the four notebooks in which he entered his first mature poems between 1930 and 1933. These notebooks were to be the major source of poems for his first three published volumes: 18 Poems (London, 1934), Twenty-five poems (London, 1936), and The map of love (short stories and poems) (London, 1939). Publication of individual poems in London periodicals led to his first volume, and that in turn to his arrival in London in November 1934. During the 1930s his work received increasing American as well as British attention and brought invitations to review books for leading London periodicals. Alternation between literary-social life in London and periods of greater actual creativity in Wales was to remain the pattern throughout his career. A close friendship with the poet Vernon Watkins in Swansea started in 1935.

He met Caitlin Macnamara in 1936 and they were married the following year. In May 1938 they moved for the first time to live in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, the village now most intimately associated with his name, and a deep influence on his later work in verse and prose. He had been awarded the American Blumenthal Poetry Prize, and was writing the autobiographical short stories that were to be published as Portrait of the artist as a young dog (London, 1940). The comic realism of these stories was in marked contrast to the macabre and surrealistic element in his earlier tales, which can be read in A Prospect of the sea (London, 1955). Continuation of autobiographical material in the form of a novel remained unfinished, but was published as Adventures in the skin trade (London, 1955). After the outbreak of World War II he started to write radio scripts for the B.B.C. and to take part in broadcast talks and readings. His popularity as a broadcaster remained to the end of his life, and the quality of his work for radio is reflected in the volume Quite early one morning (London, 1954). From 1942 to the end of the war he was employed as a script-writer for Strand Films in London. An example of his work in this medium is The Doctor and the devils (London, 1953).

The period of war had interrupted his writing of poetry, though towards the end of the war Wales became increasingly his major home. At Llangain and New Quay in 1944-45 a new period of poetic creativity started, the most productive since the early days in Swansea, leading to the publication of Deaths and entrances (London, 1946). At the end of the war, however, he also started to show interest in visiting America, and the need to earn a living (mainly through work for films and radio) meant having to be within reach of London. From 1946 to 1949 therefore the poet and his family lived in or near Oxford. He visited Prague in 1949 as guest of the Czechoslovakian government.

He moved to live in the ’ Boat House ’ at Laugharne in May 1949, where his third child was born, and where Thomas hoped to establish a permanent home, helped possibly by visits to America where his reputation as a poet was now firm. The first of these visits was in February-June 1950 and was followed by three more in 1952 and 1953. The individual work which occupied most of his time from 1950 onwards was the radio play Under Milk Wood (London, 1954), the main inspiration for which were the atmosphere and inhabitants of Laugharne itself. During the second American tour his last individual volume of poems was published, in America only, as In country sleep (New York, 1952). This completed the range of volumes that were to make up his Collected poems 1934-1952 (London, 1952) and which won the award of the Foyle’s Poetry Prize. The complications of heavy drinking and irresponsibility with money meant, however, that not even the profitable American visits were to remove the financial and personal insecurity which made the poet less and less productive of new work at home. He died in New York on 9 November 1953 and is buried at Laugharne.