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Dylan Thomas
A black and white photo of Thomas in a book shop, he is wearing a suit with a white spotted bow tie.
Thomas at the Gotham Book Mart,
in New York City, 1952
Born Dylan Marlais Thomas
(1914-10-27)27 October 1914
Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom
Died 9 November 1953(1953-11-09) (aged 39)
Greenwich Village, New York City, United States
Resting place Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Occupation Poet and writer
Literary movement Modernism
Caitlin Macnamara
(m. 1937)
Children Llewelyn Edouard Thomas (1939–2000)
Aeronwy Bryn Thomas (1943–2009)
Colm Garan Hart Thomas (1949–2012)
Maritime Quarter, Swansea - - 220934
Statue of Dylan Thomas in Swansea

Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet. He was born in the town of Swansea. He published his first book of poetry in 1932. In addition to writing poetry, he was an excellent speaker. He toured the United Kingdom and the United States reciting his poems. He wrote works for radio including "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and "Under Milk Wood" Thomas is one of the famous people who appears on the cover of The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Life and Career

Early life

Dylan thomas birthplace
5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, birthplace of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas was born on 27 October 1914 in Swansea, the son of Florence Hannah (née Williams; 1882–1958), a seamstress, and David John Thomas (1876–1952), a teacher. His father had a first-class honours degree in English from University College, Aberystwyth and ambitions to rise above his position teaching English literature at the local grammar school. Thomas had one sibling, Nancy Marles (1906–1953), who was eight years his senior. The children spoke only English, though their parents were bilingual in English and Welsh, and David Thomas gave Welsh lessons at home.

Thomas had bronchitis and asthma in childhood and struggled with these throughout his life. Thomas' formal education began at Mrs Hole's dame school, a private school on Mirador Crescent, a few streets away from his home.

In October 1925, Thomas enrolled at Swansea Grammar School for boys, in Mount Pleasant, where his father taught English. He was a pupil preferred reading. In his first year one of his poems was published in the school's magazine, and before he left he became its editor. During his final school years he began writing poetry in notebooks. In June 1928 Thomas won the school's mile race, held at St. Helen's Ground; he carried a newspaper photograph of his victory with him until his death. In 1931, when he was 16, Thomas left school to become a reporter for the South Wales Daily Post, only to leave 18 months later. Thomas continued to work as a freelance journalist for several years, during which time he continued to add to his notebooks, amassing 200 poems in four books between 1930 and 1934. Of the 90 poems he published, half were written during these years.


Dylan Thomas portrait
Portrait of Dylan Thomas by Italian artist Gianpiero Actis

Thomas was a teenager when many of the poems for which he became famous were published: "And death shall have no dominion", "Before I Knocked" and "The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower". "And death shall have no dominion" appeared in the New English Weekly in May 1933. When "Light breaks where no sun shines" appeared in The Listener in 1934, it caught the attention of three senior figures in literary London, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Grigson and Stephen Spender. They contacted Thomas and his first poetry volume, 18 Poems, was published in December 1934. The volume was critically acclaimed and won a contest run by the Sunday Referee, netting him new admirers from the London poetry world, including Edith Sitwell and Edwin Muir. The anthology was published by Fortune Press, in part a vanity publisher that did not pay its writers and expected them to buy a certain number of copies themselves. A similar arrangement was used by other new authors including Philip Larkin. In September 1935, Thomas met Vernon Watkins, thus beginning a lifelong friendship. Thomas introduced Watkins, working at Lloyds Bank at the time, to his friends, now known as The Kardomah Gang. In December 1935 Thomas contributed the poem "The Hand That Signed the Paper" to Issue 18 of the bi-monthly New Verse. In 1936, his next collection Twenty-five Poems, published by J. M. Dent, also received much critical praise. In all, he wrote half his poems while living at Cwmdonkin Drive before moving to London. It was the time that Thomas's reputation for heavy drinking developed.

In early 1936, Thomas met Caitlin Macnamara (1913–1994), a 22-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed dancer of Irish descent. They met in The Wheatsheaf pub on Rathbone Place in London's West End where Thomas proposed. They married at the register office in Penzance, Cornwall, on 11 July 1937. In early 1938 they moved to Wales, renting a cottage in the village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. Their first child, Llewelyn Edouard, was born on 30 January 1939.

