NWR Issue 16


Dylan Thomas deserves celebrating. He wrote some magnificent poetry, timeless prose and memorable broadcasts for radio at a time when that medium was at the peak of its cultural influence.

He was the most poetical poet of his age, certainly in the English-speaking world. "He talked and dressed and behaved and lived like a poet; he was reckless, flamboyant, irreverent, innocent, bawdy and bibulous," as one distinguished contemporary, David Daiches described him. Sadly, he died in 1953, at the tragically early age of 39 when he was at the height of his poetic powers.

Nearly 40 years on, the attraction of his work for younger generations is proving to be potent as ever. A cartoon version of Under Milk Wood, a play inspired by his much loved poem. Fern Hill, and a film Rebecca's Daughters based on one of his film scripts are just three current examples of the way in which his work continues to be celebrated and adapted to new audiences.

That said, Wales undoubtedly has an ambivalent attitude towards its most famous 20th century literary son which is seldom aired publicly and often misinterpreted.

For an earlier generation, the myths which grew up around his life, and the circumstances of his death, led to a feeling that, somehow, he had let Wales down.

The younger generation would not be as censorious. Indeed, as was suggested at this year's annual Welsh Academy's conference on "biography", it may that, at the time, it was other people who needed the phenomenon of an outrageously-behaving poet as a psychological relief from the military atmosphere and austerities of the 1940s.

In practice Dylan Thomas was both disciplined and hardworking, and it is surely time to sweep away the myth which says otherwise. As John Ackerman points out in this issue, he was, in fact, late for only one of more than 100 broadcasting appointments — for which he duly sent an apology in advance.

Welsh ambivalence also stems from the sheer size of Thomas's reputation. No other Welsh poet has — so far at least — achieved fame on five continents. However, the other side of that particular coin is an irritating but widespread assumption that Dylan Thomas is the only poet of worth and merit Wales has ever produced.

This in turn has led to the creation of a slur, that people in Wales are somehow too provincial to fully appreciate the importance of Dylan Thomas's work and his international reputation.

This is patently untrue. The fact that his work continues to be read and discussed around the world, that books are still being written about his life, that there is a flourishing Dylan Thomas Society in Swansea and Dylan Thomas Summer School in Aberystwyth, clearly demonstrates that his rich legacy is being cherished inside as well as outside Wales.


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