Dylan Thomas

Start Your Free Trial

Download Dylan Thomas Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Poetry Criticism)

Dylan Thomas 1914-1953

Welsh poet, short story writer, dramatist, journalist, and scriptwriter.

The following entry presents criticism from 1967 to 2000 on Thomas's life and works. For more criticism prior to 1987, see PC, Volume 2.

Although Thomas wrote short stories and film scripts in addition to poetry, he is best remembered today for his verse and his reputation as a hard-drinking philanderer whose alcoholism precipitated his early death at the age of 39. Among Thomas's most famous poems are “Fern Hill,” “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,” and “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”

Biographical Information

Born on October 27, 1914, in a middle-class area of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Wales, Dylan Marlais Thomas was the second child of David John (D. J.) Thomas, an English teacher at the local grammar school, and Florence Williams Thomas; his sister Nancy was nine years older. As a child, Thomas appears to have been overindulged by his mother and intimidated by his father, who was himself a frustrated poet. Thomas received his formal education at Swansea Grammar School, which he attended from 1925 to 1931, although he often claimed that he learned more in his father's library, which included an impressive collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry. While at Swansea, he began writing poetry and publishing it in the school magazine, which he also helped edit. From the time Thomas left school in 1931 until he went to London in 1934, he produced more verse, much of it highly original, than during any other three-year period in his life. Familiar locations, such as the family home at No. 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the neighborhood park, and his uncle's farm Fernhill, provided the inspiration, as well as the settings, for many of Thomas's poems. During these years, too, Thomas began drinking, smoking, and telling stories—as part of the public persona he was rather self-consciously developing.

In London, Thomas continued writing poetry; his work was published in a variety of periodicals, including T. S. Eliot's Criterion and Victor Neuburg's “Poet's Corner” in the newspaper Sunday Referee. His first collection of poetry, Eighteen Poems, was published in December of 1934. During the next few years, Thomas became a member of London's bohemian community, living with three artist friends and solidifying his reputation as a drinker and a drifter whose personal habits were unhygienic at best and disgusting at worst. In 1937, Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara, a writer and dancer; the couple had two sons, Llewellyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. During the early years of their marriage, the Thomases divided their time between London and Laugharne, and between his parents' home in Swansea and her mother's home in Hampshire. When World War II began, Thomas was determined to avoid serving in the armed forces; he was declared medically unfit, which saved him the necessity of filing for conscientious objector status. Always short of money during the war years, Thomas endured the bombing to write war documentary scripts for Strand Films in London. He continued to produce poetry and prose reminiscences of his childhood, and to do poetry readings for the BBC. After the war, Thomas tried to secure regular employment with the BBC and with various film companies, but was hindered by his reputation as a hard drinker. In 1949, Thomas was invited by John Malcolm Brinnin to New York to give a series of poetry readings in the city and at various American universities. His 1950 tour, and those that followed in 1952 and 1953, were marked by drunkenness, outrageous behavior, and in some cases, brilliant readings. Although Thomas intended to use the profits from his readings in America to pay his mounting debts at home, he squandered most of his earnings before returning to Wales. Thomas died at the age of 39 in New York on November 9, 1953, of pneumonia brought on by alcoholism.

Major Works

Thomas began publishing...

(The entire section is 110,999 words.)