Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914. He had a sister, Nancy, older than he by some eight years. Thomas spoke no Welsh, although both of his parents had spoken Welsh in their childhood homes. Thomas’s father had written poetry in his youth; he was a schoolmaster, an atheist, and had deliberately rejected the Welsh language. Thomas attended the Swansea grammar school. When he was seventeen, he became an apprentice reporter and proofreader for the South Wales Daily Post, and he did not attend a university. He began to publish his first poems in newspapers in the early 1930’s. He was also an amateur actor with the Swansea Little Theatre. (A friend and fellow actor, Malcolm Graham, has written, “The more fantastic the part, the better Dylan was.”) It was during these years that Thomas’s voice became strong and acquired the resonance that was to make him as famous as his poetry.
In 1934, Thomas moved to London, and in that year, his first collection, Eighteen Poems, was published. In 1937, Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara, and their first child, Lewelyn, was born in 1939. After the outbreak of World War II, Thomas tried to enlist for military service but was rejected. His second child, Aeron, was born in 1943. The family spent the years from 1940 to 1945 living in or near London, Thomas working on scenarios for documentary films. His first radio broadcast for the British Broadcasting Corporation had been made in 1937,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Dylan Marlais Thomas’s father, John David Thomas, was an embittered schoolmaster, emotionally remote from his son, but he possessed a fine library of contemporary fiction and poetry in which his son was free to read. His father’s distance and unhappiness may have made Thomas more susceptible to the indulgences of his mother, Florence Williams Thomas. It is her family who appears in Thomas’s work as the chapel-going farmers, and it is her oldest sister whose husband owned the farm near Llangain where the young Thomas often spent summer vacations. Thomas also had a sister, Nancy, nine years older than he. The family home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, was across the street from the park which sometimes appears in his poems (“The Hunchback in the Park,” for example). Likewise the beautiful Gower peninsula and his aunt’s farm appeared in his adult work as subjects for his poetry and memoirs (most notably in “Fern Hill”). Thomas’s early life in Wales furnished him with material that surfaced in his work for the rest of his life.
Thomas was a lackadaisical student at Swansea Grammar School. Talented in English, he edited the school magazine while he was there, and he began to keep the notebooks that reveal his early attempts to form his style, but he gave little attention to subjects that did not interest him. It was at school that he began his friendship with Dan Jones with whom he composed poems and played elaborate word games. In adulthood,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Dylan Marlais Thomas is firmly identified in many minds as the Welsh poet par excellence, as the voice of modern Wales speaking in the bardic tradition of The Mabinogion (c. twelfth and thirteenth centuries) and in the Renaissance tradition of William Shakespeare’s mystic, Owen Glendower. In fact, Thomas’s poetry is scarcely Welsh at all, although the poet loved Wales. Biographers have noted that Thomas’s life and times have only a limited relevance to his poetry, and what influence there is, is transformed into a personal inner world. “Fern Hill,” “Over Sir John’s Hill,” and a few other poems are set in the countryside and seashore that Thomas knew, and “Hold Hand, These Ancient Minutes in the Cuckoo’s Month” speaks accurately of the brutality of the Welsh winter and spring, but rarely does Thomas’s poetry treat in any serious way either the real or mythical history and countryside of Wales, the realities of the depressed industrial Wales he knew as an adolescent, or the postwar Wales he returned to after the horrors of the London bombing or the triumph of the American tours. The rough and intimate life of the family and village he treats so graphically in other genres seems to lie outside his idea of poetic fitness.
Thomas was born and reared in Swansea, in southern Wales, east by a few miles from Carmarthen and its environs, Fern Hill and Laugharne, which were to play such an important part in his personal life. Swansea, urban and industrial, contrasts strongly with the idyllic Carmarthenshire. Thomas’s immediate family consisted of his father, David John Thomas; his mother, Florence Thomas (née Williams); and an older sister, Nancy. He was liberally supplied with aunts, uncles, and cousins of all sorts, and shared the usual family closeness of the Welsh, though his wife, Caitlin, recorded in Leftover Life to Kill (1957) that he tried hard but unsuccessfully to free himself from its puritanical background.
