Dylan Thomas

Other names: 

Dylan Marlais Thomas

Date of birth: 
27 Oct 1914
City of birth: 
Swansea
Country of birth: 
Wales
Date of death: 
09 Nov 1953
Location of death: 
St Vincent's Hospital, New York
About: 

Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 in Swansea, Wales, to David John Thomas and Florence Hannah. He left school at the age of 16 and went to work for the local evening newspaper while he developed his poetry.

T. S. Eliot and Stephen Spender took notice of Thomas when he published some of his poems in the BBC journal The Listener in 1934. While he became known in literary circles in London, he remained a relatively obscure figure to the public. He toured the bars of Fitzrovia where he met Mulk Raj Anand, among others. In a letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson, dated 6 August 1937, Thomas wrote:

Last week, a man called Mulk Raj Anand made a big curry for everybody about. The first course was beans, little ones. I ate two and couldn’t speak. A little man called Wallace B. Nichols, who has made small fortune out of writing epic poems on people like Cromwell and Nelson and Mrs Elsie Guddy, took a whole mouthful and was assisted out. He writes for the Cornhill. After the main dish, which was so unbelievably hot that everyone, except the Indian, was crying like Shirley Temple, a woman, Mrs Henderson, looked down onto her plate and saw, lying at one corner of it, a curious rubbery thing that looked like a red, discarded French letter. In interest, she picked it up and found it was the entire skin from her tongue. (Collected Letters, p. 296)

M. J. Tambimuttu, who had come to Britain in 1938, was a great admirer and supporter of Thomas’ poetry. Thomas wrote regularly for Tambimuttu's Poetry London and contributed to his anthology Poetry in Wartime (1942). In wartime London, he also wrote scripts for the BBC Overseas Services.
 
After the war, Thomas struggled to make a living as a poet and, in 1948, he moved back to Wales. There, his life deteriorated further, and he spent much of his income on alcohol. In the early 1950s, Thomas went to America where his health worsened. He died on 9 Novemeber 1953 at St Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.

Connections: 

Mulk Raj Anand (fellow companion in Fitzrovia, London), Lawrence Durrell, T. S. Eliot (published some of Thomas’ poems in Criterion), Christopher Isherwood (hosted Thomas while in California), Louis MacNeice (Thomas acted in one of MacNeice’s plays), Julian Maclaren-Ross, Edith Sitwell, Stephen Spender (broadcast with Thomas and reviewed his Collected Poems), M. J. Tambimuttu (edited several of Thomas’s poetry collections).  

Organizations: 
Published works: 

18 Poems (London: Sunday Referee; Pardon Bookshop, 1934)

Twenty-Five Poems (London: Dent, 1936)

Map of Love (London: Dent, 1939)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (London: Dent, 1940)

'Deaths and Entrances', in Poetry in Wartime, ed. by M. J. Tambimuttu (London: Faber & Faber, 1942), pp. 169-70

'On a Wedding Anniversary', in Poetry in Wartime, ed. by M. J. Tambimuttu (London: Faber & Faber, 1942), pp. 170-1

New Poems (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1943)

Deaths and Entrances: Poems (London: Dent, 1946)

Selected Writings (New York: James Laughlin, 1946)

Twenty-Six Poems (London: Dent, 1949)

Collected Poems, 1934-1952 (London: Dent, 1952)

In Country Sleep, and Other Poems (New York: James Laughlin, 1952)

The Doctor and the Devils...From the Story by Donald Taylor (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1953)

A Child's Christmas in Wales (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1954)

Quite Early One Morning (London: Dent, 1954)

Conversation about Christmas (New York: printed for the friends of J. Laughlin and New Directions, 1954)

Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices (London: Dent, 1954)

Adventures in the Skin Trade (London: Putnam, 1955)

A Prospect of the Sea, and Other Stories and Prose Writings (London: Dent, 1955)

Letters to Vernon Watkins (London: Dent, 1957; Faber & Faber, 1957)

The Beach of Falesá: Based on a Story by Robert Louis Stevenson (London: Jonathan Cape, 1964)

