Dylan Thomas: Still a monumental figure 100 years after birth…a special report
A century after his birth and six decades after his death, legends still haunt the tragic life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose prolific writing helped knock down the walls between popular literature and that of the elites.
Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”, the “play for voices”, Under Milk Wood, and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death in New York. In his later life he acquired a reputation, which he encouraged, as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”.
Thomas was organising lucrative trans-Atlantic tours by the early 1950s, a decade before The Beatles landed in the US, and basking in fame greater than that of music stars in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Hundreds of people would crowd theatres to listen to Thomas’s histrionic declamations during trips the poet spiced up with licentious soirees courted by the “in” intellectuals and artists of the time.
“He was the living personification of the ‘rock ‘n roll’ poet,” his granddaughter, Hanna Ellis, told Spanish news agency Efe.
Ellis grew up listening to tales about the poet’s bohemian lifestyle and ethylic excesses, often false or exaggerated, which nurtured his fame at the time but have come to cloud his literary legacy.
Beyond the myth that has Thomas drinking or writing letters begging for money all the time, the Welsh author left a body of work comprising more than 600 pages of radio and television scripts, 20 short stories and 450 poems.
“Thirty of those poems are among the best of the era,” John Goodby, a professor of English at the Welsh University of Swansea, said.
“To produce all that in only 20 years, he had to be sober and work hard a good deal of the time as, in fact, he did,” Goodby, editor of “Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas” (Widenfield & Nicholson), said.
“His writing is much more interesting than his life if people only learned to read through the legend,” Goodby said.
Thomas, who died at 37 in New York in 1953 due to complications of pneumonia, was an inspiration for artists such as John Lennon and Robert Zimmerman, who took the stage name Bob Dylan to highlight that influence, and for the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, now the owner of part of the Welsh poet’s literary rights.
To celebrate Thomas’s centennial Monday, the Welsh government has organised several events aimed at rehabilitating the image of a poet who had a conflicted relationship with Wales.