Thomas’s paternal grandfather was, among a number of other vocations, a poet, not especially distinguished, who took for himself the bardic name “Gwilym Marles.” “Gwilym” is William and “Marles” was taken from the Welsh stream Marlais, which, in its proper spelling, later became Thomas’s middle name. Thomas’s father had poetic ambitions of his own and was determined that his son should have his chance to become a poet. Disappointed in his hope for a distinguished career in education, he had settled with some lasting bitterness for a schoolmastership in the south of Wales. Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” furnishes some measure of his bitterness at his father’s lingering death from cancer and of the son’s reciprocation of the father’s love.
Thomas’s school days were unusual only in that he began to write poetry early. His close friend in grammar school was Daniel Jones, who was later to edit The Poems of Dylan Thomas. They wrote more than two hundred poems together, each contributing alternate lines—Jones odd, Thomas even.
Thomas left school in 1931 and worked until 1932 for the South Wales Daily Post. The period of his most intense activity as a poet had already begun in 1930 and was to extend to 1934. Daniel Jones calculated that during this period Thomas’s output was four times greater than that of the last nineteen years of his life. Ralph Maud edited the four so-called Buffalo Notebooks, which contain working drafts of Thomas’s poems from 1930 to August, 1933—except for the period of July, 1932, to January, 1933—publishing them, with other manuscript material, in Poet in the Making: The Notebooks of Dylan Thomas (1968). Maud observed that Thomas came to think of these poems as a sort of mine of early drafts and drew on them, generally with some revision, for a number of poems in Twenty-five Poems; he continued to do so until the notebooks were purchased in 1941 by the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Thomas’s last two years in Swansea, 1932 to 1934, foreshadowed the importance of the theater in his life. Thomas was actively interested in acting and playwriting while he was still in school, then joined a community theater group, the Mumbles Stage Society. By all accounts, Thomas rapidly became a competent actor, but the bohemianism that was to mar his personal life had already become established and caused his expulsion from the group.
In 1933, Thomas began to place poems in British papers and magazines that had more than local circulation. In September, 1933, he began a correspondence with the future novelist Pamela Hanford Johnson, who eventually married another novelist, C. P. Snow. The correspondence ripened into a friendship, which in turn became a love affair after visits in...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dylan Marlais Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, in the small port city of Swansea, on the South Wales coast across the Bristol Channel from Devonshire. His father, David John Thomas, was a frustrated intellectual who resented the position that he held as a local schoolmaster, which he believed was incompatible with the life of a cultivated literary gentleman. His mother, Florence Williams Thomas, was a deacon’s daughter. She had no interest in literature, but she was extremely devoted to her second child, Dylan. The family lived in a relatively genteel neighborhood when Thomas was born, near the hills and rolling farm country that he was to celebrate in poems such as “Fern Hill” and “Poem in October,” and within sight...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Even those writers who have strongly supported Dylan Thomas’s work have had their reservations about his accomplishments. Yet the gradual recession of the legend of the wild bard into time and the postmodern regard for the possibilities of meaning in language beyond traditional conceptions of coherence have given Thomas’s work an enduring appeal beyond many original estimates. His great love of language and his ear for the musical, rhythmic power of words produced a body of work that has solidified his stature in the history of English literature.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Dylan Marlais Thomas, born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914, is widely considered to be the greatest British poet of his generation. In addition to poetry, he wrote a famous radio play (Under Milk Wood), an autobiography, and highly imaginative short stories as well as screenplays and essays. He gained celebrity in Great Britain for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio broadcasts of his and other poets’ works and received international acclaim for his public readings in the United States, where he died on November 9, 1953, of alcohol abuse and related causes.
Though Thomas’s total poetic output is modest,...
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