Died on this day – 9 November 1953

Dylan_Thomas_photoIt 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!

Requested poems from Poetry Please number 4

Poem number 4 in the most requested poems to be read on the BBC’s Poetry Please programme is Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. Personally, I think I would choose Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night or The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower, but a visit to The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon might help you decide for yourself.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
   The night above the dingle starry,
      Time let me hail and climb
   Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
      Trail with daisies and barley
   Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
   In the sun that is young once only,
      Time let me play and be
   Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
      And the sabbath rang slowly
   In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
   And playing, lovely and watery
      And fire green as grass.
   And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among the stables, the nightjars
   Flying with the ricks, and the horses
      Flashing into the dark,

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
   Shining, it was Adam and the maiden,
      The sky gathered again
   And the sun grew round that very day.
So it nust have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
   Out of the whinnying green stable
      On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
   In the sun born over and over,
      I ran my heedless ways,
   My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I card, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
   Before the children green and golden
      Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
   In the moon that is always rising,
      Nor that riding to sleep
   I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
      Time held me green and dying
   Though I sang in my chains like the sea.