Dylan Thomas

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Marriage and children
    • 1.2 Alcoholism and death
  • 2 Poetry
  • 3 Thomas memorials
  • 4 Bibliography
  • 5 Discography
  • 6 Filmography
  • 7 Impact on other cultural figures
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 External links


Dylan Marlais Thomas 1914-53
Dylan Marlais Thomas 1914-53

Dylan Thomas was born in the coastal city of Swansea, Wales. His father David, who was a writer and had a degree in English, brought his son up to speak English rather than Welsh, the native language of Thomas's mother, Florence Hannah Thomas. He had one sister, Nancy, who was eight years old when he was born. His middle name, "Marlais", came from the bardic name of his uncle, the Unitarian minister Gwilym Marles (whose given name was William Thomas).

His formal education began at the age of seven at Mrs. Hole's Dame School. He later attended the boys-only Swansea Grammar School in the Mount Pleasant district of the city, where his father taught English Literature. It was in this school's magazine that Thomas saw his first poem published. He left school at age 16 to become a reporter for a year and a half.

Thomas's childhood was spent largely in Swansea, with regular summer trips to visit his mother's family on their Carmarthen farm. These rural sojourns, and their contrast with the town life of Swansea, provided inspiration for much of his work, notably many short stories and radio essays and the poem Fern Hill. Although Thomas was considered too frail to actively fight in World War II, he still served the war effort by writing scripts for government propaganda.

Thomas wrote half his poems and many short stories when he lived at the family home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive; And death shall have no dominion is one of the best known works written at this address. His highly acclaimed[1] first poetry volume, 18 Poems, was published in November 1934. The publication of Deaths and Entrances in 1946 was a major turning point[2][3][4] in his career, with widespread recognition that a great poet had indeed emerged. Thomas "became a very successful orator...was extremely well-known during his life for being a versatile and dynamic speaker and he was best known for his poetry readings."[5] His immensely striking and powerful voice would captivate American audiences during his speaking tours of the early 1950s. He made over two hundred broadcasts for the BBC. His greatest single work, judged by any measure, was Under Milk Wood, a radio play featuring the characters of a fictional Welsh fishing village, Llareggub. Richard Burton starred in the first broadcast, and he was joined by Elizabeth Taylor in a subsequent film.

Marriage and children

Dylan Thomas met his wife Caitlin and "the love affair started in a Fitzrovia pub in the spring of 1936. A young Irish dancer called Caitlin Macnamara sat on a stool at the bar: blonde, blue-eyed and drinking gin. To the drunken Welsh poet who staggered towards her through the smokey fug of The Wheatsheaf, she appeared an angelic beauty. And when finally the poet reached her, eccentrically laying his head in her lap, he mumbled a proposal of marriage. This unorthodox first encounter between Dylan Thomas and his wife is a central part of the Bohemian mythology that surrounds the memory of one of Britain's best loved creative talents."[6]

In 1937, Thomas married MacNamara and had three children with her, although the marriage was tempestuous. There were affairs and rumours of affairs on both sides; Caitlin had an affair with Augustus John before, and quite possibly after, she married Thomas. It is widely suspected that Dylan's tumultuous personal life was a direct result of his frequent and heavy abuse of alcohol. In January of 1939 came the birth of their first child, a boy whom they named Llewelyn (died in 2000). He was followed in March of 1943 by a daughter, Aeronwy. A second son and third child, Colm Garan, was born in July 1949.

Alcoholism and death

Dylan's image on the pub sign of his Laugharne 'local', Browns Hotel
Dylan's image on the pub sign of his Laugharne 'local', Browns Hotel

Thomas liked to boast about his drinking. He was known to comment, "An alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do."[7] During an incident on November 3, 1953, Thomas returned to the Chelsea Hotel in New York and exclaimed "I've had 18 straight whiskies; I think this is a record."

He collapsed on November 9, 1953 at the White Horse Tavern, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan after drinking heavily while on a promotional speaking tour; Thomas later died at St. Vincent's Hospital. The primary cause of his death is recorded as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver given as contributing factors. His last words, according to Jack Heliker, were: "After 39 years, this is all I've done." Following his death, his body was brought back to Wales for burial in the village churchyard at Laugharne. His wife, Caitlin, died in 1994, and was buried alongside him. It is said that Mr. Thomas's favorite drink was the Whiskey Sour, which, on several occasions, he referred to as "jolly good nosh, this." "Nosh" is Yiddish slang for a snack.


