“When one burns one’s bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.”
Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 October 27 in Swansea. His father was an English Literature professor at the local school. Thomas was a neurotic and sickly child. He of course excelled in English and reading due to the fact that his father recited Shakespeare to him before he could read, but he was a rather undistinguished school pupil and neglected other subjects. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. He left after 18 months but continued to work as a freelance journalist for several years during which time he also decided to concentrate on his poetry full-time. It was at this period that Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems.
In 1934 when Thomas was 20 he moved to London and published an anthology of poems entitled . It was noted for its exceptional visionary qualities. Unlike his contemporaries like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden who focused on exhibiting social and intellectual issues, he opted for more intense lyricism and highly charged emotions. The volume won the Poets’ Corner book prize. This showered him with admirers from the London poetry world.
Two years later Thomas met a 18 year old blonde-haired, blue-eyed dancer of Irish descent in a pub. At the time she was the mistress of a painter named Augustus John. Thomas and CaitlinMacnamara engaged in an affair. on 11 July 1937 they married at the register office in Penzance. Despite the passionate love letters Thomas wrote to his wife,the marriage was turbulent, rumors of both Thomas and Macnamara were having multiple affairs. Their first child, Llewelyn Edouaurd, was born 30 January 1939.
In 1940 Thomas served as an anti-aircraft gunner but due to an ailment referred to as “an unreliable lung” he eventually managed to be classified Grade lll, which meant that he would be among the last to be called up for service. In 1941 the Thomases moved to London to find employment in the film industry, he worked with strand Films. In 1944 they left London to avoid the air raids, they eventually settled at Laugharne, in the boat house where Thomas would write many of his later poems.
In 1950 he embarked on the first of a number of tours of the USA. During these tours Thomas was invited to many parties and functions and often became drunk – going out of his way to shock people. Thomas drank before some of his readings, though it is argued he may have pretended to be more affected by it than he actually was.
Thomas’s last collection Collected Poems, 1934–1952, published when he was 38., One critic declared that “Thomas is the greatest living poet in the English language”.
Thomas arrived in New York on 20 October 1953 to undertake another tour of poetry reading and talks. He was ill and complained of chest trouble and gout . He was depressed about the trip and his health was poor. On 5 November, Thomas’s breathing became more difficult and his face turned blue. An ambulance was summoned.
Thomas was admitted to the emergency ward. He was comatose. Caitlin flew to America the following day and was taken to the hospital. Her reported first words were, “Is the bloody man dead yet?“
Thomas died at noon on 9 November. A post mortem gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver as contributing factors.
In his “ Poem in October” written on his thirtieth birthday he honours and remembers the child he once was :
“ And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s forgotten mornings……where a boy…..whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”
In the poem’s last verse, he writes
“And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.” (iii)
The lines remind us that nature can powerfully evoke that within us which never ages, which rejoices in being alive, and is powerfully connected to the endless cycle of birth, maturation, decline, death…
POEM IN OCTOBER
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
In the still sleeping town and set forth.My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.