Who Was Dylan Thomas?
Welshman Dylan Thomas was a reporter and prominent writer in the early 20th century. His most famous poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," was published in 1952, but his reputation was solidified years earlier. Thomas' prose includes Under Milk Wood (1954) and A Child's Christmas in Wales (1955). Thomas was in high demand for his animated readings, but debt and heavy drinking took their toll, and he died in New York City while on tour in 1953, at age 39.
Dylan Marlais Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, in Swansea, Wales. When he was around 16 years old, he began copying his early poems into what would become known as his notebooks—a practice that continued until 1934, and contributed to several of his first collections (beginning with 18 Poems, published in 1934).
In 1931, at the age of 16, Thomas left school to become a junior reporter at the South Wales Daily Post. His position with the Post didn't last long, though, as he quit in December 1932 and turned his attention away from journalism and back to poetry, now a full-time pursuit. Remarkably, about two-thirds of Thomas' oeuvre is from his late teens.
Thomas soon found success. His poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" was published in 1933 in the New English Weekly, marking his first international publication. The event sent Thomas to England in the summer of 1933 to meet with editors of various English literary magazines. He moved to London shortly thereafter and stayed for 10 years.
The following year, Thomas saw his work appear for the first time in book form: "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines" was published as an entry in The Year's Poetry in the spring of 1934, and his first collection, 18 Poems, was published that December. His first published efforts brought Thomas critical praise and honors, including the 1934 Poet's Corner Prize. 18 Poems drew heavily from the notebooks of collected poems that Thomas wrote as a youth, and it would set off a string of notebook-inspired works such as Twenty Five Poems (1936), The Map of Love (1939) and Deaths and Entrances (1946). This period also marked the beginning of the poet's lifelong struggle with alcohol abuse.
Thomas' star rose in the literary world, and his path was unique. Unlike other popular poets of his day, he shied away from tackling intellectual and social issues, instead producing work reminiscent of the Romantic period, with an emotionally charged lyrical approach.
Marriage, Later Years and Death
Thomas married Caitlin Macnamara in 1937, and the couple went on to have two sons and a daughter. However, while his fame was rising in literary circles, his business sense was lacking, so he and his family lived in relative poverty. To support his family, Thomas worked for the BBC and as a film scriptwriter during World War II (he was exempted from fighting due to a lung condition), but he continued to struggle financially—unable even to keep up with the taxes that he owed.
Thomas began doing reading tours to bring in income, and his readings were more like flamboyant performances than staid poetic events. He toured the United States four times, with his last appearance taking place at the City College of New York in October 1953. A few days later, after a long drinking bout at Manhattan's White Horse Tavern, Thomas collapsed at the Chelsea Hotel. He died in a New York City hospital not long after, on November 9, 1953, at the age of 39. Three causes of death were given during Thomas's postmortem examination: pneumonia, swelling of the brain and a fatty liver.
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