On whom Thomas writes for: see "In My Craft Or Sullen Art:"[8]

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Here is an exemplary excerpt, from "In the White Giant's Thigh:"

Who once were a bloom of wayside brides in the hawed house and heard the lewd wooed field flow to the coming frost the scurrying furred small friars squeal in the dowse of day in the thistle aisle till the white owl crossed..."[9]

Thomas' poem And Death Shall Have no Dominion, is noted for its metaphysical sentiment and the notion that death shall never triumph over life.[10]

And death shall have no dominion
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone
They shall have stars at elbow and foot
Though they go mad they shall be sane
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
Though lovers be lost love shall not
And death shall have no dominion.

Thomas memorials

See also: Cultural depictions of Dylan Thomas
Statue of Dylan Thomas in Swansea's Maritime Quarter, unveiled by Lady Mary Wilson
Statue of Dylan Thomas in Swansea's Maritime Quarter, unveiled by Lady Mary Wilson

As would be expected of a famous poet whose best known line is "Do not go gentle into that good night", many memorials have been constructed or converted to honour Thomas. Tourists in his home town of Swansea can visit a statue in the Maritime Quarter, the Dylan Thomas Theatre, and the Dylan Thomas Centre, formerly the town's guildhall. The latter is now a literature centre, where exhibitions and lectures are held and is the setting for the city's annual Dylan Thomas Festival. Another monument to Thomas stands in Cwmdonkin Park, one of his favourite childhood haunts, close to his birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. The memorial is inscribed with the closing lines from one of his best-loved poems, Fern Hill: "Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means/Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea."[11] This is inscribed on a rock in a closed-off garden within the park. Thomas's home in Laugharne, the Boat House, is also a memorial. The Powerful Coolmore Stud have a Colt (horse) called Dylan Thomas which won the Irish Derby on the 2nd July 2006.

Several of the pubs in Swansea also have associations with the poet. One of Swansea's oldest pubs, the No Sign Bar, was a regular haunt, renamed the Wine Vaults in his story The Followers.

In 2004 a new literary prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize,[12] was created in honour of the poet. It is awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of 30.

His obituary was written by his long term friend Vernon Watkins.

A class 153 locomotive was named Dylan Thomas 1914 - 1953.

Igor Stravinsky wrote In memoriam Dylan Thomas: Dirge canons and song (1954) for tenor voice, string quartet, and four trombones, based on "Do not go gentle".

A song by a Welsh rock band, The Rambones, pays tribute to Thomas in the final line, as they sing, "I choose to go gentle, but I promise/It's with no offense to Dylan Thomas".

The cover of the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band contains a photograph of Dylan Thomas.

Alternative rock band The Slip make a reference to the poet in their 2006 song, "Airplane/Primitive" from the album Eisenhower: "It is the day before the rest of my life / And I feel like Dylan Thomas".

Musician Ben Taylor named his 2003 album "famous among the barns" as tribute to Dylan Thomas.

In the Simon & Garfunkel song "A Simple Desultory Philippic" they sing ironically: "He doesn't dig poetry. He's so unhip that / When you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, / Whoever he was".



  • Collected Poems 1934 – 1953 (London: Phoenix, 2003)
  • Selected Poems (London: Phoenix, 2001)
  • 18 Poems (1934)[OOP]

25 Poems (1936) [OOP]

The Map of Love (1939) [OOP]

The World I Breathe (1939) [OOP]

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940)

New Poems (1943) [OOP]

Deaths and Entrances (1946) [OOP]

Selected Writings of Dylan Thomas (1946) [OOP]

Twenty-Six Poems (1950) [OOP]

In Country Sleep (1952) [OOP]

Collected Poems, 1934-1952 (1952)

The Doctor and the Devils and Other Scripts (1953)

Under Milk Wood: A Play For Voices (1954)

Quite Early One Morning (1954)

Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955)

A Prospect of the Sea (1955) [OOP]

A Child's Christmas in Wales (1955)

Letters to Vernon Watkins (1957)

The Doctor and the Devils and Other Scripts

The Beach of Falesa (1964) [OOP]

Dylan Thomas - a Collection of Critical Essays: Charles B. Cox (ed.) (1966) [OOP]