Wartime, 1939–1945

Dylan Thomas Theatre Home of Swansea Little Theatre
Dylan Thomas Theatre
Dylan Swansea
A statue of Dylan Thomas

Hounded by creditors, Thomas and his family left Laugharne in July 1940 and moved to the home of critic John Davenport in Marshfield, Gloucestershire. There Thomas collaborated with Davenport on the satire The Death of the King's Canary, though due to fears of libel the work was not published until 1976.

At the outset of the Second World War, Thomas was worried about conscription, and referred to his ailment as "an unreliable lung". After initially seeking employment in a reserved occupation, he managed to be classified Grade III, which meant that he would be among the last to be called up for service. Thomas supplemented his income by writing scripts for the BBC, which not only gave him additional earnings but also provided evidence that he was engaged in essential war work.

In February 1941, Swansea was bombed by the Luftwaffe in a "three nights' blitz". Castle Street was one of many streets that suffered badly; rows of shops, including the Kardomah Café, were destroyed. Thomas walked through the bombed-out shell of the town centre with his friend Bert Trick. Upset at the sight, he concluded: "Our Swansea is dead". Soon after the bombing raids, Thomas wrote a radio play, Return Journey Home, which described the café as being "razed to the snow". The play was first broadcast on 15 June 1947. The Kardomah Café reopened on Portland Street after the war.

In May 1941, Thomas and Caitlin moved to London, leaving their son with his grandmother at Blashford in Hampshire. Thomas hoped to find employment in the film industry and wrote to the director of the films division of the Ministry of Information (MOI). After being rebuffed, he found work with Strand Films, providing him with his first regular income since the Daily Post. Strand produced films for the MOI; Thomas scripted at least five films in 1942, This Is Colour (a history of the British dyeing industry) and New Towns For Old (on post-war reconstruction). These Are The Men (1943) was a more ambitious piece in which Thomas's verse accompanies Leni Riefenstahl's footage of an early Nuremberg Rally. Conquest of a Germ (1944) explored the use of early antibiotics in the fight against pneumonia and tuberculosis. Our Country (1945) was a romantic tour of Britain set to Thomas's poetry.

In March 1943 Caitlin gave birth to a daughter, Aeronwy, in London. They lived in a run-down studio in Chelsea, made up of a single large room with a curtain to separate the kitchen.

In 1944, with the threat of German flying bombs on London, Thomas moved to the family cottage at Blaen Cwm near Llangain, where Thomas resumed writing poetry, completing "Holy Spring" and "Vision and Prayer". In September Thomas and Caitlin moved to New Quay in Cardiganshire (Ceredigion), which inspired Thomas to pen the radio piece Quite Early One Morning, a sketch for his later work, Under Milk Wood. Of the poetry written at this time, of note is "Fern Hill", believed to have been started while living in New Quay, but completed at Blaen Cwm in mid-1945.

Broadcasting years 1945–1949

Blick auf das Dylan Thomas Boathouse und die Trichtermündung des Taf, Wales
The Boat House, Laugharne, the Thomas family home from 1949

Although Thomas had previously written for the BBC, it was a minor and intermittent source of income. In 1943 he wrote and recorded a 15-minute talk entitled "Reminiscences of Childhood" for the Welsh BBC. In December 1944 he recorded Quite Early One Morning (produced by Aneirin Talfan Davies, again for the Welsh BBC) but when Davies offered it for national broadcast BBC London turned it down. On 31 August 1945 the BBC Home Service broadcast Quite Early One Morning, and in the three years beginning October 1945, Thomas made over a hundred broadcasts for the corporation. Thomas was employed not only for his poetry readings, but for discussions and critiques.

Dylan Thomas Writing Shed (7896674354)
Thomas's £5 writing shed in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire

By late September 1945 the Thomases had left Wales and were living with various friends in London. The publication of Deaths and Entrances in 1946 was a turning point for Thomas. Poet and critic Walter J. Turner commented in The Spectator, "This book alone, in my opinion, ranks him as a major poet".

In the second half of 1945, Thomas began reading for the BBC Radio programme, Book of Verse, broadcast weekly to the Far East. This provided Thomas with a regular income. Thomas remained a popular guest on radio talk shows for the BBC, who regarded him as "useful should a younger generation poet be needed".

Thomas visited the home of historian A. J. P. Taylor in Disley. Although Taylor disliked him intensely, he stayed for a month. In late 1946 Thomas turned up at the Taylors' again, this time homeless and with Caitlin. Margaret Taylor let them take up residence in the garden summerhouse.

In May 1949 Thomas and his family moved to his final home, the Boat House at Laugharne, purchased for him at a cost of £2,500 in April 1949 by Margaret Taylor. Thomas acquired a garage a hundred yards from the house on a cliff ledge which he turned into his writing shed, and where he wrote several of his most acclaimed poems. Just before moving into there, Thomas rented "Pelican House" opposite the Brown's Hotel, for his parents who lived there from 1949 until 1953. It was there that his father died and the funeral was held.

Caitlin gave birth to their third child, a boy named Colm Garan Hart, on 25 July 1949.


Dylan Thomas's grave geograph-2755360-by-Gordon-Griffiths
Thomas's grave at the churchyard in Laugharne, in 2011

Thomas arrived in New York on 20 October 1953 to undertake another tour of poetry-reading and talks, organised by Brinnin. Although he complained of chest trouble and gout while still in Britain, there is no record that he received medical treatment for either condition. On his last night in London he had a blckout in the company of his fellow poet Louis MacNeice. The next day he visited a doctor for a smallpox-vaccination certificate.

The White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village

At midnight on 5 November Thomas's breathing became more difficult and his face turned blue. An ambulance was summoned.

Thomas was admitted to the emergency ward at St Vincent's Hospital at 1:58 am.

Thomas died at noon on 9 November, still in a coma.


Dylan Thomas's shed - - 15855
Dylan Thomas's writing shed in Laugharne, largely untouched since his death

Following his death, Thomas's body was brought back to Wales for burial in the village churchyard at Laugharne. Thomas's funeral took place at St Martin's Church in Laugharne on 24 November. Thomas's coffin was carried by six friends from the village. Caitlin, without her customary hat, walked behind the coffin, with his childhood friend Daniel Jones at her arm and her mother by her side. The procession to the church was filmed and the wake took place at Brown's Hotel. Thomas's obituary in The Times was written by fellow poet and long-time friend Vernon Watkins.

His widow, Caitlin, died in 1994 and was buried alongside him. Thomas's father "DJ" died on 16 December 1952 and his mother Florence in August 1958. Thomas's elder son, Llewelyn, died in 2000, his daughter, Aeronwy in 2009 and his youngest son Colm in 2012.

Poetic style

Thomas is viewed as part of the modernism and romanticism movements.

Thomas's verbal style played against strict verse forms, such as in the villanelle "Do not go gentle into that good night". His images were carefully ordered in a patterned sequence, and his major theme was the unity of all life, the continuing process of life and death and new life that linked the generations.

Thomas saw biology as a magical transformation producing unity out of diversity, and in his poetry sought a poetic ritual to celebrate this unity.

He saw men and women locked in cycles of growth, love, procreation, new growth, death, and new life. Thomas derived his images from the Bible, Welsh folklore, preaching, and Sigmund Freud.

Thomas once confided that the poems which had most influenced him were Mother Goose rhymes which his parents taught him when he was a child:

Dylan Thomas mug
This mug bears a quotation from the prayer of the Rev Eli Jenkins in 'Under Milk Wood'.

I should say I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes and before I could read them for myself I had come to love the words of them. The words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance ... I fell in love, that is the only expression I can think of, at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behaviour very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy. I tumbled for words at once. And, when I began to read the nursery rhymes for myself, and, later, to read other verses and ballads, I knew that I had discovered the most important things, to me, that could be ever.

Thomas was an accomplished writer of prose poetry, with collections such as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) and Quite Early One Morning (1954) showing he was capable of writing moving short stories. His first published prose work was After the Fair, printed in The New English Weekly on 15 March 1934. Thomas's fiction work can be classified into two main bodies, vigorous fantasies in a poetic style and, after 1939, more straightforward narratives.

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See also

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