It was just sixty years ago today that Dylan Thomas downed a last large scotch in La Trappe aux Livres in Montmorillon and staggered round the corner from the bar to The Glass Key, a secondhand bookshop offering a wide range of poetry books. And it was here that he died on 9 November 1953.
Dylan Marlais Thomas (born 27 October 1914) was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems “Fern Hill”, “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”, the “play for voices”, Under Milk Wood, and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death. In his later life he acquired a reputation, which he encouraged, as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”.
Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales and it was the publication of “Light breaks where no sun shines”, in 1934, that caught the attention of the literary world. While living in London, Thomas met Caitlin Macnamara, whom he married in 1937. In the early part of his marriage, Thomas and his family lived hand-to-mouth, settling in the Welsh fishing village of Laugharne.
Although Thomas was appreciated as a popular poet in his lifetime, he found earning a living as a writer difficult, which resulted in him augmenting his income with reading tours and broadcasts. His radio recordings for the BBC during the latter half of the 1940s brought him a level of celebrity. In the 1950s, Thomas travelled to America, where his readings brought him a level of fame, though his erratic behaviour and drinking worsened. His time in America cemented Thomas’ legend, where he recorded to vinyl works such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas died on 9 November 1953 and his body was returned to Wales where he was buried at the village churchyard in Laugharne.
A small personal true story: on one of his Fitzrovia drinking evenings Dylan Thomas met my uncle Gordon Fraser and Gordon ended up offering Dylan a place to stay for the night. The next morning a broke Dylan wanted to give my uncle something as a ‘Thank you’ token for the shelter and he spotted a copy of his book of poems Twenty-Five Poems on my uncle’s bookshelves. Crossing out the gift inscription already in the book Dylan signed it as if a gift from himself!