A Life Lived
Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales on October 27, 1914.
The name Dylan comes from the Mabinogion, a collection of 11 mediaeval Welsh tales. The word means "sea". In the tale Math,
the son of Mathonwy, challenges Aranrhod, his niece who claims to be a virgin, to step over his magic wand.
"Arianrhod stepped over the wand, and with that
step she dropped a sturdy boy with thick yellow hair; the boy gave a loud cry, and with that cry she made her way for the
"Well," said Math, "I will arrange for the baptism of this
one......and I will call him Dylan."
The boy was baptized,
whereupon he immediately made for the sea, and when he came to the sea he took on its nature and swam as well as the best
fish. He was called Dylan (sea) son of Ton (wave), for no wave ever broke beneath him."
Marlais is the name of a stream which runs from the hills near the birthplace
of Dylan Thomas' great uncle Gwilym Marles Thomas. Marles is a variation of the name Marlais. Dylan Thomas' sister Nancy also
bore a variation of the name Marles.
In November 1934 he moved to London and on the 18th December of that year his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems
appeared to critical acclaim. Dylan Thomas had just turned 20 when this volume of poetry was released. He had written nearly
30 poems in late 1933 and early 1934, of which 13 were published in this volume. Between May and October 1934, he completed
another five for inclusion in the book. Dylan Thomas was an incredibly conscientious wordsmith, as shown by this description
by his long-time friend Vernon Watkins:
"....the composition of his poetry, for which he used separate work sheets and would spend sometimes several days on a single
line, while the poem was built up phrase by phrase, at glacier like speed."
In April of 1936 he met Caitlin MacNamara, and in September his
second volume of poetry Twenty-five Poems was released. In July 1937 Dylan and Caitlin were married and in 1938, they
moved to Laugharne, Wales.
Their first child, Llewelyn Edouard Thomas was born in January
1939. The Map of Love was published in August 1939 and The World I Breathe was published in December 1939, in
the United States. In April 1940 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog was published and in September, Dylan began working for Strand Films which he continued for the duration of World War II.
a second child,a girl, Aeronwyn Bryn Thomas, was born
in March 1943. Deaths and Entrances was published in 1946. In 1949 Dylan and Caitlin's third child, Colm
Garan Hart Thomas was born. In 1952, Collected Poems, 1934-1952 became the last book published in his life time. He also published many short
stories, wrote filmscripts, broadcast stories and talks, did a series of lecture tours in the United States and wrote Under Milkwood, the radio play.
During his fourth lecture tour of the United States in 1953, (which
he made under a doctor's care) and a few days after his 39th birthday, he collapsed in his New York City hotel. He died on
November 9th, 1953 at St Vincents Hospital, in New York City. His body was sent back to Laugharne, Wales, where his grave
is marked by a simple wooden cross.
His unfinished novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade, was originally rejected by his London publisher for not being "the great, serious
autobiographical work to which they had looked forward so long." The novel itself is the incredibly funny story of a young
man, Samuel Bennet, who moves to London, after metaphorically (and nearly literally) burning his bridges behind him. In the
few extant chapters, Samuel gets involved in a series of inextricable situations, beginning with getting a finger permanently
stuck inside of a Bass Ale bottle. The title, in typically Dylan Thomas fashion refers, of course, to the young man's trading
one life for another, a metaphoric trading of skins. In correspondence with Vernon Watkins, he describes the work-in-progress
"a mixture of Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Kafka, Beachcomber, and good old 3-adjectives-a-penny belly-churning
Thomas, the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive."
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was
prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green
and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the
foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house,
the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were
bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning
place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and
happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at
my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always
Nor that riding to sleep
hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy
in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.