Rebecca's Daughters (London: Triton Publishing Co., 1965)

The Death of the King's Canary (London: Hutchinson, 1976)

Collected Stories (London: Dent, 1983)

Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas (London: Dent, 1985)

After the Fair and Other Stories (London: Macmillan, 1986)

The Broadcasts (London: Dent, 1991)

Dylan Thomas: Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 2004)

Contributions to periodicals: 

New English Weekly

Poetry London

The Listener

Secondary works: 

Brinnin, John Malcolm, A Casebook on Dylan Thomas (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1960)

Brinnin, John Malcolm, Dylan Thomas in America (London: Dent, 1956)

Caesar, Adrian, Dividing Lines: Poetry, Class and Ideology in the 1930s (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991)

Davies, Aneirin Talfan, Dylan: Druid of the Broken Body (London: Dent, 1964)

Dugdale, J. S., Brodie's Notes on Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (London: Pan, 1976)

Ferris, Paul, Caitlin: The Life of Caitlin Thomas (London: Hutchinson, 1993)

Ferris, Paul, Dylan Thomas (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977)

Ferris, Paul, 'Thomas, Dylan Marlais (1914–1953)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36471]

FitzGibbon, Constantine, The Life of Dylan Thomas (London: Dent, 1965)

Fryer, Jonathan, Dylan: The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas (London: Kyle Cathie, 1993)

Gaston, Georg, Critical Essays on Dylan Thomas (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989)

Heaney, Seamus, Dylan the Durable?: On Dylan Thomas (Bennington, VT: Bennington College, 1992)

Holt, Heather, Dylan Thomas: the Actor (Swansea: Heather Holt, 2003)

Hughes, Beryl, The Cat's Whiskers (Hove: B. Hughes, 1998)

Jones, Daniel, My Friend Dylan Thomas (London: Dent, 1977)

Lane, Gary, A Concordance to the Poems of Dylan Thomas (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1976)

Lycett, Andrew, Dylan Thomas: A New Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003)

Magoon, Joseph, A Bibliography of Writings about Dylan Thomas for 1960 to 1989 (Bournemouth: J. Magoon, 1944)

Maud, Ralph Noel and Davies, A. T., The Colour of Saying: An Anthology of Verse Spoken by Dylan Thomas (London: Dent, 1963)

Maud, Ralph Noel, Dylan Thomas in Print: A Bibliographical History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970)

Moynihan, William T., The Craft and Art of Dylan Thomas (New York: Cornell University Press, 1966; London: Oxford University Press, 1966)

Nashold, James and Tremlett, George, The Death of Dylan Thomas (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1997)

Ranasinha, Ruvani, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007)

Read, Bill, The Days of Dyland Thomas (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1965)

Rowe, David, Dylan: Fern Hill to Milk Wood: The Bumpy Road to Glory (Llandysul: Gomer, 1999)

Sinclair, Andrew, Dylan the Bard: A Life of Dylan Thomas (London: Constable, 1999)

Thomas, Caitlin, Caitlin: A Warring Absence (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986)

Thomas, Caitlin, Double Drink Story: My Life with Dylan Thomas (London: Virago, 1998)

Thomas, David M., Dylan Remembered, Vol. 1, 1913-1934 (Bridgend: Seren, 2003)

Thomas-Ellis, Aeronwy, A Daughter Remembers Dylan: Christmas and Other Memories (Twickenham: Merton Books, 2006)

Tolley, Arthur Trevor, The Poetry of the Forties (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985)

Watkins, Gwen, Portrait of a Friend (Llandysul: Gomer, 1983)

Willetts, Paul, Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Dandy Julian Maclaren-Ross (Stockport: Dewi Lewis, 2003)

Williams, Robert Coleman, A Concordance to the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967)

Archive source: 

Correspondence, poems and papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Letter, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Papers of and relating to Thomas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas

Letters, Victoria University, University of Toronto

Letters to Vernon Watkins, Add. Ms 52612, British Library, St Pancras

Letters to Desmond Hawkins, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Letters to Percy Eynon Smart, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Extensive biographical information in the tapes of Colin Edwards Collection, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth