Dylan Thomas: “After 39 years, this is all I’ve done.”

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  (from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”)

As we just began reading Dylan Thomas today, I wanted to take a closer look at Thomas and his legacy, especially in light of the article we read for class regarding Thomas’ critical reception. Thomas was, as several articles report, a “troubled” man, known for drinking heavily, being violent, and having frequent affairs. His wife Caitlin wrote in her memoirs after his death, that their marriage had been “not a love story proper; it was more of a drink story.”


Caitlin is a fascinating story in herself– I found this photo of her posing naked for a photographer in one of the articles I read about Thomas.

Thomas died young (at the age of 39, just over 60 years ago) of pneumonia, brain swelling, and a fatty liver, never to change his image from that of the wreckful and reckless poet. And with Thomas living well into the 20th century, the media coverage of his life and death could hardly be separated from his works, as we have heard in class.

Although it is unclear whether in spite of or because of Thomas’ self-destructive behaviors, Thomas’s poetic legacy is profound, and persists well into today. Although some critics may have found themselves unable to escape from the idea of Thomas as a dangerous, foolish, immature poet, popular support for “Thomas-the-poet” in Wales and among British/American artists has been strong, and has overwhelmingly continued to the present. US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were also noted to be fans of Thomas’ work; Carter helped to open the Dylan Thomas Center, a museum in Swansea, the Welsh town where Thomas was born.
Dylan or Thomas? Thomas or Dylan?

Dylan or Thomas? Thomas or Dylan?

The article we read for class mentioned that the American singer Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) took his stage name from Thomas, and as of 2012 was considering headlining at a concert in Thomas’s memory in Swansea this year. (Take a quiz on Dylan and Thomas here— it’s harder than it looks!)
From an interview with Paul McCartney (Beatles frontman), it appears that John Lennon also owes much of his career to Thomas’s influence– McCartney believed Thomas was the reason Lennon started writing.
It’s particularly interesting to note that Thomas had such an effect on musicians, especially because it was mentioned in class today that his poetry is particularly musical in nature. Filmmakers, too, have found inspiration in Thomas, with the 2008 movie The Edge of Love starring Matthew Rhys, Sienna Miller, and Keira Knightley being just the latest in a slew of movies on the life and works of Thomas.
Wales, too, has been affected fundamentally by Thomas and his poetry. Beyond the museum in Thomas’ hometown, the homeland of the great poet recognizes his effect through awards, ceremonies, and other memorials. This year, 2014, is the 100-year anniversary of Thomas’ birth (the 27th of October, to be specific!). It’s already a huge to-do, with an entire website devoted to chronicling the events for the year. His name is also on a young writers’ prize, which has helped to provide the financial springboard for writers such as Rachel Trezise, Maggie Shipstead, and Nam Le.
Thomas with his mother, wife, and three children

Thomas with his mother, wife, and three children

Despite his wild habits, Thomas had a family with Caitlin, with three children, all of whom died in the past 15 years. Thomas’ granddaughter Hannah Ellis Thomas (child of Colm, the youngest of Thomas’ three children) is alive today, and is an integral part of the centennial celebration committee in Swansea. Take a look at this incredible view from Thomas’ home in Wales.
The title of this post is reportedly Thomas’ final words. I think it’s clear to anyone who isn’t an immediate critic of his style that Thomas accomplished much more post-mortem than he expected in life. The fascination with his life may play a role in his characterization as a poet, but his ability to write beautiful and multi-layered, complex creations has endured, challenging young artists of all generations to think about poems differently.
[Additionally, for all people who admire a good title, Thomas also wrote a collection of short story-like memoirs entitled The Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog. You can buy it on Amazon.]