The Poems of Dylan Thomas (1979)

The Collected Stories of Dylan Thomas (1984)

On the Air With Dylan Thomas: The Broadcasts

Eight Stories (1993)

Dylan Thomas: The Complete Screenplays (1995)

Rebecca's Daughters: A Film Scenario

Fern Hill: An Illustrated edition of the Dylan Thomas poem. [1998]


  • Collected Letters
  • Collected Stories
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940 Dent)
  • Under Milk Wood
  • Quite Early One Morning (posthumous)
  • Adventures In The Skin Trade And Other Stories (1955, posthumous)
  • Rebecca's Daughters (1965)
  • After the Fair
  • The Tree
  • The Dress
  • The Visitor
  • The Vest


  • The Doctor and the Devils (1964)


  • Dylan Thomas: Volume I - A Child's Christmas in Wales and Five Poems (Caedmon TC 1002 - 1952)
  • Under Milk Wood (Caedmon TC 2005 - 1953)
  • Dylan Thomas: Volume II - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1018 - 1954)
  • Dylan Thomas: gVolume III - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1043)
  • Dylan Thomas: Volume IV - Selections from the Writings of Dylan Thomas (Caedmon TC 1061)
  • Dylan Thomas: Quite early one morning and other memories (Caedmon TC 1132 - 1960)


  • Dylan Thomas: A War Films Anthology (DDHE/IWM D23702 - 2006 (DVD Region 0))

Impact on other cultural figures

  • It is rumored the young American folk singer born Robert Zimmerman, took the stage name Bob Dylan in 1960 - partly in homage to Dylan Thomas - and partly to evoke the image of a bohemian poet that the name Dylan conveyed to the college-educated baby boomer generation - because of Dylan Thomas's iconic status. In August 1962 Zimmerman changed his name legally to Robert Dylan.
  • Welsh musician John Cale has been highly influenced by the work of Dylan Thomas, even setting several of his poems (There Was a Saviour, On a Wedding Anniversary, Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night) to orchestral music on his 1989 album Words for the Dying.
  • Leeds-based Anarcho-punkband Chumbawumba have used the words to the poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" as the basis for the lyrics of the songs "Rage" from the album Anarchy and "Song for Derek Jarman" from the Homophobia EP. Both feature the same lyrical fragment, although it is re-written slightly to fit the music more easily:

"Don't go gently into the night,
Rage against the dying of the light"


  1. ^ Dylan Thomas - In The Mercy of His Means, George Tremlett, 1991, ISBN 0-09-472180-7
  2. ^ "It is difficult to convey in a few words the quality of Mr Thomas's poetry" Vita Sackville-West, The Observer
  3. ^ "Dylan Thomas is not only the best living Welsh poet, but is a great poet.." John Betjeman, The Daily Herald
  4. ^ "This book alone, in my opinion, ranks him as a major poet", W.J. Turner, The Spectator
  5. ^ http://students.washington.edu/mohrmann/PotW/102997potw.html
  6. ^ http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1957289,00.html
  7. ^ http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/dylan_thomas/quotes
  8. ^ http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/dylan_thomas/poems/11413
  9. ^ http://www.undermilkwood.net/poetry_whitegiantsthigh.html
  10. ^ http://www.internal.org/view_poem.phtml?poemID=277
  11. ^ http://www.bigeye.com/fernhill.htm
  12. ^ http://www.thedylanthomasprize.com/
  • Dylan Thomas on Poets.org Biography, poems, audio clips, and essays
  • "The Mumbles", a village frequented by Thomas
  • The city of Swansea's site on Thomas
  • BBC Wales' Dylan Thomas site
  • The Dylan Thomas Theatre Company Swansea
  • French Audio Book (mp3) from Under Milk Wood, translated in French by JB.Brunius
  • "The pub and the hellraiser: The poet, the actor, their pub, a furore" The Independent online edition 30 November 2005
  • BBC Wales biography of Caitlin
  • Biography (obituary) of son Llewelyn, from Guardian Unlimited (2000)
  • Guardian article about two new films of Caitlin's life
  • Living with Legends: Hotel Chelsea blog
  • The Last Day of Dylan Thomas by Ring Joid
  • Short biography plus local pictures and maps from Swansea and Laugharne
  • The official Dylan Thomas bookshop
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