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Dylan Thomas: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

Dylan Thomas, Wales' most famous poet, continues to be taught in schools and read in homes, even after his premature death. Read about what makes his life and poetry so original.

Biography

Dylan Thomas, world-renowned poet, was born in South Wales on October 27, 1914. Known as a very overanxious child, Thomas stayed away from people and instead surrounded himself with books. He ignored his school studies in order to focus on his own.

Honorable Plaque now found at the birth home of Dylan Thomas in Wales
Dylan Thomas Plaque

At age 16, Thomas left school to become a junior reporter for a local paper. After only a few years, however, he realized his need to concentrate on poetry and quit to write full time.

Thomas published his first book at 20 years old, after winning a poetry contest in 1934. Now living in London, Thomas' poetry quickly gained notoriety, and to cope with the stress of the newfound spotlight, he began drinking heavily. His drinking would only worsen and would eventually be the death of him.

At 22, Thomas started an affair with Caitlin Macnamara, the mistress of a famous painter, and married her in 1937. Their marriage was known to be penniless, unstable, and at times destructive. In the 1940s, the air raids of World War II forced the couple to leave the city life and move back to the safety of Wales. There, Thomas would put his lyrical skills to a higher-paying use, teaming up with BBC radio shows as a scriptwriter. He participated in over one hundred radio broadcasts for the next five years, while experimenting with some ideas he would incorporate into his future writing.

Thomas moved to Italy with a traveling scholarship awarded to him by the Society of Authors. There he focused on his poetry and wrote another collection, which houses his most famous poem 'Do not go gentle into that good night'.

In 1950, Thomas traveled to America on tour. His dramatic readings and drunken reputation made him very popular in the public eye. During his fourth tour in 1953, his drinking got in the way for the last time. He collapsed while visiting New York after an extended drinking binge and died a few days later in a local hospital. He was 39 years old.

Photograph of the gravesite of Dylan Thomas in Wales
Dylan Thomas gravesite

Poetry

Thomas' poetry is driven by emotion rather than thought, which seemed to separate him from the world-famous poets of his time. In fact, many times his poems seemed to dive into obscure and personal issues. While his contemporaries were writing about social issues, politics, and intellect, Thomas cared more about playing with words (their meaning and sounds), and how to embrace emotional intensity. Because of this, many of his poems contain such poetic devices like alliteration and rhymes.

Thomas' poetry remains famous because of its originality. Aside from being a Welsh poet who wrote entirely in English, his work was (and still is) hard for critics to categorize. He refused any association with other literary groups, and his poetry never seemed to involve current or socially popular themes.

Do Not Go Gentle

One of Thomas' more famous poems would come out of In Country Sleep, And Other Poems (1952). The popular villanelle 'Do not go gentle into that good night' is still commonly taught in schools because of its remarkable form and universal themes. Written for his dying father, the poem seeks to understand the unavoidable cycle of life and death. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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