Born in 1914 to an English father and a Welsh mother, Dylan Thomas wrote effusive lyric poems with diction like a wild and stormy sea - just try this on in your mouth:
Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies;
His poems were introspective and yet sang loudly of water and of death, they were full of religious imagery and passages like biblical scripture, yet they were not exactly religious. He's as well known for his many poems like Do not go gentle into that good night as he is for Under Milkwood, a radio play, and a volume of short stories Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Thomas married Caitlin McNamarra; they had three children and a were reputed to have a passionate but tempestuous marriage. He had a beautiful speaking voice and did many readings for the BBC as well as conducting reading tours. A wild bohemian and a prodigious drinker, it was on one of these tours in New York City that Thomas died in 1953 after collapsing at The White Horse Tavern, a victim of his drinking. His last words were reported to have been "After 39 years, this is all I've done."
More on his life and work here, here, and here. And, importantly, here is his workspace:
And now, some of his poems.
Deaths and Entrances
On almost the incendiary eve
Of several near deaths,
When one at the great least of your best loved
And always known must leave
Lions and fires of his flying breath,
Of your immortal friends
Who'd raise the organs of the counted dust
To shoot and sing your praise,
One who called deepest down shall hold his peace
That cannot sink or cease
Endlessly to his wound
In many married London's estranging grief.
On almost the incendiary eve
When at your lips and keys,
Locking, unlocking, the murdered strangers weave,
One who is most unknown,
Your polestar neighbour, sun of another street,
Will dive up to his tears.
He'll bathe his raining blood in the male sea
Who strode for your own dead
And wind his globe out of your water thread
And load the throats of shells
With every cry since light
Flashed first across his thunderclapping eyes.
On almost the incendiary eve
Of deaths and entrances,
When near and strange wounded on London's waves
Have sought your single grave,
One enemy, of many, who knows well
Your heart is luminous
In the watched dark, quivereing through locks and caves,
Will pull the thunderbolts
To shut the sun, plunge, mount your darkened keys
And sear just riders back,
Until that one loved least
Looms the last Samson of your zodiac.
In My Craft or Sullen Art
In my craft or sullen art
Exercise in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their driefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
The Hunchback in The Park
The hunchback in the park
A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water for the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.
Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound
Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.
And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors
Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains
All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lak
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.
Where Once the Waters of Your Face
Where once the waters of your face
Spun to my screws, your dry ghost blows,
The dead turns up its eye;
Where once the mermen through your ice
Pushed up their hair, the dry wind steers
Through salt and root and roe.
Where once your green knots sank their splice
Into the tided cord, there goes
The green unraveller,
His scissors oiled, his knife hung loose
To cut the channels at their source
And lay the wet fruits low.
Invisible, your clocking tides
Break on the lovebeds of the weeds;
The weed of love's left dry;
There round about your stones the shades
Of children go who, from their voids,
Cry to the dolphined sea.
Dry as a tomb, your coloured lids
Shall not be latched while magic glides
Sage on the earth and sky;
There shall be corals in your beds,
There shall be serpents in your tides,
Till all our sea-faiths die.
Wow. Such beautiful poetry and powerful imagery. Thanks for bringing Dylan back to my memory. I always enjoy visiting your site. I have a link to it on my blog:
And then of course there were his reported last words:
"I've just had 18 whiskeys. I think that's the record."
Thanks, Timothy - glad you've enjoyed the poetry. I'll go and check out your site as well.
Sheila - How right he was.
Wow. Much has been made of "Do not go gentle" but I never sought out any of Thomas' poetry...but damn that last poem sent me on a loop. Anything to do with water, myth and religion is ambrosia for me -- so now I'll have to buy his books, of course. Thanks so much for profiling him!
Imani - My pleasure - his stuff is so song-like and so juicy.
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