The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas Essay - Critical Essays

Dylan Thomas

The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas

In these letters, we see the life of this troubled genius unfold before us, providing a rare glimpse into the creative mind and imagination. Read in conjunction with Ferris’ DYLAN THOMAS: A BIOGRAPHY, THE COLLECTED LETTERS fleshes in the portrait of the artist as an honest, possessed, and brilliant young man.

In November of 1953, Dylan Thomas died having lived the life he so consciously set out to live: at the edge of sanity, sobriety, and poverty, and always “mad with words.” Exhausted, ill, and drinking heavily, Thomas gave his last public reading -- performance is a better word, for Thomas never merely read his work--at City College of New York on October 29, 1953. Six days later, Thomas was injected with a half-grain of morphine to relieve the pain of alcoholism, amounting, in essence, to an overdose. Falling into a coma from which he never awakened, Thomas died four days later at the age of thirty-nine.

According to Ferris, the letters trace the progress of Thomas’ journey “out of the darkness of adolescence, and then a return to a worse darkness as middle age approached and his creative powers faltered.” Emerging from the letters is a portrait of the artist as self-conscious writer and poet-performer, intent from the start to explore the dark side of his existence and flirt with madness. Especially interesting and important in this collection are the previously uncollected love letters to his wife, Caitlin.

What we have in these letters, then, as we never have had before, is the fully drawn portrait of the artist in all of his human guises, strengths, and frailties. The portrait is drawn vivid, bawdy, and human, underneath which lies the impassioned lover and artist who rushed headlong into life and death.