Biography of Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas Part 1

About the famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, history and biography of the artist.


DYLAN THOMAS (1914-1953)

If you want a definition of poetry, say: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing!"

Dylan Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, and his formal education consisted solely of the Swansea grammar school. Thomas began to write poetry when he was very young, and composed some excellent pieces before his sixteenth year. His first job was as a newspaper reporter, followed over the years by stints as an amateur actor, a documentary film scriptwriter, and a reader for BBC radio programs. At an early age, Thomas began to cultivate behavior that he felt was fit for a poet, and he drank and smoked to excess. He was continually in ill health and had violent coughing fits, which he hoped were the result of romantic case of tuberculosis, but which were never diagnosed as such.

In 1936 he met Caitlin Macnamara, a passionate Irish dancer, whom he married. They were deeply attached to one another, although their marriage was frequently a stormy and tortuous one, mottled by Thomas's affairs and Caitlin's tempestuous outbursts. A major source of tension in their marriage was worry over money. Thomas was totally irresponsible about finances. He constantly accrued debts and spent foolishly, and he and Caitlin were poor up until the time of his death. To add to their money worries, Thomas went through long periods of being unable to produce. In his later years, in a letter to a friend, he referred to himself as "this melancholy bad-natured slob who finds it as hard to write as to squeeze blood out of an old pudding."

His poetry is characterized by powerful and startling imagery and superb technical achievement. He wrote: "I am a painstaking, conscientious, involved, and devious craftsman in words." He was known to rewrite a line 50 times, until he felt it was perfect. Many proclaimed him the greatest living poet, and novelist Nelson Algren remarked, "You have to feel a certain desperation about everything either to write like that or to drink like that..." Thomas also wrote short stories; a play, Under Milk Wood; an autobiographical piece, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog; and an unfinished novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade.

If he is revered for his poetic ability, he is at least as well known for his shocking behavior and remarkable presence. He liked to call himself "the drunkest man in the world," and indeed, his consumption was enormous. Physically, as well as emotionally, Thomas paid for his excesses. Aside from weathering many a nightmarish hangover, he suffered from gout, emphysema, and gastritis.

Here is a description of Thomas in the mid-1940s: "He smokes continually, and once he has put a cigarette in his mouth he does not touch it until it is finished. He wears his cigarette. His curly hair is uncombed, his stomach bloated, his face flushed, his eyes luminous, but only when he speaks." Thomas's voice was deep, rich, and resonant. He gave excellent readings of his favorite verses by other poets as well as his own work. One American professor who heard him read said, "I hadn't heard anything like it before or since, and I've heard in person almost every major poet of this century except Yeats."

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